Quick Thoughts on I, Frankenstein

i-frankenstein-new-poster--

After several weekends spent inside thanks to what will probably turn out to be the coldest weather of the winter here in NYC, Red Molly and I finally got a chance to go out and wander the city a bit this past Saturday.  We decided that, as part of our outing, we would like to see a movie in the theatre, up on the big screen.  We chose I, Frankenstein.

We knew this was probably a mistake.  The words “from the creators of Underworld” were enough to tell us that.  Still, the trailer was visually exciting:

And the concept was intriguing: tens of thousands of Frankenstein Monsters being drafted into some kind of supernatural war?  That could turn the tide, all right.  We decided to give it a chance.

As it turns out, it was actually pretty amusing, though probably not in the way the filmmakers intended.  Where they were probably shooting for dark and menacing and stylized, what they got was dark and stylized and a bit goofy.  Can’t really recommend it; while there are places in most movies where you have to turn your brain off, this one has great gaping flaws that you just can’t unsee.

As has come to be my habit with movies that are currently in theatres, I’m going to forego the full summary on the assumption that everyone who’s interested either has seen, or will soon see, the movie.  Instead, I’ll just list a few things that stuck out at me, in no particular order.  Beware: if you’re in the “will soon see” category, the spoilers start here.

1) From the very first moment of the movie – indeed, from the moment they started shooting – there is a fundamental problem with this film that undermines everything else: it’s impossible to believe “the monster” as an outcast from all humanity because of his hideousness if he’s Aaron Eckhart with a few scars.

I Frankenstein Monster

This guy should look like Marv from Sin City – and even Marv had friends.

2) The other fundamental problem is that they were trying to fit too much story into too little movie.  Every successful movie adapted from a book (to say nothing of a series of books!) will trim characters and plotlines so that others can be fully developed, always attempting to stay true to the essence of the story.  Instead, this one seems to have tried to fit everything into 93 minutes.  Events rush from one plot point or action set-piece to the next.  Characters are introduced, given a minute or two of screentime, and then killed.  This is a problem when the characters in question are supposed to be dear friends or powerful nemeses.

3) As an example of the above, take Ophir and Keziah.  They’re the gargoyles who are most sympathetic to the monster, and it’s clear that they’re supposed to be the closest thing he has to friends.  Might have been nice if we’d seen some sign of their friendship above and beyond them taking him to the armory.  Similarly, Ophir and Keziah are in love, and for some reason the gargoyle order won’t allow them to be together.  Are gargoyles forbidden to breed?  Are gargoyles only forbidden to breed with each other?  Does the order take a vow of chastity?  Hell if I know, the movie doesn’t say.  It might have been useful to see some sign of any of this before Ophir is killed and Keziah is wounded and refuses treatment so she can “ascend” (die) and be with Ophir.  As it is, a theoretically tragic scene has no power whatsoever.

4) It’s disappointing that, ten years after Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel went off the air, the demons we see are pretty much identical to something we might have seen on those shows: bog-standard humanoids with a few extra pointy bits here and there.

I swear I remember a demon from the first season of  Angel who looked just like this guy.

I swear I remember a demon from the first season of Angel who looked just like this guy.

The fact that these demons are CGI instead of makeup is not an improvement.  They don’t all have to be indescribable horrors from beyond spacetime, but a few should have been, especially the more powerful ones.

5) Much is made of the monster’s speed, strength and stamina.  The stamina is a fair cop: the monster endures damage that would have turned one of his human part-donors to goo.  The speed and strength are more difficult to judge, because we only see them being employed fighting against creatures who are at least as strong, fast and tough as he is.  This is a problem that all superhero movies (which, let’s not kid ourselves, this is) face.  The solution is to show the superpowered character doing something that allows the human audience to judge scale: three strapping young Nazis struggle to move the stone lid of a sarcophagus even a few inches, but Herr Schmidt removes it with ease; Captain America lifts a motorcycle bearing three chorus girls over his head with neither visible wires nor effort; Thor pulls Iron Man’s mask off and tosses it away without a second thought, more worried about his wounded friend.

