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‘I, Frankenstein’ will pass the time, if you don’t think too much

By Gary Clift

Remember the 1950s crime novel “I, the Jury”? Mickey Spillane had more publicity muscle shots taken than has Vladimir Putin during the time his Mike Hammer was the hero of relatively unsophisticated American readers.

Now we get a movie called “I, Frankenstein,” based on a “graphic novel” by Kevin Grevioux. It is a sort of sequel to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel. Supposedly this was her entry in a contest among members of a group of essentially snowed-in friends, including her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. The winner would be the one who wrote the best horror story.

You’ll remember the story. A scientist takes parts from cadavers, assembles a whole body, rigs it to be charged by lightning, and then is horrified by the resulting animated hulk. Maker and product wrangle and end up in the Arctic where the scientist dies.

Not only does “I, Frankenstein” adopt the Gothic world of the original story. It also gives us its own really odd contemporary reality. There are demons on Earth, it suggests. They want to do harm to Mankind. Most of the time they take the shape of ordinary humans.

They are kept at bay, though, by religious forces whose soldiers are the gargoyles carved into Gothic churches. These are actually winged creatures who use weapons marked with a glyph, a thrice-crossed line. Weapons with this marking make the demons go up in flame and make their souls descend a little.

But the head demon, Niberius (played by Bill Nighy, who gets these parts somehow) has a plan to put those demon souls into human cadavers. He has a human scientist, the world’s foremost “electro-physiologist” working out the details of corpse re-animation. Aussie Yvonne Strahovski plays the mini-skirted, blonde lab-mistress, Dr. Terra.

The demon plot is discovered when Frankenstein’s creation (Aaron Eckhart) shows up a couple of times in the Gothic city where the lab sits. The cathedral-dwelling gargoyles, led by a Queen (Aussie Miranda Otto, who you’ll remember from the Lord of the Rings movies) try to keep Frankie and his creator’s lab journal away from the demons. Why? You might well ask. The gargoyles don’t know, yet, that the demons are experimenting with re-animation.

There really isn’t a plot here. Frankie fights demons. Demons fight gargoyles. Gargoyles fret over Frankie. Repeat. Eventually our ghastly hero discovers the demons’ plot. At about the same time he gets a look at Terra and that has an effect on him.

But the story is really just an excuse for the movie’s images. If you decide to attend, pay the extra three dollars for a 3D showing. The 3D works here and there, and as the movie really only pays out in pictures, one wants to give it the best possible chance to reward the viewer.

The pictures are generally pretty effective. There’s a lot of swooping as the winged gargoyles dive in between tall buildings to attack gargoyles. There are explosions and light shows when either a demon or a gargoyle is killed. There are some good fight sequences.

I was surprised, though, that the movie failed to provide us any memorable vistas. Long shots are not the computer-generated animation’s strong suit. One sees row after row of cadaver’s hung up and wired for electricity, but the scale doesn’t awe, for some reason. Part of the problem may be that the biggest spaces seem to be subterranean. But why that would limit the effect of the images, I’m not sure.

Generally speaking, though, “I, Frankenstein” is fairly impressive to look at. If it is silly to think about, well, romantic images usually are pretty dopey when considered. So if you like Gothic imagery, see this film with your analytic senses on the airplane setting.

Which is about what one has to do if one reads Mickey Spillane, by the way. Don’t think too much and these sorts of entertainments can help to pass the time.

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