Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Running Time: 123 mins
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an American film about a scientist who reanimates a dead man, but lives to regret his incredible feat as the world around him begins to collapse.
Everybody knows the story of Frankenstein, and it’s said that this film is one of the most faithful screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic horror. I haven’t read the book, but I can still say that being faithful doesn’t necessarily equal being a good film, as proves the case time and time again here.
While it’s decked out with A-list actors, lush costume design, impressive sets and big special effects, there’s something very messy about this film, blending the sensibilities of 19th century storytelling with action-packed blockbuster cinema in a very clumsy manner.
Again, there’s certainly a lot to praise about this film, but we’ll get onto that later. The big problem with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is that it’s a painfully melodramatic affair that’s theatrical to a fault, often even proving laughably hyperbolic.
One of the real strengths of Mary Shelley’s original story, as well as the 1931 film, is that it’s a horror on the surface but a tender emotional drama beneath. That of course plays well as a mirror to the plight of Frankenstein’s Monster, but this film for some reason doesn’t do that.
Instead, the movie is filled with big-budget action sequences that rip away the poignancy of the story’s most emotional moments, as well as over-the-top dialogue sequences that feel more at home in one of Shakespeare’s comedies than this film.
Director and lead star Kenneth Branagh famously has a love for the Bard, but it’s something that really plays against this film and the strengths of its story throughout.
If the film had gone a little more its own way with the story, then the clash between its melodramatic style and the essence of the plot may not have been so frustrating. In short, however, this film just doesn’t cut the mustard as a great horror or a great drama.
Saying all that, though, there is still a lot we can praise about this film. Above all, its production design is exquisite, landing you in the cholera-stricken 19th century effectively right from the start. Its make-up leaves a little to be desired at times, but for the most part, this is a really well-made movie.
The A-list cast isn’t exactly on top form on account of the occasionally melodramatic dialogue, but there’s passion behind pretty much every scene, particularly from Kenneth Branagh, who really gives it his all.
Overall, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is quite the mixed bag. With a lot of money, talent and passion behind it, it’s an impressive production, but it’s far from the great story that we know this classic tale to be, getting muddled in a blend of hyperbole and high action that really takes away from the brilliance of the original story. So, that’s why I’m giving this film a 6.5.