Mary Shelley's book Frankenstein was designed to ask a lot of hard questions about man's true nature, but most of the movie versions of Frankenstein have just been about using a lumbering guy with a messed up face as a boogeyman. Therefore, I was surprised when I, Frankenstein started off by explicitly referencing the original book and then signing up to be a continuation of Shelley's mythology. Was this film going to be an investigation of man's inner spirit?
As soon I, Frankenstein wraps up it's prologue it launches into it's original plot, which is about the secret war that an army of gargoyle-angels have to wage against a horde of vampire-ish demons. Now, it's been a long time since I read Shelley's book, but I don't remember any gargoyle-by-day/messenger-of-God-by-night characters popping up in her writing. In fact, these characters seem like they would be a better fit in one of the wave of recent movies where there is a secret war between vampires and werewolves than they do in her classic tome, because if you squint at the angels when they are in their winged stone wolf drag they look suspiciously like the furry flesh and blood wolves of an Underworld film.
However, I'm going to give I, Frankenstein the benefit of the doubt and assume that it does want to be part of Shelley's searching legacy. So, to honor this movie about an axe murdering immortal monster's exploration of the human condition, here are a list of existential questions that I, Frankenstein raises:
-Now that gargoyles are getting to ride shotgun on the secret-eternal-battle train, who is left waiting on the sidelines? Is it just Golems? Are they just being left out because they're Jewish? If so, shame on you, Hollywood. They could be lumbering CGI monsters as well as anything else.
-In this movie, angels kept Victor Frankenstein's diary out of common circulation so that no one would question whether God was the only one who could create life. So if no one in this world had ever heard of Frankenstein's monster, does Frankenberry exist, or is Count Chocula lonley?
-At one point a scientist is given Victor Frankenstein's diary by the head demon and told to get to work on unlocking it's secrets. But he was a German scientist from two centuries ago - is she schooled on reading antique German scientific literature? If so, good for her. I skipped that class in college, so I would be boned in this circumstance. Then again, I wasn't aiming to become the main researcher for an army of soul-sucking demons and she obviously was.
-Every time one of the angels dies it turns into a beam of light that gets sucked into heaven and every time one of the demons dies it's turned into a zig-zagging burst of flames. This means that their battles are very colorful, with a lot of bright explosions happening everywhere you look. Was this decision made because you can kill as many people as you want as long as there's no blood? There's a lot of murdering going on in the fight scenes, but it doesn't register as violent because all the flaming yellow/bright blue combos make it look like a really awesome Burning Man installation. (Which it kind of is, because people are actually burning.)
-Americans are infamous for being more tolerant of violence than sex - you can kill as many people as you want in a PG-13 movie as long as you don't show that much blood, but you can't get away with showing too much of the human body. Which makes me wonder: how R-rated would this movie have been if the only way for the angels to get rid of the demons was to fuck them down into hell? If you replace all the stabbings in this movie with bonings, and all the battle scenes with orgies, then this movie becomes the NC-iest of NC-17s right? Somehow I suspect we won't know the answer to this one till the French remake this movie.
-So Adam Frankenstein (he got a first name in this movie BTW) is the secret tipping point between the angels and the demons because he's the only living creature who has no soul, so he's allowed to choose which side gets to benefit from his warrior's strength. Fine, fine. But what in the hell is the deal with his facial scarring? He seems to have a less gnarly face the angrier he gets. If he has some secret for turning anger into handsomeness he should email it to the Hulk - that guy needs all the help he can get.
-Adam Frankenstein has six pack abs and he's two hundred years old. Did Victor Frankenstein really hunt for corpses who had good genes, or did Adam just get lucky? Also: Adam can survive falling thirty stories onto the top of a moving train, but he's theoretically made up of human parts, and human bones would break in that circumstance. Did Victor Frankenstein really steal Frankenstein's bones from an elven graveyard and he never told anyone? Also: If Victor Frankenstein knew where the elves buried their dead did he leave the location in his diary, and if so, is that scientist lady going to go visit that on her next vacation? Is it weird to visit an elf graveyard, even if you are a researcher who is there for noble reasons? Am I reading too much into this?
So many questions! The people behind I, Frankenstein probably shouldn't have tried to explicitly sign onto Shelley's legacy if they didn't want to face the sort of hard scrutiny that attaching yourself to such a classic naturally engenders. But I think they can take the heat. Or at least Adam Frankenstein can take the heat. He was around a lot of exploding people and it didn't seem to bother him much.
Anyway, the previews made I, Frankenstein look like it would be unwatchably dumb, and I wouldn't say that this film is smart, but it is surprisingly watchable. Slightly generic, maybe, since it's basically playing in the same ballpark as a lot of recent movies about supernatural beasts, but there are worse crimes for a monster movie. It at least gave me enough solid laughs - both with it and at it - that I can't complain.
But you know who should complain? The Golem. Come on, Hollywood, that guy's phone is waiting for your call, so get to it!