Some conclusions I reached while mentally idling, waiting for “I, Frankenstein” to be over:
• Extensive scar makeup doesn't spoil Aaron Eckhart's good looks, and at age 45 his sculpted torso and dimpled chin remain intact.
• Bill Nighy has a good face to play Naberius, a prince of Satan: eyes that look beady when glowing red, and thin lips perfect for pursing and sneering.
Perhaps more to the point: Whether Frankenstein's monster has a soul is not one of the burning questions of our time.
You can dress that question up with all kinds of Gothic imagery and computer-generated effects, including lightning bolts and electric rays that put the original Frankenstein movie to shame. But in the end, if we don't have a script to make us care about these characters, it's just a lot of noise and flash. And humorless, to boot.
Director Stuart Beattie's screenplay is based on Kevin Grevioux's graphic novel, which in turn is based on characters from the original Mary Shelley novel. Beattie wrote scripts in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “G.I. Joe” franchises — movies known for spectacle and selling tickets, not good writing.
I think of Eckhart and Nighy as darn good actors, so I wonder how much they were paid to recite leaden dialogue like this with heavy gravitas.
Eckhart, as Frankenstein's monster: “I care not for the world of man.” Also: “Trusting others is a mistake you only make once.”
Well, OK, then. Depth of character is out of this realm. Emotional resonance has been lost to the netherworld. Is the movie at least entertaining as spectacle?
Occasionally, yes. The basic story is that Frankenstein's monster, aka Adam (don't ask), has lived 200 years, angry and alone. Naberius wants to get his hands on Adam to learn how dead, soulless flesh can be brought to life. Or if he can't have Adam, he'll settle for Dr. Frankenstein's scientific notes, guarded by an army of gargoyles.
If Naberius can harness the secret, he's stored thousands of corpses without souls that he could fill with his demon army and subjugate the world. Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), a pretty blonde scientist, is working for him on the methodology with a lot of fancy computerized equipment, not realizing he's the devil. But, no dummy, she does realize Adam is a hottie.
So Adam is caught in a war between demons and gargoyles. At first the gargoyles want to kill him to keep Naberius from studying him. But the gargoyle queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto), sees something in Adam's eyes worth saving.
When a winged gargoyle kills a demon, it bursts into flame and descends. Cool.
When a demon kills a winged gargoyle, it bursts into white light and ascends. Cool.
When either of them changes to human and back again, well, sort of cool.
And the giant erector set with dangling corpses and some kind of electrical tower? Creepy cool.
But watching Eckhart and Nighy labor to bring this corpse of a movie to life? Not cool. In fact, more painful than watching your favorite gargoyle burst into white light and ascend.
* * * * *
Quality: 1.5 stars (out of four)
Director: Stuart Beattie
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto
Rating: PG-13 for intense fantasy action and violence
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Midtown, Oakview, Regal, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads