[Review] – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

29 Jun

Title: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Year: 2012
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his own novel
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas
MPAA Rating: R, violence throughout and brief sexuality
Runtime: 105 min
IMDb Rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Metacritic: 42

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter started as a novel in 2010 written by Seth Grahame-Smith, the man who, with his 2009 novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, had pretty much made famous the mash-up literary genre that saw either history or classic literature being combined with a popular kind of genre like zombies or something of the kind. The novel behaved as a biography of sorts of the life of the 16th President of the United States, but intertwined his life events with a secret double life he led as a vampire hunter.

Now we have a movie based on that novel, directed by Wanted‘s Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Tim Burton, naturally, and starring Benjamin Walker as the titular vampire-slaying President. Unfortunately, though, the film just doesn’t really gel. I mean, it works as a gimmicky kind of thing, and it’s fun seeing Abraham Lincoln killing vampires and, as you would expect from Mr. Bekmambetov, it’s all super stylized in ways that are often quite cool. But then at times it got kind of old, kind of fast. And that’s because this film never once went in a super self-aware, tongue-in-cheek mode, which I think films like this really need to do, but instead always behaved like it was taking it self plenty seriously.

Of course if you’ve seen Mr. Bekmambetov’s other films, even if you’ve only seen Wanted, then you’ll probably know exactly what to expect here. This is a guy that’s all about style over substance, and when Lincoln starts wielding his axe against the vampires, you can bet your ass that some serious slow-motion is about to kick into gear here, and it’ll all be absolutely choreographed and blood will be everywhere. The story here is just really filler, to be honest, you have the basic facts of Lincoln’s biography embellished and fitted around opportunities to kill vampires.

What fuels our hero here is the fact that when he was young, he lived at the plantation where his father worked for a man named Jack Barts, who he sees one night breaking into his house and attacking his mother, who falls ill and dies shortly after. He tries to take down Barts but realizes he’s much stronger than him, and is rescued by Henry Sturgess, played by Dominic Cooper, who then tells him about the existence of vampires, that Barts is one, and becomes his mentor in the art of vampire hunting, giving him a pocket watch made of silver, the weakness of vampires.

Years pass and eventually he manages to defeat Barts, and around the same time he meets Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a favorite of mine. But then he has to confront Adam, the leader vampire in the United States, who wants to turn it into a nation of the undead, who lures Lincoln into a trap by kidnapping William Johnson, Lincoln’s childhood friend played by Anthony Mackie. So yeah, you can tell where this is going, it’s not as though this is the kind of film that worries about story too much, but it just kind of uses its transformation of history as gimmick of sorts, making, for instance, the slave trade explained as vampire plan to have a supply of food held captive, or the Civil War being one between humans and Confederate vamps.

To be honest, even though Mr. Grahame-Smith adapts his own novel here, I’m pretty sure that the novel is actually a lot more fun than this, and that he just didn’t do a good job adapting it. The pacing is just way off here, and from what I hear a lot of really cool moments and details and context has been lost in its transition from page to screen, which is definitely a pity, as this really would have benefited from a more structured kind of approach. If you replaced one or two or seven of those shots that Mr. Bekmambetov likes so much of putting you in the point of view of a bullet or a weapon, and inserted something to aid the story, maybe it all would have made more sense.

Of course you can say that a film like this should be judged just by how it executes those big action sequences. And well, some are quite cool, there’s a scene that involves some horses, for instance, that’s actually really awesome and well done. But, to be honest, for a film that relied on being super stylized and all, I actually thought there was a lack in the attention paid to the details of it all; the climatic sequences for instance doesn’t pay off at all, and it’s one of the many sequences in which there’s just no logical process being followed. Not to mention that the makeup used to make the people seem older looks totally horrible. The film as a whole just doesn’t look good from a visual standpoint.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, for about its first 20 minutes or so, is actually quite fun. From then on, it’s just kind of fun at times, and just rather disappointing at others. And while, as you might expect, this film loves going all over-the-top, the fact remains that it’s just excessive and not really self-aware and funny about it. Mr. Cooper is the best thing about this film, and Ms. Winstead and Rufus Sewell, who plays Adam, are also good here, but I just don’t really see anything that stands out enough for me to actually recommend this one.

Grade: C+

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