Remember that part in the story where Doctor Frankenstein breaks Igor out of a bear cage, freeing him once and for all from his sad life as a hunchback circus clown?
Of course you do. That’s everyone’s favorite part.
Victor Frankenstein is not something fun to talk about unless you can discuss the whole thing, so here is the short review for those of us who did not behold its glory over the Thanksgiving weekend or just want a quick recommendation: Do not imagine you’re going to see a good movie, because there are many more apt adjectives to describe this film. Bombastic, perhaps? Preposterous is a good one, too. Also, you can’t go wrong with misguidedly tenacious.
If you’re the kind of person who goes to movies to watch your favorite actors chew scenery, then run to the theater and don’t look back. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. (Least of all me.)
Spoilers for the entirety of the film below. Also, quite a few curse words.
So Daniel Radcliffe isn’t actually Igor. He just a nameless circus performer, casually abused by his costars. And he’s a hunchback, and also obsessed with human biology and medicine. (He’s not actually a hunchback, though—we’ll get to that later.) One day the flying trapeze woman of his dreams takes a horrible fall mid-show, and a strange man comes to his aid: Victor Frankenstein. We know this because when Radcliffe asks who he is, the frame freezes on McAvoy and the words “Victor Frankenstein” stamp themselves across the screen. Victor isn’t much help without equipment, leaving circus clown Radcliffe to show off his genius medical chops and get his trapeze pal breathing again.
I’m gonna wrap that man in silk and put him in my pocket, says Frankenstein. Or something like that. Okay, fine, it’s more like “You are brilliant! You are way too good to be in a circus wearing a crusty wig of what is either steel wool or just a lot of matted hair!” The ringmaster isn’t fond of talent poaching, so he locks young Radcliffe up, necessitating the above-mentioned break out. Victor takes the former clown back to his rooms near the college where he studies, and touches the guy all over, sucking fluid from his body to make him feel better.
…by which I mean, he realizes that Daniel Radcliffe’s hunchback is actually an abscess that must be drained, then manhandles his new friend into a back brace to help him to stand upright.
Why, what did you think I meant?
Victor wants help with his creepy research that works to bring life to dead tissue, and asks Radcliffe to pretend to be his old, strangely disappeared roommate named Igor. He also asks for help with said research, and now-Igor Radcliffe agrees in the name of science! Gross science. Match made lab partner heaven.
Or not. Because Andrew Scott (more commonly own as Jim Moriarty) is a detective for Scotland Yard of the decidedly pious persuasion. His name is Turpin, and he knows this twisted Frankenstein guy is doing the work of Satan, probably. Turpin comes off like a creepy, cross-wielding version of Sherlock, which makes it extra weird.
Igor is now helping Victor reanimate all sorts of body parts, which his buddy then takes down into the basement to do who knows what. (Well, we do… this story isn’t exactly new.) Igor’s trapeze pal, Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey fame) is all healed thanks to his knowledge and access to money, and she gains a benefactor once she’s well, allowing her to dance in a cabaret and be a concubine in public—her benefactor is into dudes, so she’s basically a well-kept beard. Igor’s crush rears its head because it helps to detract from his obvious adoration of Frankenstein. Poor Lorelei is barely a character; she’s nice and so good to dear Igor, but she might as well have “NO HOMO” tattooed across her forehead for all of her true purpose as far as the plot is concerned. Ah, well. She meets the two of them at a fancy party where Victor tells Igor not to embarrass him. Victor then proceeds to sit at a table with Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) and shout “BABIES IN VATS!” at the top of his lungs.
…He’s talking about how women need not be involved in their own pregnancies, so they can go to school and have lives if they want them. So Victor is at least leaning toward feminism. Or perhaps he’s only feminist when he’s wasted. (That’s a thing, right? Drunk feminism?)
Victor eventually shares his basement project with Igor—he’s pieced together an entire creature, mostly from chimpanzee parts. He uses his magic electric device to bring the thing to life, then tells Igor that they’re going to present it in public. Igor is understandably concerned with this unexpected direction, but also really into his new title: Frankenstein’s partner.
Let that sink in for a moment.
So they present and it goes terribly until the last moment, when they supercharge the creature and it goes hog wild, tearing up the school. Eventually, they have to kill it. But it’s fine because the only person aside from Lorelei to see the entirety of the presentation is a guy named Finnegan (Freddie Fox), son of one of the wealthiest families in in England, who is some nightmare cross between Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas and Draco Malfoy. He is prepared to give them all the money they need, provided he has absolute power in the relationship. (He makes this proposal while eye-fucking Frankenstein in a decidedly unsettling way, but at this point we’ve already seen so much of that in the film that it hardly comes off as surprising.) He wants them to start on human experimentation immediately. Victor says yes because science again!
