Before the legend of vampires went all vegan and sparkly and werewolves held about as much menace as a puppy dog, they were kick-ass in Underworld. Written by the then unknown Len Wiseman, Danny McBride and Kevin Grevioux, the franchise, which spawned two sequels and a prequel, infused these popular supernatural beings with a scientific background based on a viral mutagen rather than some hazy mystical power. Even with a somewhat shallow story, Underworld managed to make it big at the box office with a slick style and well fleshed out back-story; a reliable formula that Grevioux’ graphic novel I, Frankenstein sticks to like glue.
Directed and written by Stuart Beattie from Grevioux’s original screenplay, I, Frankenstein continues the classic tale of Frankenstein’s monster, relating his life following the death of his creator. While busy burying his ‘father’, the already moody creature (played by Aaron Eckhart at his most deadpan) is beset by demons, intent on his capture by order of the demon-prince Naberius (later introduced in the guise of a bored Bill Nighy). To his rescue come the Gargoyles, who whisk him away to meet their queen Lenore (a regal Miranda Otto), who helps us out by naming him Adam. We discover that these stony figures were created by the Archangel Michael and have been knee-deep in a battle against those demons left swarming the Earth. Adam leaves but returns after two hundred years of pursuit by demons to find out just what’s going on.
Sadly, the most interesting thing about I, Frankenstein is the Gargoyles, one of the few supernatural creatures not to have been recently exploited by Hollywood. It’s a breath of fresh air when we learn of their origins and actually kind of exciting to witness their transformations, not only because the visuals are stunning but also because it’s not something we’ve seen a thousand times before. You can almost feel the opportunity for something better slip away as the members of the Gargoyle Order are pushed to the sideline as nothing more than cannon fodder in lieu of the clichéd man-trying-to-find-his-identity-and-place-in-the-world yarn.
But then again, you don’t really go to watch the likes of I, Frankenstein expecting a Lord of the Rings-esque epic. Fans of this genre are looking for three things: plenty of fights, special effects that catch you off guard and the kind of wanton destruction that sets your back teeth on edge. In this respect, it’s a slightly mixed bag. While Adam certainly seems incapable of walking ten yards before finding someone to hand a beat down to, the fights themselves, while slick and well-choreographed, never really get to any level of memorable. In terms of special effects, it is the Gargoyles and their transformations that are the stand outs. The change from hard rock to real life is seamless, fluid and kind of beautiful, giving you a moment where you find yourself actually buying into this idea of stone taking flight. Which, of course, sets you up for all kinds of disappointment when the demons come out looking like they’ve just pulled on the cheapest possible rubber Halloween masks.
The final set-piece definitely hits the mark for devastation but the inconsistencies and plot holes and general ridiculousness that has preceded it will have your eyes rolling so much you’ll miss the wreckage entirely. Be warned, should you choose to partake in the madness, leave all logic and reason at the door so you may return with much of the good sense you started with. Couple all this with performances that never get beyond passable and you have a wholehearted recommendation to wait until it’s on Netflix. It’ll be totally worth it then.