In the years since Mary Shelley jolted a corpse to life in her 1818 novel, "Frankenstein," her stitched-up creature has been the subject of further experiments by various filmmakers. He's been given a bride, paired up with Abbott and Costello, even sexualized in an Andy Warhol movie. His latest cinematic incarnation is -- you guessed it -- a superhero in the new film "I, Frankenstein."
In this telling, Aaron Eckhart plays the monster as an embittered loner named Adam, who, after burying his creator and taking his surname, encounters two immortal clans. On one side are the angelic gargoyles led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto); on the other are the demons ruled by Naberius (Bill Nighy). Flash-forward 200 years: In today's technologically advanced era, Naberius hopes to reanimate an army of the dead. What he needs is Adam, the living proof that it can be done.
"I, Frankenstein" isn't as dreary as it sounds. It's certainly of a piece with franchises like "Underworld" and "Resident Evil" -- essentially action-and-fashion porn with a Goth sensibility. But director Stuart Beattie never overembellishes, and he seems to care about the material (by Kevin Grevioux, an "Underworld" veteran here adapting his own graphic novel as well as playing a hulking henchman). The movie probes deep questions in its pulpy way. When Leonore worries that "God is no longer the sole creator of Man," she's verging on comic-book Nietzsche.
"I, Frankenstein" also has a surprisingly strong cast. Eckhart puts his heart into the physically and emotionally scarred Adam, while Nighy -- another "Underworld" veteran -- can lend authority to just about any nonsense. Even Yvonne Strahovski, as the pretty scientist Terra, brings conviction to the kind of role that usually doesn't require any.
What the film doesn't have is a sense of humor. It would have been fun to see Adam paw through the racks of a DKNY store to find his overcoat-with-hoodie combo, or to hear Terra make a sly comment on his attractively reanimated bod. Perhaps self-awareness is too much to ask from "I, Frankenstein." It's enough that the movie has a spark of life.
PLOT A scientist's living creation becomes caught in a struggle between two immortal clans.
RATING PG-13 (action, some gruesome imagery)
CAST Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski
BOTTOM LINE Eckhart and a surprisingly good cast manage to shine through the darkness of this Gothic comic-book flick. It's slightly more compelling than you might expect.