Not since Snakes on a Plane has a title of a film done such an effective job letting the audience know what they are in for. And really, your reaction to the title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a great indication of how you will feel about this film.
If the title causes you to roll your eyes, then you are best to avoid this one at all costs.
But if you are excited by the prospect of seeing one of America’s greatest Presidents use an ax to mow down an army of soulless bloodsuckers, then you will not be disappointed.
The film isn’t as campy or as over-the-top as you might expect. While the premise is utterly absurd, the movie still treats the idea seriously and delivers a rather straightforward – though highly-stylized – action film. There are a few passing tongue-in-cheek moments here and there and certainly a lot of winking references to real events, but it goes for action and drama over laughs.
It gets a lot of mileage out of slow motion action sequences, which is frankly a nice change of pace from the shaky camera, quick cut style that has become all too commonplace these days. Director Timur Bekmambetov has a solid sense of where to position the camera and when to slow things down for maximum impact. And he and his fight choreographers have come up with some great large-scale action sequences.
Benjamin Walker does a good job both with the fight scenes and the role of Lincoln itself. Reportedly, Walker did the bulk of the twirling and swinging ax work himself and he’s quite convincing at it. He also does a good job creating a version of Lincoln that seems like an actual person and not some caricature of a man we are all familiar with from our history books and President’s Day sales commercials.
Many of the important moments in Lincoln’s life are retconned to tie into his secret never-ending war with vampires. In this version of events, Abraham Lincoln’s mother is killed by a vampire when he is a child, which convinces him to devote his life to fighting the undead (sort of like a colonial Batman). He is trained by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a fellow slayer.
However, while Sturgess urges him to avoid distractions like getting married and pursuing his ambitions, Lincoln nonetheless marries Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), becomes President and abolishes slavery. (Trying to reconcile these two very conflicting life paths is the film’s biggest problem and one it is never truly able to convincingly overcome.)
The film ties the vampire uprising in with the Civil War and America’s two opposing views on slavery. Tying vampirism to racism isn’t a particularly subtle metaphor, but having the vampires team up with the South in hopes of creating their own sovereign nation strangely works for the story. Besides, the irony of Robert E. Lee teaming up with vampires to win the war, not realizing that they would love nothing more than to enslave him and all mankind when it’s all over, is entertaining.
For me, it was hard to shake the strangeness of the film’s premise. Using such an important historical figure and such a tragic and bloody time in our nation’s history as the building blocks for a throw away action film featuring supernatural bad guys just seems a bit off. Ultimately though, I was able to get over my hang ups with the premise and simply enjoy it for what it was. Your ability to do this will greatly influence your overall enjoyment of the movie.
If you do hang in there with it though, you will be treated to a really fantastic large-scale battle on board a train at the end of the film. It seems like a lot money was put into the climactic battle sequence, which is really fun to watch unfold.
There are some solid performances in the film as well. In addition to Walker, Dominic Cooper and Anthony Mackie (who plays Lincoln’s childhood friend Will Johnson) are both quite good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead feels like a bit of a strange fit for Mary Todd, but she’s still likable enough to make it somehow work. And Erin Wasson is quite captivating as the evil vampire Vadoma.
So if you have a hankering to see our sixteenth President take on a horde of the undead in a series of stylized slow-mo battles, I recommend giving this film a shot.
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