I know what you're thinking. Why on earth would anyone want to defend this film? This film that Fox invested absolutely no time in promoting. This film that stars Harry Potter and Professor Xavier with that one Moriarty guy from Sherlock. The film that has been called completely unnecessary and is the bastard cousin of "I, Frankenstein". The film that is written by that one guy who wrote that one movie that (unfortunately) no one saw, "American Ultra". The film that has a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes and is not only one of the biggest box office flops of 2015, but of all time. Yeah, I've heard/read all of your completely unwarranted complaints.
Why would I want to defend it then?
Because someone needs to.
1) Despite its flaws, it's a good movie
Like I posted back in August, the cast/crew of this film could simply not be better. You've got Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy and Andrew Scott, all credible and award-winning actors portraying three-dimensional characters in their career best performances. You've got Max Landis penning the sceenplay, one of the best up and coming screenwriters in the business, whose credits range from the exciting and spectacular "Chronicle" to the surprisingly poignant and hilarious action dramedy "American Ultra". (Don't get me started on his amazing work so far on Superman comic "American Alien".) You've got Paul McGuigan directing it, whose exciting visual flair and attention to detail has garnered attention the world over from directing four of the BBC's Sherlock's best episodes. You've got an award-winning composer, cinemtagrapher, costume designer and production designer that plunge you back into an exciting and colorful Victorian London.
Okay, so, the ending is a bit unsatisfying and the pace of the film moves very fast. But the film still works wonderfully due to the chemistry between its two leads. I promise you won't find better chemistry in a mainstream movie than you do between Radcliffe and McAvoy. There's even enough homoerotic tension to keep you more than interested for two hours.
McAvoy's scene-stealing, insane, vicious, charming and sympathetic Victor already feels iconic. Radcliffe's Igor is yet another sympathetic, likable and complex hero that he can add to his impressive post-Potter repertoire. The performances from everyone involved (Sherlock's ferocious Andrew Scott, Downton Abbey's radiant Jessica Findlay and Cucumber's scene-stealing Freddie Fox) are worth the ticket price alone.
But what you also get is an imaginative take on the Frankenstien story, putting Igor front and center and a perfect window for the audience to get into the mind of a mad genius. What makes this movie stand out from previous Frankenstein adaptions, is it focuses on the how and why of creating a monster, not the monster. Think of Victor Frankenstein as a prequel, an origin story of how Victor and Igor meet and why they create life out of death and I promise you, you will be pleased. At the end of the day, this film is an entertaining, fresh take on Mary Shelley's masterpiece that boasts award-worthy performances, stunning production design and masterful direction.
2) The movie is good, Max Landis' script is better
I loved the movie. Obviously. But how I even ever got obsessed with the world of "Victor Frankenstein" is Max Landis' outstanding screenplay.
Long story short, I read a draft of the screenplay back in March of this year. I had never read a screenplay before. Let me put it this way; it's so good, I fell in love with the craft of screenwriting and 9 months later I now have a writer's scholarship at UCLA and am pursuing a Feature Film Writing Certificate.
This 120 page script is thrilling, imaginative, exciting, surprising and has more twists and turns than you would expect. All of the characters, and I mean all, are deep, complex, have incredible arcs and are instantly lovable, instantly memorable. (Including an emotional and incredible arc for Andrew Scott's Turpin that was unfortunately cut in the film). As many Frankenstein homages as there are in the film, there are even more in the script; even direct, obscure references plucked straight from Mary Shelley's novel and a particularly fun reference honoring all of the great actors that have portrayed Dr. Frankenstein.
The movie is a Spark Notes, Hollywood basterized version of the masterful, perfectly constructed screenplay. But even that is still better than most of what major studios are producing. The script is part period drama, part action adventure, part sci-fi, part comedy, and part horror. It feels like the best Buffy or Doctor Who episode mixed with the drama and suspense of the BBC's Sherlock.
Seriously, go read it. What are you doing right now? Oh, yeah, that's right, you're reading it. You can read it by clicking here: Here. You can thank me later.
