Mark Reviews Movies

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson

MPAA Rating: R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 6/22/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 21, 2012

At a certain point in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Yes, you read that right), the future President's mentor shows the young man a map of the empire the vampires have established for themselves in the United States, and it will come as little surprise to anyone by this point in the movie that the territories line up perfectly with the borders of the Confederate States of America. Yes, in this alternate, fantasy version of history, it is vampires—not men's greed and basest impulses for control—that led to slavery in the U.S. The movie gives no reason for their need for slaves, except perhaps to help build an empire and, in one scene, as food supply.

The revision strikes one as particularly odd, and, yes, it is possible for a detail such as this to stand out as a particularly odd one in a movie that supposes the 16th President of these United States was first and foremost a trained assassin with an unquenchable desire to kill as many of the blood-sucking undead as he could find (e.g., that the movie opens with a quote from the Book of Genesis without so much as a wink). It takes for granted the true evil of slavery and injects the unfortunate, dismal history with an imaginary evil. In the movie's subversion of the Confederacy and the attitude that led to its creation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter also winds up downplaying the horror of slavery. After all, in this world, it only exists because of a demonic, supernatural race of beings that believe they are fighting to claim their own civil rights.

Luckily, the Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) of the movie is an ardent opponent of slavery even before he knows vampires exist. As a child, Abraham throws himself at a man ruthlessly whipping a boy simply because of the color of the boy's skin. Abraham's father (Joseph Mawle) intervenes and ultimately loses his wife (Robin McLeavy) and his own life for slighting one of the undead.

Abraham swears revenge against Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), the vampire responsible for the deaths of his parents, and learns Barts' true nature when the man recovers from a bullet to the eye. A mysterious stranger named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) saves Abraham from the ensuing battle and reveals to the young man the whole truth about the history of vampires in America and how they have claimed the southern states as their own. Henry trains Abraham in the ways of vampire slaying, and soon Abraham is in Springfield, Illinois, with his trusty silver-coated ax, killing any vampire to which Henry points him, meeting a young woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, which is generous casting), and deciding he needs a backup career, like the law or politics.

Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (adapting his book) compresses Lincoln's life outside of killing vampires to the point that the man barely matters. He meets and, of course, later debates Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk), a politician who argues the issue of slavery is more complicated than Abraham believes it to be. We see him working at a local shop for room and board after some kindness from a man named Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who will become a lifelong friend to Abraham and accomplice to his nocturnal activities. Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), the young boy he protected from Barts and a childhood friend, shows up in Springfield, too.

Quickly, though, the movie sacrifices the somewhat clever combination of actual history and biography with the fantasy of the opening acts for something far more generic. The screenplay is in a rush to get from one fight to the next, and director Timur Bekmambetov films them with a lot of hollow, excessive touches. The choreography amounts to a lot of spinning and slicing with the camera speed sped up and slowed down without much rhyme or reason.

Two of the larger action setpieces show a little imagination. One has the lead vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his associates ambushing a train carrying a supply of silver to be used against a vampire army at Gettysburg. After the usual hacking and slashing in and atop train cars, the train and its occupants come into peril as they cross a bridge that is aflame and falling apart around them. The other, earlier sequence is a chase through a herd of stampeding horses (The unimpressive digital effects lessen the results, especially since the horses have the appearance of being undead themselves), with Abraham and his prey leaping on the backs of successive horses and even using them as weapons.

Apart from those scenes and the initial setup, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter becomes repetitive. Far less so is the performance by Walker, who plays Lincoln from a young man to a few hours before his assassination (suggested only by a single sentence that winds up sounding like an unfortunate punch line) and somehow manages to convey a sense of grand ambition and quiet humility even when confronted with the particulars of this bizarre mash-up.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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