I, Frankenstein was shot two years ago and originally slated for release last February. Then it got pushed back to September. Then it got pushed back again. Now, with no place left to get pushed to, here it is. "At last," I don't hear you saying.
Essentially, this is an Underworld movie. It's based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, who also worked on those films, and numbers among its producers several Underworld veterans. Here, the warring vampires and werewolves of that never-ending franchise have been swapped out for warring Demons (you shall know them by their fiery eyes and rubbery facial prosthetics) and Gargoyles (flying rock-heads). Bolting a neo-Frankenstein storyline onto these familiar elements is an interesting idea, but it drains the venerable Frankenstein monster of his dark power—he's the least-scary character in the movie. He's also played, with muted charisma, by Aaron Eckhart, who may be in need of a new agent.
The story retrieves parts of Mary Shelley's original 1818 novel, which is a nice touch. Eckhart's creature is called Adam here (a name Shelley toyed with), and at the beginning of the film we see him trudging through a vast snowy wilderness (echoing an image from the book). Someone gets to say "It's alive!" at one point, too, although not with anything like the demented brio that Colin Clive brought to the phrase in the 1931 Frankenstein.
Everything else is latter-day, though. After wandering the Earth's backwaters and byways for 200 years, Adam and his many scars ("I'm a dozen used parts from eight different corpses") arrive in a city filled with cars and nightclubs and all manner of modern-day hubbub. He is taken in by the Gargoyles, whose day job is hanging out atop medieval churches, but who are actually descendants of some archangel (or something). Their queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto), recognizes Adam as a fellow outsider. ("Humans think of us as mere decoration," she sniffs.) She's also interested in a book Adam carries with him—the handwritten journal of his long-dead maker, Victor Frankenstein, which contains step-by-step instructions for creating life.
Even more interested in this singular tome is a big-shot Demon named Naberius (Bill Nighy, who plays a big-shot vampire in the Underworld films). Naberius wants the Frankenstein create-a-life recipe in order to reanimate a collection of 10,000 human corpses he's assembled over many centuries and to deploy them as an evil army. He's being assisted in this project by an "electro-physiologist" named Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), who somehow manages not to notice that her creepy boss is up to no good. (She does notice the shirtless Adam in one scene, though—an awkward romantic tease that leads nowhere.)
As in the Underworld universe, virtually all of the visual components in this film—from the churning skies and screeching winged marauders to the many slo-mo fireball fights—have been spewed out by computers, to the usual claustrophobic effect. The lighting leans heavily toward a grim subaqueous blue, and the endless chases and confrontations and thunderous battles grow monotonous, as does Eckhart's performance, which consists mainly of a grimacing puzzlement. And then there's the score, which is a species of choir torture.
However much money was sunk into this picture wasn't enough to buy it spirit, or humor, or any fresh invention. Director Stuart Beattie seems to be observing the movie as it passes by, rather than guiding it into any interesting directions. The result is 90 minutes of empty digital bombast, over-amped in every way and thuddingly dull throughout. It's the worst sort of bad movie, offering not even the hooting pleasure of simple idiot fun. Is that too much to ask? Even in January?