Igor gets his due in the awkwardly-titled Victor Frankenstein, a retelling of the Mary Shelley novel that turns its focus away from the classic story and towards the pop culture elements that have become synonymous with the Frankenstein myth over the past eighty years.
In short: it’s all about Igor (played by Daniel Radcliffe), a character not featured in the Shelley novel nor the classic 1931 Universal movie (though that film did feature a hunchbacked assistant, his name was Fritz). Perhaps the most well-known Igor was the one played by Marty Feldman in Mel Brooks’ 1974 parody Young Frankenstein, which this film nods to with some outright comedic moments.
The Igor character, of course, is traditionally presented as a dimwitted hunchbacked assistant of Frankenstein’s mad scientist. But because Igor is the star of this movie, and also played by Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, he loses the hunchback (it was just – wait for it – a big pus-filled abscess) and sorts out his posture ten minutes into the film.
And he’s also brilliant doctor and scientist on par with Victor Frankenstein himself, played by an often-literally foaming-at-the-mouth James McAvoy, who plucks Igor out of the circus after he displays his skill in saving the life of a fallen tightrope walker (Jessica Brown Findlay) he also happens to be in love with.
At this point, we have a big Guy Ritchie-style Sherlock Holmes chase sequence as the good doctor (currently a medical student) busts Igor out of his literal cage at the circus. The action-movie stylistics, from Lucky Number Slevin director Paul McGuigan, are effective and exciting, but a little out of place in what is otherwise a gothic horror film.
The circus jailbreak results in an accidental death, which draws the attention of an Inspector with a religious bent (played by Spectre’s Andrew Scott) who connects the crime to a strange request for animal body parts, while Frankenstein introduces a willing Igor to his life-and-death experiments.
“You know the story,” Igor tells us through voiceover narration at a couple points. But we don’t know this story: all the parts are familiar but the narrative has been jumbled around to fit a modern Hollywood perspective, and gone are the nuances and meaning behind the original work, replaced by whatever screenwriter Max Landis could come up with to drive the plot forward.
But for all of Victor Frankenstein’s storytelling faults, it isn’t a mess on the level of I, Frankenstein or Dracula Untold. It’s a straightforward and effectively told tale, though there’s more theological back-and-forth than a film like this warrants, and a draggy midsection that features an entirely superfluous romantic subplot.
It embraces the more salacious aspects of the work, which includes mad scientist laboratories and beakers filled with colorful liquids bubbling and emitting fumes. There are brains in jars and a heap of monkey meat that Igor and Frankenstein animate in their first experiment, recalling Re-Animator. This movie isn’t violent (it’s a PG-13 affair) but it’s pretty gross, in a good way.
It’s also difficult to completely dislike a movie that not only uses the term homunculus but also the plural homunculi, in two separate lines of casual dialogue.
But Victor Frankenstein is also a woefully confused film that implodes during the final ten minutes, when the monster is finally created (after 90 minutes, we finally get to the monster in this Frankenstein movie) and all the thematic stuff from Shelley and the ’31 film is chewed up and spat out in as short amount of time as possible.
I like that the monster is portrayed by a real actor (Guillaume Delaunay) via practical effects, even if he looks a little bland next to the famous Boris Karloff version. But the film has no idea what to do with him. I felt bad for the confused, re-animated monkey earlier in the film, and I felt even worse for this poor creation, who is treated equally poorly by the characters and the filmmakers.
The ’31 Frankenstein recognizes the iconic central character as a tragic figure, and ultimately sympathizes with him. In Victor Frankenstein, he’s just a monster.