Underworld is one of my favourite films. The same goes for Blade (I and II, never III), Van Helsing, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. It is very definitely a guilty pleasure – these are, by no stretch of the imagination, high art – but over-the-top, action heavy, dark fantasy films are just so much fun. Everything about them, from the over-acting to the insane weaponry (Van Helsing features a fully automatic crossbow, Hansel and Gretel a crossbow that shoots at right angles), to the apocalyptic plots, makes them a roller-coaster ride of excitement.
When I heard of I, Frankenstein, I was excited. It seemed another film to add to the list of ridiculous, overwrought films where people fight the forces of darkness with awesome weapons to rock music.
The trailer is here, and the set-up is even more ludicrous than is typical for the genre: demons are engaged in a war with divinely-sponsored gargoyles, and Frankenstein’s monster ends up in the middle. He proceeds to fill the role that Mary Shelley designed him for,
philosophical discussions on the nature of humanity fighting the legions of hell with magic clubs.
The film was, in many ways, exactly what I expected. There were massively overblown action sequences. There were double-crosses and monologuing villains. The fate of the world rested in the balance, and only one many could save it. People spouted awesome one-liners, whether or not they had any relevance to the situation at hand, or were coherent. It was fun, you could see the twists coming a mile a way (though they were helpfully pointed out very, very clearly – demon eyes flash red to assist the more easily-confused viewer), and it had lots of fighting in it.
The plot is complicated, spanning centuries and involving lots of hidden chambers. The film doesn’t handle the transitions that well – the sections that should exist between action scenes are omitted or rushed. Frankenstein’s monster finds the super-secret doomsday machine room incredibly quickly, the demons always seem to be waiting for him, and so on. It was a little jarring, to have to suspend disbelief that it would be the first room he stumbled into, but again, it is not the kind of film you watch for subtle, well-measured plotting.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t butcher the original novel, something that tends to irritate me about films based on books. There are too many versions of Dracula where they take massive liberties, and at that point, I’d rather he was just a different vampire. I, Frankenstein takes place centuries after the original, which helps, and the references to his early life gel reasonably with the novel. Weirdly though, despite Frankenstein existing as a novel in the world of I. Frankenstein, no one seems to have read it – though the film gets a lot of it right, the characters in the film have no understanding of what the story actually is.
The film comes to us from the producers of Underworld, and it shows. Bill Nighy features as almost exactly the same character he played in Underworld – same role, and even (at the end) the same or a very similar outfit: a long black high-collared coat over a bare chest. Similarly, Kevin Grevioux played the villains gravel-voiced brusier henchman. In Underworld, you may remember him as a gravel-voiced werewolf henchman. I really don’t mind the similarities – the characters are both well cast in their double roles – but I did find it funny how blatant the swap was.
The film has a host of other little issues – one of the more noticeable is that the monster’s scars are very visible when he’s trying to seem scary, but almost invisible when he is being emotional, at which point he looks like a standard action hero. The provenance of half the characters is totally unclear, and the science is appalling. But these are all by-the-by; I will happily extend my willing statement of disbelief if that means I get to watch a demon get picked up by its head and thrown through a wall.
It is a terrible film – I, Frankenstein will never be held up as a marvel of cinematography. Yet at the same time, I love it, in the same way that I love Sharktopus or some other dreck. Watching such films is an incredibly guilty pleasure, but unbelievably entertaining. I, Frankenstein continues this pattern. If you like outrageous, ridiculous films about monsters, this is one to watch.