Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Anthony Mackie, Alan Tudyk Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 22, 2012
PLOT: Future American President Abraham Lincoln (Walker) vows to hunt down all vampires for the rest of his life after they kill his mother.
WHO'S IT FOR? For those on the fence about whether to indulge their curiosity or not - go for it. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is more than just a piece of fan fiction with only a jokey title to its credit. Even history teachers might call this movie a "Hoot."
EXPECTATIONS: The pieces were not promising: vampires haven't seen a decent movie in years, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith bungled Dark Shadows hardcore, and yes — this is really dumb title. Though I was open to the chance of fun, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't skeptical that this might reveal itself to be some gimmicky garbage.
Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln: He looks like a young Liam Neeson, which is funny considering that actor almost played Lincoln in Spielberg's upcoming adaptation. Walker is fun to watch as this nutty take on a President, capturing both "Honest Abe," while adding a believable new axe-wielding element of violent behavior. Although other movies lose their audience's attention when old age make-up is applied, Walker still maintains our curiosity when he embodies the image of Lincoln he is most known for. Score: 6
Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturgess: Cooper has the luxury in this movie of toying with a character that isn't a part of the Abraham Lincoln tale; he doesn't have to sell the concept of trying to fit into the history that we already know, but instead he has to get us to believe that this variation on vampire hunting is simply cool enough for our time. Cooper's offbeat appearance works here as Henry, a man who trains Abraham while having his own secrets. Score: 5
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln: Having to work within the expectations of audience members who know that this person actually existed, Winstead does well. Even though Mary Todd is a simple romantic interest for Lincoln, Winstead doesn't lose the focus of her performance to winking hammy portrayals, and at the same time she isn't underplaying anything. You can tell she's slightly grinning too behind her straight face. Score: 6
Rest of Cast: What's most important about this cast (among other people), is that they all get it. The right actors (such as Mackie's almost-slave friend of Lincoln) are used for the more "serious" angle of this story; the same can be said for Sewell's unfunny villain Adam. Then there are appearances by people like Alan "Nerd Bait" Tudyk, who plays Stephen Douglas to provide a laugh or two related to Lincoln's political success. Score: 6
TALKING: The script of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter certainly has fun with its anachronisms in its dialogue, leaving some of its jokes up to whether audience members know their history or not. The film enjoys making references to famous Lincoln dialogue, (such as the Gettysburg Address), but it also gets away with some amusing wackiness when a scowling enemy says to our President, "Abraham f**king Lincoln." Score: 5
SIGHTS: Though Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn't have the best special effects, such weaknesses work in this rare instance of enhancing the effectiveness of this overall experience — make no mistake, this is a B-movie spectacle. It has got big ideas (horse stampedes, train fights), but not enough focus to make these moments "believable" in serious Hollywood movie standards. The visuals of Vampire Hunter falter most, however, during certain establishing shots which look too bright and phony, like a reenactment you'd see on PBS. The rest of this movie is slick — the wire action is great fun to watch, and is enlivened with the proper dosages of slow motion. Even the vampires that Lincoln battles are actually a little unsettling, and not for their at-times effective jump scare timing. And though the 3D is not necessary, it does assist in making the movie's in-your-face scares (when someone pops into frame) a little more personal to the audience. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Keeping with the mindset of the movie, which is mostly serious about its serious aesthetics in a silly story, anachronistic and head-banging guitars are featured only in the action sequences. The rest of the score keeps within the times as far as instrumental arrangements, especially during scenes in which this movie is trying to be "emotional" or "patriotic" etc. In an indifferent wink to the movie's dumb title, dumb rock band Linkin Park shows they can get work after the three Transformers movies by providing a tune for this film's closing credits. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The train scene is a sight to behold, with a fiery collapsing railroad bridge to boot. The cherry on top? The line, "This isn't the only railroad." It's perfect for the surprising ridiculousness of this movie.
ENDING: A helicopter lands on the White House lawn, and then there's some type of wink for a sequel. But featuring who?
QUESTIONS: Where did this concept come from? Could such anachronistic storytelling work again, or is this the one excuse we'll let it fly?
REWATCHABILITY: Simply as an action movie, yes. The hand-to-hand combat is good enough that I would have no hesitation in regards to looking at it all again. This time though, I'd probably opt out of the 3D. With a history book in hand, this would make for a fun drinking game.
This different kind of summer spectacle works because of its attitude — it is serious about providing stunning (and yes, over-the-top) action sequences, but it is not self-conscious about its silliness; Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter never laughs at itself. On top of this, it understands that the jokey concept does not let the story excuse itself from providing nutty creativity of its own.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter provides the type of fun that a movie with the jarring but lame title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter probably shouldn't. Such a title reads like something concocted for a Photoshop contest, or like that of an unfinished comic book abandoned by a young boy in history class. And in the age of the vampire's recent popularity, it seems like it's a lame pull to bring the tired horror villains to a different era, while having a little tinkle on history in the process.
Thankfully, this movie from the director of Wanted is competent enough in structure to take its punk idea beyond what will inevitably become a favorite template for Twitter jokes. This film moves right along, with numerous memorable action sequences that bask in their craziness while still surprising viewers.
At its most basic level, this is a sinfully entertaining action movie, with all of the blood, axe-swinging, and clever decapitations a genre fan could ask for. The movie can coast without hammering in its historical irrelevance - seeing that Lincoln swing an axe into the face of vampires can be a giddy bonus. Though the book seemed to be popular enough, this is one movie that makes a solid statement for its adaptation - there's no way this movie could be as fun on paper as it is with such special effects and nuttiness.
Yet even when the movie focuses on the history of Lincoln, and tries to spruce up the biography that we have come to know through elementary schooling, it doesn't falter in providing an amusing mix of the amusing and surprising when it comes to doling out its anachronisms. This may also be the first movie to have audience members think, "Too soon?" about the Battle of Gettysburg, or The Underground Railroad, but that's all a part of this movie's unique charm as an absurd action movie, both in regards to fiction and non-fiction.
Was the civil war really all about slavery? Maybe not, but this movie offers a whole other explanation even Texas schoolbooks wouldn't be seriously crazy enough to touch.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10