Where before it was vampires versus werewolves, it is the battle of the gargoyles and demons that takes centrestage in the fantasy action thriller 'I, Frankenstein'. Based on the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel by one of the creators of 'Underworld', it tells of its titular character's struggle between good and evil in the midst of an all-out, centuries old war among two immortal clans of superhuman creatures. But as exciting as that may sound, you'll quickly find that the burden of 'Underworld' hangs too heavily like an anchor around its neck.
Indeed, you had better take the tagline at the top of the poster which reads 'from the producers of 'Underworld'' seriously. Too faint-hearted to mess with a formula that has worked for four films now, the same team of producers and 'Underworld' co-creator Kevin Grevioux have simply applied the same to their unabashed attempt at replicating its success. And that is precisely what co-writer and director Stuart Beattie has done in his sophomore feature film, which plays like an equally dark but less sexy clone of the decade-old franchise.
Like 'Underworld', the lead protagonist finds himself an outsider caught between two warring factions. Whereas Selene was a human turned vampire who found herself falling in love with a Lycan (or werewolf in short), Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is here a monstrosity borne from Frankenstein's laboratory who finds himself wanted by both the gargoyles and the demons. A freak of nature not of Nature's making, Adam is also thought to be soulless, and therefore a perfect living example of the 'walking dead' whom the demons hope to create by summoning the souls of the damned to inhabit the walking warm bodies on Earth.
By virtue of being an outsider, either protagonist soon realises that he or she can trust neither side. While Selene discovers the ones who killed her family were in fact her own coven of vampires she now calls family, Adam is during the course of the movie betrayed by Gideon (Jai Courtney), the leader of the gargoyle army, and no less than Leonore (Miranda Otto) herself, the angel whom Gideon and his army protect and whom serves as their spiritual link with God. Indeed, both narratives unfold such that their lead protagonist finds himself or herself isolated on either side and is therefore forced to be his or her own best guardian.
That personal battle also has to take place against a much larger canvas in which one side is plotting an ambitiously nefarious plan to once and for all wipe out the other side. In 'Underworld', it is the Lycans who plan to use a human to wipe out the Vampire Elders; while in 'I, Frankenstein', it is Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) who intends to use Adam himself as a specimen to bring to life an army of corpses to overrun the gargoyles and thereafter exterminate the human race. Is it any surprise that our protagonist will eventually choose to be on the side of good, rather than a blind follower of either faction?
Even if these similarities don't quite register by virtue of the fact that either movie did not have a compelling story to begin with, there's no escaping that the art design of 'Underworld' and 'I, Frankenstein' are strikingly similar. For one, both unfold largely against dim and grim surroundings of moonlight and shadows. For another, there is a distinctive choice to ensure that the entire movie is cast in shades of black, grey and otherwise very dull colours. Yes, there's no escaping the self-seriousness of 'Underworld' or 'I, Frankenstein', which approach their apocalyptic doomsday scenarios with the utmost solemnity.
And yet, their mode of storytelling is first and foremost to ensure an endless stream of VFX-heavy action sequences clearly intended at an attention-deficit audience. More so than Beattie's repertoire of summer blockbusters (think 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra'), this clearly eschews plot and character moments over gargoyle-versus-demon action, so don't go in expecting anything more. That being said, it also sees Beattie going bigger than he's ever been with the setpieces, and some of them - such as a daring raid on gargoyle soil by an army of demons - are quite a visual spectacle to behold, particularly in the contrasting use of light and fire whenever a gargoyle or demon is killed.
As is to be expected then, none of the roles call for much from their respective actors - except maybe for Eckhart to look the most buff we've ever recall seeing him been on the screen. Bill Nighy should certainly know - he who plays the chief villain here was also the key baddie in 'Underworld: Evolution'. Certainly, he should be distinctly aware of the intention to recreate the success of the 'Underworld' movies by essentially rehashing the same formula with a different set of monsters. You'll be advised too to toss aside what preconceptions you may have based on Mary Shelley's novel or even Boris Karloff's monosyllabic screen icon; this 'I, Frankenstein' is more 'I, Underworld' than anything else»