I was roped into seeing “Victor Frankenstein” thinking it was going to be either a goof or another ultra-intense version like Kenneth Branagh’s was. Thankfully I was wrong on both counts, and pleasantly surprised at what writer Max Landis and Director Paul McGuigan have done with the old classic.
First and foremost leave any other vision of Frankenstein at the door, for this version plays totally fresh, yet with Mary Shelley’s main themes of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on people, and of faith and God versus science. When all is said and done, though, this is Igor’s story, brilliantly played by Daniel Radcliffe. Those who are book sticklers will tell you there is no Igor in the book, and technically there is no Igor in this story either. Radcliffe’s character starts off life in the circus, his hunchback making him the butt of jokes even from fellow freaks and clowns. But this young man has passion – he is fascinated by human anatomy and the way the body works. He also harbors a secret passion for Lorelei, the trapeze artist. This is the scenario Frankenstein walks into, or rather stumbles into – his goal at the circus is to cut off pieces of creatures for his first experiment (thankfully all done off-screen). As he enters the big top, Lorelei falls from the trapeze, and most certainly would have died if not for the young hunchback and the good doctor. Frankenstein sees the potential in the boy and persuades him to run away from the circus.
When Frankenstein gets the dirty young hunchback home, he names him Igor after an opium addicted roommate he’d had that ran away. To say much more would give away the plot, at once the one we know, and the one we see through “Igor’s” eyes. There is a cat and mouse game played by a police Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) and Frankenstein (James McAvoy), because the inspector feels the good doctor is not so good, and what he is doing is the work of Satan. The two represent the battle between faith in God and science. Both men have suffered loss that shaped their characters, but it’s their approach to their tragedies that forever separate the two.
Audience will still get the treat of seeing Frankenstein’s work come to life – and yes, Daniel Radcliffe gets to shout “It’s ALIVE!” to which Frankenstein sardonically responds, “Isn’t that rather obvious?” We finally find out why Frankenstein’s creature has a flat head – “Because I like it!” quips Frankenstein. There is plenty of action, chase scenes, and showdowns with Victor’s work. But mainly it is Igor’s story, of how a filthy, deformed outcast becomes a man.
All performances are outstanding, with McAvoy’s Frankenstein alternating between genuine longing for a success and true madness. Andrew Scott is perfect as Frankenstein’s foil, and also mad in his own right. Jessica Brown Findlay is luminous as Lorelei, Igor’s love interest. The film though, belongs to Daniel Radcliffe. You will never think of Igor any other way again.