Mary Shelley’s famous motherless child enters the angels-and-demons world of an apparent franchise bid in I, Frankenstein. Stuart Beattie’s solemn, ho-hum film largely shuns Shelley’s anguished creator as a character and turns his lonely monster into a football between the forces of good and evil: protective gargoyles and demons who covet his secret to immortality.
Somewhat scarred, mostly expressionless, the modern monster (Aaron Eckhart) stalks an empty, anonymous burg in an overcoat and fingerless gloves. He’s been moping for two centuries, as an introduction explains, and he’s nonplussed by existence. Christening him Adam, the gargoyles’ leader, Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), fends off interested demons led by Naberius (Bill Nighy), who has hired an unwitting scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) to crack this reanimation thing.
The two sides come to blows, needless to say, and Beattie stages air battles and hand-to-stick combat with a fireball effect that grows almost comically laborious. There are some clean, comic-book compositions and neat architectural interlacing, but the blinkered screenplay and indifferent performances fail to lift the eschatology and self-searching off the page.
Eckhart shuts himself down rather too thoroughly, and if there’s such a thing as valiantly insinuating, Nighy does it as he tries to shock life into the featureless dialogue.
Nighy’s presence is part of a certain overlap with the Underworld series, in which he also appeared. Like those post-apocalyptic struggles, I, Frankenstein is the brainchild of Kevin Grevioux, who here also lends his bulk and bass voice to the role of Naberius’s security chief. Having established a downbeat, even stoically plain tone, this economical affair feels like a canvas prepped for, and awaiting, further detail (or straight-to-video-on-demand sequels).