Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay & novel)
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release date: June 22nd, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The hammy villains.
The 16th President of the United States was far from the bearded profit and liberator of The Union as he is known today. This is what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is presenting at least, as this bland, derivative actioner fails to do justice to either Honest Abe or even the concept of genre-hybridity.
A timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life is presented over this narrated ‘dear diary’ type of story. A vengeful Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is taken in by determined mentor Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), to train him in the art of war with the un-dead. Lincoln has murder engraved on his ideology of existence and leaves him cold to the prospects of humanity. However his stone-like resolve cures his sins and leads him to the concept of unity within a civil war-torn land. His Presidency then becomes dependent on the north’s victory over the south and the freedom of slaves from their blood thirsty rulers. With a screenplay by the novel’s author Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scarcely surpasses the stupidity of its strange concept.
Choosing to side with visceral thrill over a connection to this beloved hero of US history, this contrived story skims over major plot points to become a bizarre collaboration of Blade and Amistad. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), a mimic of Guy Richie without the comic edge, clearly illustrates a lack of care with the thematic or narrative importance of this genre mash-up. A lack of believable character interaction and a large timeline skipping hastily through history leaves only clunky flashbacks and awkward scenes of exposition between every intense action set piece. The slight characters are aided greatly however by charismatic performances from this generally young cast. Newcomer Walker, essentially a younger-looking Liam Neeson, provides the inner strength and agility needed for his pivotal role as Lincoln. Dominic Cooper plays his Robert Downey, Jr.-like bravado up to a new level as Lincoln’s scorned mentor. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Anthony Mackie are left stranded, given a sore lack of development as important allies in Lincoln’s story.
“A guy only gets that drunk when he wants to kiss a girl or kill a man. So which is it?” (Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).
Having already successfully created violent vampire stories with his breakout hits Nightwatch and Daywatch, Bekmanbetov continues his unoriginal and abrasive visual style here. Despite several thrilling action set pieces scattered throughout, opportunities for unique ideas are wasted by his penchant for quick cuts and repetitive slo-mo. A martial arts style of axe-wielding is introduced with beautiful effect, yet is sadly lost in the action scenes with several being shot too close into each axe-swing, sepia tone setting and blood splatter. The mythology of vampire killing is created and continually written over when convenient. A missed opportunity for sure, montages of Lincoln in training and combat with his trusty multi-purpose axe become rare clever points in this silly popcorn flick. The vampires themselves only slightly change the mythology of vampire lore. Leaving the Twilight bloodsuckers in their sparkly midst, they’re an effective cross between the smarmy Eurotrash from Blade and the ravenous blood stained horde from 30 Days of Night. With an execution greater than similar big-budget shlock such as Jonah Hex and The league of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the film’s stupidity and constant plot and character flaws however leave it in the dust of last year’s polarising genre-hybrid Cowboys and Aliens.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the ingredients of something special, yet its straight faced execution of silly material delivers a rushed adaptation of this unique spin on Lincoln’s historical relevance. If you are looking for an alluring and subversive cinematic take on history, stick with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.