[24 January 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We’ve already had Constantine. Kate Beckinsale has made a leather-clad name for herself in numerous underwhelming Underworld efforts (where vampire battle werewolves for bad fashion sense bragging rights). Another fetching female, Mila Jovovich, has turned Resident Evil into a worldwide example of abject nepotism (she is married to director Paul W. S. Anderson, after all) while on the hunky meat side of things, Hugh Jackman started and stalled a potential humans vs. monsters mainstay with the awful Van Helsing.
So do we really need I, Frankenstein? Do we need another pointless supernatural smackdown between Mary Shelley‘s Modern Prometheus—or in this case, a post-modern example of same—strolling around a speculative version of our dystopian reality where demons battle gargoyles over some past problem with God (or something along those lines, the film wasn’t screened in advance for critics).
While there are numerous German reviews (Google translated and barely readable) that either love or loathe this pile of paranormal pretention, its lineage suggests that a certain stalwart member of the fanbase will show up for this quasi-comic book claptrap no matter what. You see, I, Frankenstein comes from the mind (and the mediocrity) of Kevin Grevioux, founder of Darkstorm Studios and creator of the graphic novel upon which it is based.
He’s also responsible for the Underworld franchise. He’s apparently fixated on the notion that, when all normality fails, the stuff of nightmares will have nothing better to do than go slo-mo wire fu on each other over past vendettas and flimsy folklore. Granted, for an African American artist to become so heavily ensconced in the genre mainstream is to be applauded. That his work is so meandering and mindless is something else all together.
Grevioux is the voice of a new Goth, a human subspecies taken to darkness and the things that go bump in it as is they are actual living, breathing entities. These are the people who tattoo themselves to look like anything other than ordinary, who pierce their various parts in an attempt to turn the tribal into something telling about their obviously lacking childhood.
While this may sound like nothing but stereotyping, of someone far outside the sect passing judgment on those in the know, the truth is that our current media, social or not, sees constant examples of these gauged and garroted individuals every day. Their motive may be to show their support and fright film devotion by donning blacks and leather, hair dye and horror show make-up, but they also end up explaining how something like Underworld can last longer than a single film, or how I, Frankenstein can be released to thousands of theaters over a January weekend and not be made available for critical consensus.
Of course, the answer is obvious: movies like this are unreviewable. Put another way, nothing I or anyone outside the genre givens, e.g., Bloody-Disgusting and Dread Central.com, will convince readers that this movie is anything but awesome. The idea—Frankenstein, wandering the world 200 years after his creation, getting caught up in this battle of beasties—is like their weirdest, wettest daydreams of a pre-teen come to life.
It’s like making a zombie into a pet, or acting as a lay exorcist when the Catholic church can’t be bothered over dealing with your friend’s demonically possessed sibling. It’s carrying around a silver cross and wooden stakes when there are no such things as blood drinking vampires or wandering the woods looking for your own version of the Blair Witch. It’s role playing taken to extremes, or worse yet, a lack of legitimate perspective outside of the right here and right now.
Look, escapism is escapism. During the Depression, Hollywood hit on a formula of frilly musicals loaded with Tin Pan Alley showtune standards and cranked them out with box office bonanzas. The industry made money hand over fist, and since “business” is the second half of the phrase we use to describe the movie industry, money talks and bull spit ends up in turnaround.
Thanks to Grevioux’s initial idea, Underworld has brought in almost $500 million in receipts. When compared against a measly $177 million to make the four films currently part of the series, that’s a nice return on your investment. So giving Stuart Beattie the go-ahead to bring I, Frankenstein to the big screen is a no brainer. If it can raise a fourth of what Grevioux’s other offerings have, the $68 million budget will seem sensible.
You have to feel sorry for Aaron Eckhart, though. It seems like whenever he catches a major career break (Erin Brockovich, Thank You for Smoking, The Dark Knight), any potential professional momentum is dragged back down to Earth by oddball choices ( The Core, The Black Dahlia). This, instead of steadily climbing upward from the previous hit.
It’s as if his origins in the indie outskirts (he got his first real notices as part of Neil LaBute’s black comedy In the Company of Men) demand that he consistently cater to his “integrity”, unlike co-star Bill Nighy who is quickly becoming the aging UK version of paycheck cashing, any old script approving Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro (he’s a Fallen Angel leading the demon hordes, by the way). Oddly enough, Eckhart already delivered up a slice of post-Nolan cheese with Olympus Has Fallen. That film was campy fun. I, Frankenstein, on the other hand, sounds like a turgid piece of trash.
By this time tomorrow night, the verdict will be in. Those who paid good money to witness this waste of CG and talent will weigh in, letting us know if it’s a misunderstood gem (unlikely), a guilty pleasure (possibly), or yet another example of a quasi-decent idea drop kicked into January because that’s where most inconsequential studio write-offs go to die (this, by the way, is its third release date). Indeed, a recent article suggests that 2014 is starting off under one of the most unusual release strategies ever conceived. Of four major releases this month, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Hercules: The Legend Begins, Devil’s Due, and I, Frankenstein, none had legitimate press invites (some cities got a couple, most got none).
This means one of two things. Either these are some pretty bad efforts, or Hollywood has finally figured out that they can niche something to death and still make bank. Clearly, Underworld willed I, Frankenstein to life. Hopefully, it will be able to drag it kicking and screaming into profitability, as well.