Based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I, Frankenstein is a movie very much set in the template of Grevioux’s Underworld. That story, remember, posited a secret war between vampires and werewolves wherein a hook-up between a mortal and an immortal held the key to its resolution.
Just substitute "demons" and "godly gargoyles" for vampires and werewolves, and you have the gist of I, Frankenstein. But instead of mining Bram Stoker for gothic inspiration, screenwriter-director Stuart Beattie turns to Mary Shelley’s undead monster as its anti-hero. The problem with that, of course, is that where vampires are inherently sexy (Underworld’s latex clad mutant-minx Kate Beckinsale, for example), a creature cobbled together from miscellaneous body parts is not. In theory.
That is a flaw Beattie attempts to overcome by casting the handsome Aaron Eckhart in the role of the monster, with the result that the crudely disproportional beast of Shelley’s fiction resembles a male model who’s been the recipient of a botched facelift.
As per Shelley, the movie’s preamble shows how the monster turned against his creator, murdered his bride and exiled himself to the Arctic where he was unsuccessfully hunted down by Frankenstein himself.
Picking up from there, the monster, dubbed "Adam," has come to the attention of a race of demons seeking to learn the secrets of his creation. The head demon, who goes by the name of Naberius, is played by Bill Nighy, more or less duplicating the role he played in Underworld: a fiendish yet dapper supernatural being with aspirations to conquer the world.
Adam is rescued by the gargoyle minions of Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto takes on the movie’s thankless Basil Exposition duties), who explains it is the duty of all good gargoyles to keep the demons at bay. The unimpressed Adam says thanks but no thanks to Leonore’s offer of shelter, but two centuries later, still harassed by demon visits, Adam is compelled back to the massive cathedral headquarters of the gargoyles to finally get to the bottom of what the demons are plotting.
He discovers, in his absence, Naberius has hired the predictably lovely, skinny blonde scientist Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) to duplicate Frankenstein’s original experiments. Adam, his woman-killing days evidently behind him, intercepts Terra to let her know the corpse-reviving experiments she is conducting on behalf of a mysterious megalomaniac may be, um, inadvisable.
Adam professes disinterest in the affairs of humans, but Terra softens him with the observation: "You’re only a monster if you behave like one."
Right. And you’re only a crappy movie if you look like one. I, Frankenstein looks more like a motion comic book than a motion picture, especially with its light-show battle scenes between gargoyles and demons. When killed, gargoyles "ascend" heavenward in a blue beam of light while demons "descend" downward in red flames, so basically, it’s like a violent rave.
All the film’s creative ingenuity is expended in its production design, which is, at times, impressive. Regrettably, the tone of the piece is saturated with phoney-baloney gravitas, and zero humour, which tends to leach the fun out of it.
The upshot: Adam is not the only thing about this movie lacking a soul.
To put it another way: It’s not alive! It’s not alive!