Inspector Turpin shows up to have a “Which is Better: Faith or Science?” fight with Victor, and nearly gets him to confess to creating something creepy that was set loose on the school. But Victor demands a warrant, and Turpin leaves with a warning, then goes obsessed-bonkers and decides that warrants shouldn’t matter because God. I never said the themes here were subtle.
A brief aside: this saintly crew of actors made the choice to treat this script as award-worthy material instead of the hilarious schlock it is, and the performances are gorgeously melodramatic. Daniel Radcliffe is endearing and timid and utterly sympathetic all the way through. Andrew Scott plays the part of zealot with surprising depth. James McAvoy is positively manic—his dizzying vacillation between emotions, his highs and lows, it’s all captivating. You end up adoring Frankenstein just as much as Igor, despite the fact he’s an asshole. Some people have all the charm.
Later, Victor’s dad CHARLES DANCE shows up—because when McAvoy is on form, who the hell else can you call in to bring him down a peg?—to tell him that he’s a disgrace to the Frankenstein name and his brother was way better. (Gee, wonder if that will be important.) Victor is depressed by this, so Igor shows up to help, and they both drink bottles of whiskey and talk about Victor’s special pocketwatch while designing their new monster who will have two sets of lungs, two hearts, probably two livers, and two spleens, and two—
—well. You get the picture.
Inspector Turpin shows up with a crew to break down their door, and our heroes retreat to the basement where Igor discovers the body of the real Igor, Victor’s old roommate who died of a drug overdose and had his eyes pilfered for experimentation. New Igor realizes that maybe his
love BFF isn’t the best guy to be in cahoots with, and tries to convince Victor to stop this madness. Instead, Victor runs to Bosie Malfoy, who promises to set them up with a castle in Scotland. Igor won’t go, so Victor parts from him with hurtful words (things like “I made you” and “you’re making a mistake” and “no one will ever dress you as well as I did”…or definitely those first two at least), and Igor almost gets murdered by Bosie as a means of protecting the Finnegan family investment.
Suddenly, (Eureka!) Igor finds out that Victor’s pocketwatch belonged to his older brother, who died in a snowstorm they played in as kids, and this leads him to tell Lorelei that nothing is more important than his relationship with Victor, so they pack up and take a carriage to Scotland. They’re blocked from entering the place by Bosie Malfoy’s men, so Igor climbs up the side of a mountain with his bare hands to get into the castle. He tells Victor that what happened to brother was not his fault, and that this experiment won’t help fix it. But really, the conversation goes more like—
Igor: Victor, no.
Victor: VICTOR YES.
(Unsurprisingly, that’s a summation of every conversation in the movie.)
So Victor gets the experiment going with a bunch of technicians standing around (Mark Gatiss, what the hell are you doing here? Did someone come kidnap half the cast of Sherlock while you were filming your Christmas special?) and the creature lives, and then everything just explodes and lots of people die, and then Victor gets a good look at his monster and apologizes to his dead brother because the creature clearly isn’t alive in any sentient sense. (While this is all going on, Daniel Radcliffe’s hair goes from sopping wet to blow-dried’n’fluffy every time the camera cuts back to him.) Andrew Scott tries to kill the thing with a gun, and that goes over as well as you’d expect. So it’s down to Victor and Igor stab the it with lots of poles and stuff before it finally dies. Igor gets knocked out and wakes up to his lady love and a note from Victor telling him that they should part ways for now, and that he’ll always consider Igor his greatest creation.
By the end of it all, I have a personal peeve with this film. Yes, it’s silly and overblown, and that is completely fine for a fun afternoon of diversion. But the easiest fix to this mess of a film would have been to go where the script kept leaning—if you’re making Gay Frankenstein, don’t half-ass it. If this movie had just owned its homo-eroticism and run with it, the whole exercise would have been 8000% more fun, and distinguished itself among the dozens of lookalike Frankenstein narratives. It’s not like McAvoy couldn’t have handled that; hell, while you’re at it (with a set of actors who already classify as genre candy), have Michael Fassbender play the monster and give fans from every fandom what they want.
Gay Frankenstein. You have nothing to lose at this point, Hollywood. Bosie Malfoy is rooting for you—we all are.