Motion Picture “I, Frankenstein” — A Christian Movie Review!
The monster of Frankenstein discovers that he is immortal after Dr. Frankenstein creates him in the 1700s. After two hundred years of solitude in remote corners of the earth, he ventures into a modern day metropolis to hunt down demons that walk the earth in human form. He destroys the demons using weapons blessed by holy water and other sacred objects that bear a blessed symbol derived from the shape of the Cross. Every time he wounds a demon with these weapons, the demon is sent back to Hell where it is imprisoned forever. His personal vendetta against demons broadens into something much bigger than himself when he learns that there are others who fight the demons: gargoyles — powerful winged angelic beings — charged by the archangel Michael to war against the demons.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content: None.
Violence/Gore: It is PG-13 violence and grisliness. A woman is seen dead on her bed with a small amount of blood around her mouth. A man’s neck gets snapped, another man is choked, and countless demons in human form and gargoyles battle and chop each other into pieces — though there is very little gore because whenever a demon is killed, it explodes into flame and you see no carnage or blood. When a gargoyle is killed, it explodes into light and ascends into Heaven. However, when demons show their true form, their human face burns off in a gory way. A gross looking corpse is seen on an operating table.
Language: There are some d-words and uses of Hell, but I lose track of when the words are being used in their actual meaning and when they’re being used as curses. It’s more of the former than the latter. One prominent appearance of the s-word. Surprisingly, unlike most PG-13 movies these days, there are no f-words. The language in this film actually leaned closer to the PG side of things.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Frightening/Intense Content: As you can see above, there is very little gore, swearing, sexual content, or other things that usually end up in a PG-13 film. Yet it is billed as a horror movie. Why? Because of this category: “frightening/intense content.” The demons are scary. When they reveal their true form, they look like a cross between walking corpses and the most hideous of the Orcs from the Lord of the Rings movies. Additionally, there are flashbacks from when Dr. Frankenstein was stitching together his monster using fragments of corpses. It’s frightening and more in the realm of a horror movie. The final scenes, which I can’t describe in detail without spoiling the plot, take all of the frightening elements above and intensify it all. Oddly enough, Frankenstein’s monster — called Adam in the film — is not very scary. He is played by the likeable, handsome Aaron Eckhart who was clearly cast to create a sympathetic endearment for Frankenstein’s monster.
People don’t often think about this, but if you’re going to a horror movie in the theaters — as I, Frankenstein is billed, despite its PG-13 rating — the trailers you see will also be advertising horror movies for obvious marketing purposes. I am not sure if every theater will be showing the same trailers, but one of the trailers that preceded I, Frankenstein was both disgusting and horrifying. Its content was very disturbing, and I averted my eyes for most of it because I just didn’t feel like filling my mind with that junk. Just be aware that sometimes the trailers also present content that requires parental guidance depending on which kind of movie you are seeing.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
I’m guessing the critics will be merciless with this film because of its clumsy dialogue and — at times — campy script. It’s not a movie critic-friendly movie, especially for all the cynical critics who have forgotten how to have fun at a movie theater. These are the unforgiving critics who only approve of Ivory Tower art house films. This movie is not for them. I doubt fans of Shelley’s literature will like it very much either. It’s a sewn-together combo of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Twilight, Batman’s anti-hero moodiness, and The Matrix.
That being said, many of the special effects and action scenes are world-class, and it has some of my favorite thespians in Hollywood: Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Miranda Otto (whom I haven’t seen on-screen since she starred as Eowyn in Lord of the Rings), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck), and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack Reacher). Bill Nighy was especially good (as he always is) — though I can never see him in a movie and not think of his infamous character Davey Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, one of the coolest villains in movies since Darth Vader. He still says his lines with the same dastardly but articulate pacing as Davey Jones. He always adds something special to whatever film he is in.
Aaron Eckhart as Frankenstein eventually won me over, but it took awhile. This film’s version of Frankenstein’s monster took some getting used to because our culture is so accustomed to seeing the stereotypical version that walks around clumsily, has a head shaped like an ice box, and sort of groans at people. Here we have the articulate and emotive Aaron Eckhart playing a creature that is neither human, demon, or angelic — and who has hand-to-hand combat skills comparable to Jet Li. He is a very different version of Frankenstein’s monster than we’re used to seeing.
The film’s biggest weakness, however, is its dialogue in some places, especially in the rather rushed and clumsy exposition that introduces the story to the audience. Some of the lines in this film are truly awful — worthy of Mystery Science Theater 2000 mockery. As the film began, I was grumbling to myself about the script, wondering if the whole movie was going to be like that.
It got better as the movie progressed. In the beginning of the film, I was rolling my eyes and laughing during moments that were intended to be serious. By the end, I was cheering for the good guys and completely into the story. It turned into a fun, gripping movie.
Granted, it’s not the greatest film in the world, but it ended up being much better than I expected, frankly (or, should I say, Frankensteinly — har har). The fantastic acting, battle scenes, epic visual shots of Gothic cathedrals and architecture, and the brooding Batman-like atmosphere made up for the blaring weaknesses of the script.
