NEW YORK — Given the number of screen treatments Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus” has received over the years, it’s safe to say that “Victor Frankenstein” (Fox), the latest attempt to adapt her novel for the multiplex, is not the worst.
It’s just as certain, however, that director Paul McGuigan’s horror-flecked drama is nowhere near the top of the list.
So Boris Karloff, the monster in both the fine 1931 take and the even more definitive 1935 sequel “Bride of Frankenstein,” can continue to rest in peace. So too can the director of that outstanding duo of pictures, James Whale.
The gimmick behind McGuigan’s version has to do with the titular mad scientist’s traditional assistant. As pictured by script writer Max Landis, and portrayed with futile dedication by Daniel Radcliffe, this is not your Dad’s Igor.
Afflicted with a deforming malady, Igor is an abused and despised circus performer in Victorian London who harbors secret, self-taught medical knowledge until his kindly future patron (James McAvoy), recognizing his outstanding intellect, rescues him from virtual captivity. This enables Igor to become both Frankenstein’s partner — in a bow to current egalitarianism, a second fiddle no more — and our narrator.
Under his guidance, we watch free thinker (i.e., scoffing atheist) Frankenstein spar with religiously zealous Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) of Scotland Yard. Turpin is determined to thwart the charismatic but overreaching researcher’s revivification schemes.
In between bouts of enthusiastically aiding his mentor and spells of wanting to slow him down, Igor pursues romance with Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), a trapeze artist-turned-socialite he knew — and admired from afar — in his days of misery. Lorelei’s liberator from the big top, we’re told in passing, is a gay blade about town who uses her public companionship to disguise his preference for “the company of men.”
The tension between faith and science is one of the themes halfheartedly pursued amid the film’s steampunk-style spectacle. But the representatives of the two sides in the dialogue’s debate are equally unbalanced — Frankenstein is given to spittle flecked rants, while Protestant Turpin, having no rosary to clutch, nervously swings a cross around on a string — and therefore unconvincing.
Though McAvoy matches Radcliffe’s commitment, the movie winds up feeling as cobbled together, lumbering and directionless as the monster that lurches through its climactic scenes.
Still, the chaos is kept bloodless and the vocabulary, with a single exception, respectable. So parents’ decision as to whether mature teens should become viewers will largely depend on their feelings about an off-screen get-together between Igor and Lorelei for which we’re given a very brief set-up as well as a morning after scene that finds Igor smiling broadly in the manner of a satisfied conquistador.
The film contains considerable stylized violence, an implied, but benignly viewed, premarital encounter, a single crude term, a few mild oaths and a fleeting reference to homosexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.