If you are among those that expect summer blockbusters to be action packed and somewhat mindless movies where attractive people blow things up real pretty, then Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will perfectly fulfill your expectations.
I have to admit, I was totally on the fence about this movie based on what I had seen. I was honestly split between thinking that it would be either a really fun movie, or a painfully bad one. I just couldn’t get a read on it.
I wasn’t a fan of director Timur Bekmambetov’s work with Wanted. Besides my intense dislike for the changes from the source material that I tried to not hold against the movie, the film was the old cliché of style over substance and proved to be little more than a series of actions scenes held together by a forgettable and predictable plot. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter follows that same philosophy of filmmaking, but does it better.
It is a slick looking movie, filled with impressive visuals and an almost excessive amount of action that just happens to feature the character of Abraham Lincoln. By all logical reasoning, that should have stupid written all over it. It’s a movie starring Abraham Lincoln as a guy that can take the head off of a bloodsucker with a single swing of his mighty axe. It sounds like it should be a SyFy original paired with movies like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and yet somehow it manages to present itself as an enjoyable movie. Not a great one by any means, but an enjoyable one.
The story starts when a young Abe Lincoln watches his mother be killed by a vampire named Jack Barts (Martin Csokas). Several years pass until Lincoln’s father passes away, and Abe (Benjamin Walker) feels the time is right for revenge. With no real idea of what he was facing, only the timely intervention of Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) saves Lincoln from a messy death.
Henry begins to train Lincoln for years before sending him to Springfield, Illinois as his agent. Lincoln passes his days working in the shop of his soon-to-be lifelong friend, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), spends his evenings studying the law, and fills his late nights killing vampires, waiting for the moment when he can seek vengeance against Barts.
As Lincoln increases his skills, he gains the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell), the head of the vampire contingent in America, and the true nature of America becomes apparent to Lincoln–the vamps have an empire in the South, based around the concept of slavery.
The story takes place over the course of decades, beginning with a brief look at Lincoln’s childhood, the spending a considerable amount of time with Abe as a young man as he studied and eventually met his wife, Marry Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). It then concludes with the Civil War. The story touches on deep and complex themes, but the plot is anything but.
Despite a lot of potential to work the mashup history angles, the events of the time are an afterthought. The focus is on the growth of Lincoln as a vampire slayer, and then it jumps several years to the confrontation between Lincoln and Adam. Everything else is just filler.
That gives the movie a vapid feel. There was potential here to make a wild action movie that had a bit of depth, and to use the powerful idea of slavery as more than just a plot point, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t even try. Slavery is just there, and it is a theme that is mentioned more than seen or built upon.
That is a complaint about what isn’t there rather than what is though. So while it may be a lost opportunity, it isn’t something that is necessarily missed. What is absent, however, is any real development beyond that of the character of Lincoln. And it isn’t just character development that is absent. The story development—specifically anything to build the tension with the vampires—is just gone.
The cast tries its hardest with extremely limited material, but for such an action-heavy film, the cast has some extremely talented actors. Leading the way is Benjamin Walker (Kinsey, Flags of Our Fathers) who plays the titular character, and plays him with warmth and charm. Walker makes the difference between a film with a character you care about, and a film where you just don’t care at all. He doesn’t have all that much to work with, but he takes what he is given and does well with it. This could easily be a breakout role for him, and you may soon be seeing a lot more of him.
The most obvious issue with the script comes from Rufus Sewell (Dark City, The Tourist), a normally great actor that is left with almost nothing to do and no real development as the film’s primary antagonist. Sewell seems to sleepwalk through the film, but that almost seems intentional. The character of Adam is meant to be almost beyond attachment to the world. His aloof nonchalance would have been greatly bolstered by even a bit of humor, which is mostly absent in the writing. The character should be electrifying, but instead he is dull, which robs some of the film’s momentum. Martin Csokas’ (The Debt, XXX) Barts is a far more entertaining villain, but his role is limited.
Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, The Adjustment Bureau) turns in another solid performance, but again is stymied but weak development. The only one beyond Lincoln that sees any real development is the increasingly popular Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing). She is a rising star of this generation, and proves her worth once again here.
With the story and character development being of secondary concern to Bekmambetov, that leaves the bulk of the film to rest solely on the action scenes. It is always over the top. Always. You should expect nothing less of a movie where someone throws a horse at Abraham Lincoln. Let that sink in for a second.
The action is a ballet of blood and gore. It regularly teeters deep into utterly ridiculous territory, but that isn’t always a bad thing. How much you enjoy this movie will entirely be dependent on how much you like seeing things like a horse drawn carriage drifting around a corner.
It is well shot and interesting to see. The colors of the film are a bit drab at times, which is odd for a movie so visually aware of itself, but otherwise it is entertaining to watch.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a fast moving, wild, action-filled movie that doesn’t bother with pesky little things like character and plot development. The setting is really never used to any great effect, and the story is totally shallow, but things blow up real pretty.
If you go in expecting a mindlessly entertaining movie that you will likely forget shortly after seeing it, then Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter won’t disappoint you. Just done’t expect much more.