I also took note of the music. It’s a great score and a well-chosen soundtrack. There was one particularly memorable scene where the gargoyle Gideon (Jai Courtney) descends solemnly down a spiral staircase after making a grave, potentially very risky decision; and instead of trampling the scene with a full orchestra, we hear a lone cello playing an elegant, restrained melody. It’s a very nice moment of film craft meeting wonderfully composed music. This movie had more of these moments than I expected there to be.
From the perspective of someone who enjoys writing novels, this film has a creative premise. Most surprisingly, it draws much of the fundamental rules for its world from Christian theology. It takes the general truth of spiritual warfare — i.e. the fact that we live in a world where demons and angels are warring over souls — and uses that as a foundation to build an imagined version of our world in which gargoyles are emissaries of Heaven under the charge of the archangel Michael; and then it throws in creatures like Frankenstein’s monster. It’s like someone took the Christian worldview about the spiritual realities that surround us and used it to structure a re-write of the novel Frankenstein that takes place in modern day.
As a Christian who loves classic literature, this movie won me over, despite serious deficiencies in the dialogue and script. It is the most epic, artful depiction of the Biblical truth of spiritual warfare that I’ve seen on-screen. And when I say epic, I mean along the lines of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. This film has the same tone, scope, and size as those Christopher Nolan films. Granted, I can’t honestly say that the quality of the film matches anything Christopher Nolan has done, but overall it was a much better movie than I was expecting.
However, all of that being said, keep in mind that it is a very loose representation of the Christian worldview about angels and demons. The obvious elaborations are the inclusions of Frankenstein and gargoyles.
But in general, its emphasis of demons and angels is very much grounded in what I believe is reality as a Christian. Of course, this is where some people who do not believe in supernatural or spiritual beings will shake their head and immediately categorize me as a loony. Even some Christians have done that (in a very polite Christianeze kind of way, of course) when I told them that I have actually seen demons manifest themselves and try to intimidate me and others I know. My wife has seen angels. She saw them for a fleeting moment during a worship night at a local college.
Angels and demons are real.
What this movie gets wrong about those beings, however, is its depiction of demons being incredibly powerful. This is a common problem in Hollywood. In this film, they’re a cross between ninjas, zombies, and the agents from The Matrix. They’re portrayed as unstoppable. Only holy weapons wielded by skilled warriors (or gargoyles) can defeat them.
In reality, a simple prayer in the Name of Jesus uttered by a person who has the Spirit of Christ in their heart is enough to defeat a demon. Many years ago, a demon kept annoying my roommate and trying to instill fear in him by manifesting itself and using various scare tactics. He and I prayed in Jesus’ Name and commanded the demon to leave immediately. It did, and it never came back. In other similar situations, I would only so much as utter the Name of Jesus and demons would scatter immediately. In other words, the power of Christ is so much higher than any demonic power that it’s laughable to even compare the two in any equitable terms — as most Hollywood movies do. They’re obviously doing it to make a more interesting film. It would probably be a boring movie if a guy just said, “In Jesus’ Name, I rebuke you,” and all the villains were defeated in an instant. It’d be a short film.
I’m probably taking the whole movie too seriously. The filmmakers were obviously having fun with rebooting the Frankenstein myth (and adapting a graphic novel); but I thought it was very fascinating that they used the Christian worldview of spiritual warfare as the film’s foundation and overarching premise. It’s hard for me not to seriously analyze a movie that indirectly portrays Christians as “the good guys” for once. That’s not something you see every day in Hollywood. There were some truly spiritually edifying and meaningful moments as well. For example, with poetic elegance, the characters speak of God’s grace and how He uses all things for His purposes, even when it is hard to see His higher plan.
In addition, the movie has a very Biblical view of the preciousness of life. In one scene, Miranda Otto’s character says with great reverence, “All life is sacred.” In a culture obsessed with death and the demeaning of human life, this film’s message was refreshing.
Despite these surprisingly Christian elements, it’s not marketed as a horror movie for nothing. It has some terrifying moments, to be sure. Some of the imagery is very scary. And, as odd as this might sound, one of the trailers that preceded the movie was very disturbing and disgustingly scary. It’s also not the greatest film in the world as far as its script. Despite these things, I can’t deny that I was delighted by this movie. It was a thrill to see the full weight of Hollywood’s special effects and some of its best actors behind an artful (albeit fantastical) portrayal of Biblical truth. All fantasy Gothic themes aside, the film depicted the general idea of spiritual warfare in a way that honored Christians and treated the truth of God as something sacred.
And, who knows, maybe God will use the movie to speak to some people. There were guys there in the audience who, when they were walking out of the theater, were shouting with very loud voices (and using language I can’t repeat here) to essentially say, “That movie was awesome!” I couldn’t help but wonder if God would use the Biblical truth embedded artfully in the movie to plant some seeds in their hearts.
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