Six years ago, Guy Ritchie gave stuffy British detective Sherlock Holmes a thorough dusting off in his film, "Sherlock Holmes," turning the private eye into a macho, brawling action hero. This swaggering steampunk treatment is now applied to another British literary-turned-pop icon in "Victor Frankenstein." Here, the reclusive mad scientist is now a hunky medical student (James McAvoy), and even poor hunchback Igor gets a makeover, turning into Daniel Radcliffe. This injection of fresh blood is initially quite promising, with shades of camp and humor, but it ultimately ends up a bit too self-serious. It's a shame, because it could have been quite fun.
McAvoy has one speed as the ambitious almost doctor Frankenstein: full tilt. He is grinning, frothing, raving, manic -- usually all at once. The story is an origin of sorts, and one that affords lab assistant Igor more of the credit. Victor rescues Igor from the circus, where he's been a brilliant but downtrodden clown his entire life. Victor spots his promise during a daring rescue, brings him home, fixes him up, and installs him as his assistant right quick.
In their work, there are a whole lot of bloodstained aprons and electrified organs, and Igor is transfixed by the possibilities, until he gets a dose of the reality. During a medical school demonstration, Frankenstein's grotesque zombie chimp attacks, leading Igor to question their motives. But it attracts a new benefactor, snooty Finnegan (Freddie Fox), and the quest for scientific glory is too much for Frankenstein to resist.
Intersecting with this main story, there's a subplot about a crusading detective inspector (Andrew Scott) who suspects Frankenstein's up to no good, as well as an underdone romance between Igor and the circus trapeze star, Lorelai (Jessica Brown Findlay). These side diversions serve to make Igor the romantic lead and heart of the film, and put their work under even more time pressure, with Scotland Yard on their tail.
Otherwise, they only detract from the heart of the story, which has to do with loss, trauma, ambition and questions about the nature of life.