Every year, in darkest winter, the cinemas are largely filled with leftover awards contenders and a studio’s awkward also-rans that got bumped until there was just no space left. But amid those disparate offerings lurks B-movie gold: the January Gem, which can occasionally come out in February depending on how many technothrillers a movie studio has to burn off first. That’s the kind of laid-back attitude we want in a January Gem.
Last year, the amazingly bad Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters gifted us with Missing Children posters on medieval milk bottles and absolutely no introspection at any point despite the fact that they’re a witch’s kids and Gretel’s actually a witch but just ignores it.
This year, the January Gem is I, Frankenstein, in which Frankenstein gets caught up in the war between gargoyle angels and demons (you know the one) until he’s a man unsure of his place in the world, drawn to a comely scientist, treated very rudely by a selection of supernatural beings, and left with nothing but his own convictions and a coat with a hoodie attached.
Here’s ten things you should know about I, Frankenstein.
1. Is this Frankenstein walking away in slow-motion from a series of explosions behind him? Heck yes. Despite being a movie that, as I recall, is completely gun-free, it turns out demons blow up when you kill them, so the movie is literally crawling with incendiary devices. He gets to walk away from about four more of these.
2. The other figures are gargoyles, who are actually warrior gargoyle angels (sure) who live in Cathedral, an architectural fixture in City, but also conveniently travel to wherever the plot requires Adam Frankenstein to be. They are bound to prevent the demon takeover and save humanity, but they are often total dicks to Frankenstein, not because the demons want to study him for purposes of reanimating corpses and they must protect him, but because he has no soul and so when the chips are down, he doesn’t count. That’s stone cold (get it?), and I love it. They repeatedly remind him that this is a war fought in the shadows and he can’t draw attention to himself, but they have a series of battles right outside the cathedral in an open square at like 10pm, where dead demons explode and dead angels turn into huge balls of white light, so who knows. (Note: gargoyles are rendered in CGI, demons mostly get rubber masks right up until the explodey part.)
3. Please note he’s wearing a hoodie under his coat, to hide his face from the world. I can’t recall him ever using it. It’s one of those movies.
4. The head of the demons is Bill Nighy (excellent choice, he’s the fine wine of arch B-movie villains right now), alongside Kevin Grevioux from Underworld (who developed and co-wrote the script). The head of the angels is Miranda Otto, who set a certain tone for all the gargoyles to take their parts extremely seriously, so you get a badass crew of very determined heavenly soldiers, including Mahesh Jadu, Chris Pang, Deniz Akdeniz, and Caitlin Stasey, Handmaiden Madysyn from Reign:
…all of whom are absolutely 110% committed to discussions about how it was lucky they were on patrol (on patrol: pretending to be a gargoyle for an unspecified amount of time in a location where shit coincidentally happens to go down) so they could help Frankenstein, and argue about whether God’s going to be mad at them for something and weepily declaring their forbidden love for each other. Meanwhile, under the guidance of Bill Nighy, the demons are just barely hiding their kazoos between takes. It works out.
5. Of course, caught in the middle of this (just like they’re caught in the middle of the war! TOPICAL) are Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne “I guess Sophia Myles was busy” Strahovski. As Frankenstein, Eckhart gives his jaw-clenching all, and he has a natural intensity and athleticism that casually sell him clubbing demons for ninety minutes. I’d actually like to see him as the ol’ modern Prometheus in a movie that takes a little time to examine the personal toll that takes. (This movie is 90 minutes. This movie is not taking time to examine anything.)
6. And Doctor Terra….Wade, maybe?, this movie is not preoccupied with her last name or her medical credentials…spends the first ten minutes cheerfully reanimating a dead rat on the assumption she’s curing paralysis and then is Super Surprised to hear that the slimy head of her secretive single-project research institute is actually up to no good. Luckily for her, Adam is there to protect her from harm. Luckily for him, she’s there to out-bluff a demon and save his life. Luckily for us, they have to seek shelter in an artfully abandoned apartment for some quality time.
7. This is the kind of movie where in the abandoned building that still has a well-stocked medicine cabinet, a wounded Frankenstein mutters to Terra, “I’m a monster,” and she turns around to face this:
Movie, you’re a peach. (She gives him stitches on his shoulder as he talks about how he’s a patchwork of corpses and that’s why he’s so hideous, while she’s crouched behind him barely able to restrain herself from gnawing his delts.)
8. That said, this is also the kind of movie that opens with Adam killing Frankenstein’s bride and their subsequent Arctic chase, so that’s actually more accurate than we have any right to expect from The Gargoyle-Angel edition of Frankenstein. It also includes: Adam bringing his father’s corpse back to the Frankenstein family plot for burial (approved); almost no follow-up questions about strangling that unarmed woman that one time (awkward).
9. In fact, this movie’s pretty low on follow-up just generally; if you’re still wondering at all about what Frankenstein did for the 200-year interim between 1799 and right now, the answer is, Nothing. He practiced clubbing demons on a snowy mountain alone for 200 years, then he came back to City. This movie doesn’t want to waste anybody’s time, okay?
10. Will Frankenstein finally get the courage to ask Terra on a date? Will every last demon finally explode? Will Leonore the gargoyle angel warrior queen (yes, good, thanks, movie) learn the error of her ways in assuming Adam is expendable just because he’s soulless? Will Frankenstein find that soul of his just in time to help rid the world of the huge underground cavern full of dead bodies just waiting to be reanimated and possessed by demons? You bet! Did he have a soul all along and both sides of the Biblical host were just judgey jerks about it? You’d think! But maybe don’t think; this movie will thank you for it.