3) Fox's promotional campaign was terrible
There was hardly any promotion done for this film. None. Zilch. And when there was finally promotion, it was two weeks before the movie was released. I have analyzed the marketing for the film since March, and let me tell you, I have never seen anything like it.
Promotion didn't begin until San Diego Comic Con. Yes, that's right. A movie that was going to be released in November had its FIRST display of promotion during July to a room of 6,000 people. A mere FIVE months away from its theatrical release date.
I felt fine about it though, because the Victor Frankenstein panel was one of the highlighs of the Con. (I was in attendance, of course. Camped out for two nights. Sat third row center). James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe teased and flirted with each other mercilessly. Paul McGuigan came across as knowledgable, passionate and had nothing but good things to say about the two men and Max Landis' script. It was clear McAvoy's and Radcliffe's palbable chemistry would be the reason to watch the film. And who can forget the moment when James McAvoy demonstrated straigtening Igor's back by slamming Daniel Radcliffe against a wall? The crowd was uproarious with glee, taking pictures and videos and talking about the film with hushed, excited whispers.
I thought this was Fox's opportunity to release the trailer to the public that weekend, seeing as how well the panel had gone over.
To my complete lack of surprise, the trailer that was shown during the Fox panel didn't come out until the end of August. AUGUST.
Again, though, it was a good day. The trailer acquired over 5 million views in the first five days on YouTube. Victor Frankenstein was even trending on Twitter and Facebook. All was looking good until September and October go by... no trailer in front of other Fox movies, like Maze Runner, Hitman: Agent 47, The Martian... There was no second, full-length trailer that usually gets released about a month or so after the first trailer does.
The only time the Victor Frankenstein trailer was shown in U.S. Theaters was in front of Crimson Peak. Another movie no one saw.
And then... it is November. Do we get any promotion? Nada. Not a peep. No new poster. Hardly any promotional images. No second trailer. Nothing... that is, until Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy embark on a hilarious promotional tour TWO WEEKS before the film's release date. The two men did everything they could; hilarious YouTube ads, numerous talk shows, radio shows, the normal round of press interviews and even had a special screening in New York and a premiere in Mexico, but it just wasn't enough to outdo Fox's nonexistent marketing. By the time all of this was released, everyone already knew what they were going to be watching on Thanksgiving: Hunger Games. Creed. The Good Dinosaur.
Maybe if more people knew that a Frankenstein movie starring DANIEL FREAKING RADCLIFFE AND JAMES FREAKING MCAVOY was coming out several months before its release date, you know like every other normally advertised movie, maybe more people would have watched it. Maybe more people would have actually known what the movie was... which leads me to my next point...
4) The Critics DID NOT understand it
Ah, this is my favorite part. The critics. The reviews for this film have been, well, monstrous. They have ridiculed the film for not being scary, have said it is not imaginative or new and has said this film has things they have all seen before.
First off, this film is not a horror movie. It was never marketed as a horror movie (well, it wasn't marketed at all, but... anywho). Most critics complained that the film didn't scare them, which I think is a prepostrous complaint. That's like someone going into a comedy and complaining that they didn't cry. Victor Frankenstein is, first and foremost, a drama. A buddy drama with adventure, comedy, sci-fi, romance and action... and some horror, yes, but horror was never supposed to be a huge part of it. I get the the title has the word "Frankenstein" in it, but it's also called Victor Frankenstein which should at least clue you in that it is not the Mary Shelley novel nor is it supposed to bring a chill to your heart.
Secondly, the critics complained that the film is not imaginative, new or has anything new to say about Frankenstein...
This movie is a character study, first and foremost, about the preconceptions society has of Frankenstein and Igor. It is a buddy movie, the origins of these characters and how they meet and how and why they decide to create life out of death. This movie is about two men and their journey of trying to advance medicine, and science and technology. It is told in Igor's exciting point of view, allowing Victor to go as crazy or sympathetic as we all want him to be. We also see how Igor isn't just a mumbling subsurvient Hunchback, but an inllectual equal to Victor, a friend, a partner, a love... er... anyway...
