I promised myself I wouldn’t compare this film to Mary Shelley’s novel, because that way lies discontent. And, if I haven’t quite succeeded in honouring that promise (how could I, really?), I have at least tried to view it on its own terms.
And, on those terms, it really works. It’s a handsome, exciting, rollicking film, where every emotion is heightened and every deed is desperate. Victor (James MacAvoy) is viewed through Igor (Daniel Radcliffe)’s eyes, and so is admirable even at his most flawed. He is, after all, Igor’s saviour, having wrought a bright apprentice from the unpromising ‘freak’ he encountered at the circus.
It’s not as if the film is even trying to be faithful to the book; it’s not purporting to tell the same story. It’s just a riff on the central premise: a young genius driven mad by obsession, unable to comprehend the consequences of his all-consuming work. MacAvoy’s performance is a delight: exaggerated to the point of mania, his delivery is never less than compelling. And Radcliffe’s comparative understatement makes him the perfect foil: his moral compass compromised by the gratitude he feels.
It all looks suitably fantastic. The circus is a visual confection of grubbiness and glamour, and London’s Victorian streets have a shabby, bright-lit charm. Victor’s laboratory is a magical labyrinth of odd contraptions, where bookshelves stretch beyond all boundaries. It’s visceral too, not least when Victor ‘takes the pus’ out of Igor’s supposed hunch, and the creatures (especially the putative chimp-based horror) are decidedly unpleasant.
For me, though, it’s the creatures that let this down. I know, I know – there’s no point in saying this didn’t happen in the book. But the point (the main point) is surely to explore why Frankenstein’s creation becomes a monster, and this could so easily have been raised here too. Instead, both creatures are murderous from the moment they flex their muscles, and it’s hard to fathom why two such intelligent men would – after their violent encounter with the first – proceed to make another, let alone one so huge and powerful – without considering what makes him who he is.
Still, these are doubtless only quibbles for those who love the book – and this film is certainly not made with us in mind. It’s a fun movie, an enjoyable experience. With that in mind, why not give it a go?