I've started to regard 3D CGI-overkill movies as little more than light shows, best appreciated without paying attention to plot or character, but this film shows that you need at least a modicum of plot and character to keep the visuals interesting and involving. This movie looked like a ludicrous fun-fest, so I was eager for it, then had to catch it fast when it tanked on its opening weekend. I went to a huge IMAX-style showing in a massive theater, and was one of three people in the audience.
We open with a sixty-second recap of the plot of Frankenstein, where we see Frankenstein's monster [here dubbed Adam] carrying the body of the good doctor back from the arctic to bury his corpse, making us wonder why people on long arctic treks waste time climbing to dead-end peaks, which offer a magnificent view, but take them seriously out of their way. Adam is burying the guy when he is beset by demons, who have been following his actions via Twitter. He is then rescued by gargoyles, who are essentially angels, and can switch back and forth between human and stone form at will. Demons explode into fireballs that drill down into hell when killed, which made me wish they'd thought to include the joke of someone tripping over one of these holes. Angels, when killed, ascend to heaven in a beam of blue light. You'll be seeing a lot of each.
Anyway, Adam is taken in by the gargs, who are led by Miranda Otto as "the queen of the gargoyle order," a line she is called upon to deliver with a straight face. Turns out it's one of those spiritual wars that could determine the fate of mankind being fought unseen among us for centuries. Yep, another one of those. You have to wonder how many unseen wars are happening concurrently, and if they don't ever overlap. By the way, there are exactly two (2) humans in the movie, so we have no sense whatsoever of this war happening among our daily lives, which in turn kills any investment in this war and provides the film with no real stakes. Anyway, Adam, king of the blurted tough-guy line, barks "I care not for the world of man," and "I go my own way," and numerous other knee-slappers, some more of which we will capture going forward.
So, having learned of this war, we go forward 200 years to the present day, where we find Adam stalking nightclubs and taking out the occasional demon, who apparently aren't all that serious as adversaries if they've had 200 years and can't mount an effective attack on this guy. He is reintroduced to the gargoyles, including the attractive and muscular Jai Courtney as Gideon, who offers the option of simply staring at his massive arms when the film gets boring. They tell him that Naberius, demon prince, wants Frankenstein's notebook for some reason, but the gargs have it and are keeping it safely hidden because, you know, the fate of mankind and all that. They mean to keep Adam prisoner to prevent him from fucking up their giant, you know, unseen war, but he blurts "My life is my own! You will not take it from me!" The script here is the comedy gem of 2014 thus far. Oh, and don't miss the performance of this one woman who fights alongside the Southeast-Asian gargoyle, who is called upon to do little more than shift her eyes significantly in numerous reaction shots. There is an off-the-chart amount of glowering in this film.
But what of this Naberius? He is played by Bill Nighy, the only one here who seems to be in on the joke, and his hilarious performance is one of the only draws of the film [but still doesn't make it worth seeing]. He is disguised as some corporate mastermind, with the comely Terra, standard-issue hot, gorgeous, young, blonde hyper-advanced biological scientist, who is tasked with bringing corpses back to life for her boss, who, one suspects, has a nefarious purpose for all of this that we probably won't care all that much about.
Then! Full-on demon attack on the gargoyle headquarters, which, by the way, is this massively overblown Gothic cathedral apparently sitting in the middle of London. It is obviously one of the big setpieces of the film, and contains many pretty and complex effects shots, what with all the swooping around the Gothic cathedral, the fireballs from dying demons and the blue light of the ascending angels, but... the film has no rhythm, and no shape, so the fight has no momentum and the entire sequence is big, but shapeless and thus unexciting. It's as though they ordered a bunch of effects shots, and then just placed them one after another. In here we see several fights, and... I think there is some new computer technology that maps actor's faces onto CGI bodies, because something is just amiss and looks wrong about these fights. As in: the combatants don't seem to be in the same room together. Their movements don't look quite right. I don't know what it is, but something is up here. This sequence includes another hoot with Adam growling "Descend in pain, demon!"
This is around the time I got bored. During this battle, it became apparent that Adam can be mildly hurt, but not really killed, and that makes it all a bit boring. And the aforementioned issue that since we never see humans, our investment in them being wiped out is only abstract. And since the entire cast of the movie, save two people, are non-human, again, all a bit abstract. It did begin to seem quite pointless to finish the movie. But finish I did. Various forces find Frankenstein's notebook, which naturally contains the secret of reanimation (is it Nutella?), and which naturally we don't find out. Adam sneaks into Naberius' secret lab, where he finds a bunch of corpses just waiting for reanimation, in one of those Matrixy things where we see a chamber of bodies going on and on and on. The deal is that, since these bodies don't have souls, the demons can possess them and poof! New body for which to go on and attack mankind. Although they do seem to be doing fine as they are. I don't get it. In here Adam befriends Terra, and says my favorite line of the film: "I think your boss is a demon prince."
So Terra figures out the secret of reanimation and we see that each corpse has an individual uploading screen, just like you get when uploading a video or something, that says "Reanimating: 83%," which is quite, quite silly. There's a really nice effect as all the fiery demons shoot up out of the underworld to possess these hapless corpses. There's a big battle, obviously, and finally Adam slays Naberius and when his soul, or whetever, descends into the underworld, it happens to go right through the corpse chamber, destroying them all, leading to some nice effects of this huge crumbling scaffolding, a large manor crumbling, and finally, my fave, a nice, atmospheric shot of all this massive debris slowly falling down into the underworld. Let's not ask what human geologists make of having a number of holes that drill down to literal hell. Anyway, the movie then sets up for a sequel, with Adam declaring himself as a demon slayer 4eva, and the words "I, Frankenstein" actually spoken.
Now, I like Aaron Eckhart. I think he is a fine actor. And I am happy that he is still finding consistent work, although what a strange turn of events that he should now be turning into a b-movie action hero. There is evidence that he may be attempting to envision his character as an extension of the unsocialized monster of the classic films, and if he is, well, I think he's investing more into this character than anyone else making the film. I am loath to make fun of him because I do like him, and the only thing to do here is throw yourself into this character, but anyone who wanted to make a compliation of him making some extremely silly faces would find a great deal of material here. He has been given this outfit of a T shirt, hoodie and overcoat, jeans and boots, and when interest in the film fades, one can start studying his outfit, which is all strangely stylized. I became fascinated with his hood, which is always lying perfectly flat across his shoulders, until I was quite sure it was stitched together that way. There's also some strange stylization to his jeans. It was all just quite peculiar.
So, all in all? A piece of shit. Not even fun. There are a number of beautiful special effects, but the director, who is mostly known as a screenwriter, has no idea how to give his film momentum or make the story involving or characters interesting. It's quite a surprise, actually, that he has a number of scripts under his belt [all for shit, such as the Pirates of the Carribbean films, but still], because the script here is just godawful. GOD. AWFUL. It alternates long stretches of exposition with silly, blurted lines and not one interesting thing happening or character revealed. This is supposedly based on a graphic novel, which might make you think it has some reason to exist, but it happens that the graphic novel was never published prior to the film, it was created for the sole purpose of selling the screenplay. And someone bought it.
So there ya are, a total piece of garbage that is pretty but not fun. Continue not seeing it.
Not even on a plane.