Compared with vampires, who always seem to be sleek and sexy, Frankenstein’s monster has had it rough. Those head bolts are one thing, and then there are the leathery scars all over his face and his massive, clunky awkwardness. To make matters worse, while vampires are never deprived of dating and relationships in novels and films, Frankenstein’s monster is doomed to loneliness and isolation. No one loves him, with the exception of his creator, Victor Frankenstein, who — according to Mary Shelley in her original 1818 novel — was a cranky eccentric with no friends.
So what’s happening in Stuart Beattie’s “I, Frankenstein,” a film that claims to be a modern, 2.0 update of Shelley’s 19th-century gothic horror? Not much, I’m afraid. Beattie does start out with the right intentions: the opening sequence of the monster burying his maker in a cemetery is suitably horror-infused. A bunch of demons turn up to kill him, but a group of gargoyles come swooping down to the rescue. After this, Frankenstein’s monster (played by Aaron Eckhart) becomes a zombie of sorts and lives through the centuries to the present day.
Eckhart’s creature has gel-laden hair, perfect six-pack abdominals and a Midwestern accent — he has come so far from the Shelley original he may as well call himself Frankie. (Actually, he’s renamed Adam in the film.)
Eckhart is no stranger to disfigured roles. His part as Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” foreshadowed Adam’s zigzagging facial scars, but while Nolan’s film deployed Eckhart’s charisma to full advantage, “I, Frankenstein” fails to make him interesting. For all the CGI and 3-D enhancements, Adam is rather tepid and flat, which is a shame, since this is the creature’s chance to strike gold in superhero territory.
The trappings are there: Adam’s nemesis is lord of the demons Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), who schemes to populate the world with corpses brought back to life using the souls of demons. Does that make sense to you? There’s also a love interest in the form of Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), a doctor running the laboratory where the prince has hidden all the corpses. Huh? The trick to getting through all this is not think about it, and forge on until the bitter end.
The impressive cast don’t get much of a break but they all fare relatively well compared with poor Miranda Otto, who appears as Leonore, queen of the gargoyles. Not only does her costume resemble something my aunt wore at a Halloween party circa 1985, her make-up is so hideous it justifies a lawsuit.
Still, there is one nugget of wisdom shining amid the debris: Modern science is screwed. No one seems to be able to come up with an explanation as to why all the corpses have stayed fresh, what exactly Terra the scientist seems to be working on, how Adam has managed to keep his muscle tone when he’s a centuries-old monster. Yet the word “science” is freely bandied about as though it were the panacea for the film’s ills. If only it was that easy.