6) Credit where it’s due, the movie did turn out to be as visually attractive as the trailer promised, especially when a demon or gargoyle was killed.  The firestorms or columns of ascending light were lovely to see.

7) Does anyone know which city the gargoyles’ headquarters is located in?  I spent the whole movie assuming that it was Paris, because their cathedral-fortress was clearly modeled on Notre Dame, but I eventually realized that no one actually said that.

7a) Regardless of which city it is, what city anywhere is that completely deserted around a major landmark, even at night?  And what city remains so deserted when there are explosions and columns of light ascending into the Heavens?  Is this a Sunnydale situation, where the citizenry are actively ignoring the supernatural hijinx in their midst?

8) Speaking of the gargoyles’ cathedral-fortress: it’s a good thing the gargoyles are individually more powerful than the demons, because strategically, they’re idiots.  The demons know where they are, and we see the effectiveness of one massed demon attack; yet the gargoyles make no effort to relocate, improve the cathedral’s defenses, or locate the demons’ stronghold.  What’s to keep the demons from sending wave after wave until the gargoyles are swarmed under?  Do they have any other chapterhouses, or are all the gargoyles left in the world at this one cathedral?

9) In re. that mass attack on the cathedral: Lenore should not have been taken so easily.  She’s the gargoyle queen.  Her power should be on a level with Naberius.  She shouldn’t be taken without a fight by some pissant demon officer, even one that they spend a whole thirty seconds talking up as the best of the best.

10) And what about Naberius?  Much is made of his status as a demon prince, but aside from being dressed in Cenobite chic and perhaps having slightly longer horns, he doesn’t look any different than his underlings, and he doesn’t do anything different than his underlings.  Oh, he does cast that one spell to summon the “descended” demons back from Hell, but there’s no indication that only he could do that.  For all we know, a couple of teenagers could have sacrificed a black cat and done the same.  He’s no larger or more frightening in appearance than any other demon, and he doesn’t demonstrate either additional powers or greater power.  Hell, his lieutenant from a couple scenes back put up more of a fight.  Why were we all so scared of this guy again?

10a) I will grant, however, that the idea to summon all of those “descended” demons back into those soulless bodies was an interesting twist on what the trailer suggested.  If the original creature is any indication, there’s no guarantee that any new ones would work with (still less for) their creators.  But a million demons summoned back into the flesh, undoing every victory the gargoyles ever won and tipping the balance irrevocably in Naberius’s favor?  Much better.  I just wonder what the heck that thing was where they were being kept.  It was visually impressive, I’ll grant you, but wouldn’t it make more sense just to keep them all in a big refrigerator?  Also, Red Molly reports nearly laughing aloud at the “Resurrection Meters”.

11) Speaking of resurrection, who was Carl to Terra that she would risk Armageddon to bring him back?  Were they dear friends?  Old lovers?  Does he have a wife and kids that need him?  Might have been nice to know.  Might have been even nicer to, just once, have a hero that says: “Fuck it.  You’ll annihilate the world anyway.  I’m not going to help you do that so he can have a life that amounts to a few hours as your victim.”

12) And finally: “We’re your friends.”  Bull.  Shit.  What exactly did the gargoyles ever do that counts as friendly?  Rescue him from Naberius’s demons?  That was on general principles that Naberius shouldn’t have what he wants.  Give him weapons?  That was to get him involved in their war, and in the sense that each demon he killed was one they didn’t have to fight, it worked.  They assaulted and took him prisoner repeatedly, debated endlessly – while he was in the room! – about whether he should be destroyed, and gave him a name he didn’t ask for (are the words “slave name” inappropriate here?).  And when it became clear what Naberius wanted with him, even Ms. Sweetness And Light ordered him killed!  An issue that was never dealt with, I note.

So yeah.  Like I said, a lot of problems you can’t unsee.  At its best, dark, stylized and goofy.  The only reason I would recommend seeing it in the theatres is because its only real strength, its pretty visuals, need the big screen to really shine.  If you want to see those dark, stylized, pretty visuals, I recommend that you come ready to turn off your brain, ride it out from one Dramatic Moment to the next, and don’t expect to get too attached to anyone.

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