This movie features a complex supporting character named Turpin, a religious Detective Inspector who detests the idea that someone is trying to take God's work into his own hands. A man who has known his own share of personal grief and is grappling with the inner turmoil of going above the law in order to stop the sinful actions of a mad scientist and his hunchback freak. Finnegan, a snobbish rich classmate of Victor's begins to manipulate the man into giving in to his darker urges in order to control Victor's technology and use it to his own personal gain.
Igor is Victor's monster in this film. Victor creates him, changes him, manipulates him. Igor challenges Victor, intellectually, emotionally, and morally. It's the story of two friends. It's the story of a creator and his creations. Ultimately, it is a love story between these two men and it asks the question: just because we can acheive something, should we?
HOW is this film not imaginative? Have you seen seen a Frankenstein movie with these exciting, fresh, new characters and these interesting relationships? No. Because as much as Max Landis was obviously influenced by Mary Shelley, he still basically created these versions of these characters and crafted a very exciting and grounded way of how these characters get from wanting to help the world to wanting to create a monster.
I know no one has ever seen a movie like this before. In fact, I know you haven't because you didn't see it. The critics didn't understand this movie... but...
5) Neither did Fox.
The studio never had any clue what they were making. Max Landis' incredible screenplay is at least a $60 million movie. The studio insisted on making it for $40 million. But the $60 million price tag is justified, in my opinion, because the big action set pieces that were in the script are supported by amazing and exciting character moments. But Fox just doesn't care about characters or their emotional arcs enough to shell out another $20 million. Because, you know, it's not like they're a huge corporation or anything.
In the original draft, there is an incredible scene where Igor is getting chased by Gordon, Victor's and Igor's monkey-like monster made from different animals patched together, on the rooftops of Victor's college. It's an action scene so exciting, it feels ripped right out of a Harry Potter movie. It ends with Victor killing the monster and Igor is genuinely surprised. Victor just killed their creation that they have both spent weeks and weeks building together. The creation that Victor has wanted to create his entire life. This relatively cold, megalomaniac of a man just destroyed his carefully crafted creation. But Victor quiets Igor's confusion quickly and says: 'I couldn't let it hurt you, could I?'
Wow. That emotional and thrilling scene was reduced to Igor chasing Gordon around in the college's hallways. No emotional moment between Igor and Victor. Not nearly as exciting. It was also a few million dollars less.
One other incredibly exciting scene that Fox scaled way, way down was, unsurprisingly, the ending. Yeah, you know, the ending, the part that every critic has a problem with.
The original ending boasted everything you could ever want from this movie: it satisfies the four main character's emotional arcs, it has an angry mob, features two incredibly satisfying character deaths, and ends with a windmill and the monster holding a little girl hostage. Oh yeah, and a very poignant farewell scene between Victor and Igor that always made me tear up.
Where Max Landis cares more about character and the satisfying culmination of their arcs, Fox cared more about saving money and making a generic Hollywood movie ending than taking the time to portray the script correctly. Tis a shame. I'm heartbroken at the thought of what a multi-million dollar mini-series of this script could be...
All of that being said... The nonexistent promotion, Fox's complete and absolute confusion on what to do with the movie, Max Landis' scaled down and almost butchered screenplay...
This movie still rocks. There's still enough love and affection from everyone involved that makes this movie truly special. Everyone is having a blast onscreen and behind the screen and that feeling is infectious.
Watch this movie. Fall in love with the characters and this world. Get swept away by the astonishing visuals masterfully directed by Paul McGuigan. Cheer and laugh and cry. Get blown away by the award-caliber acting. Enjoy the genuine enthusiasm and love for screenwriting and storytelling behind every word of Landis' script. Enjoy the genuine friendship, affection and camaraderie between McAvoy and Radcliffe.
Go see it in theaters. Don't be that person that watches the Director's Cut one rainy afternoon in your living room and think to yourself "What I would have done to see this on the big screen..."
Or, you know, be that person. Just don't say I didn't warn you.