This summer seems to be one where famous characters or in this case, a famous president, get a major twist on their well known storylines. Earlier this month, Snow White and the Huntsman provided a very dark vision of the classic tale and now, arguably the most famous U.S. President of all, Abraham Lincoln, gets branded with the title ‘vampire hunter’. In both cases, the new twists on the stories work to a certain degree. I found more flaws with Snow White than I did with the Tim Burton produced Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but I enjoyed the different directions taken by both projects. Of course, Snow White is a fairy tale and Abe Lincoln was in fact the 16th President and ended slavery. The man behind the camera for this odd project is Timur Bekmambetov, who also directed Wanted, which starred Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy. If you have seen that film, then you know Timur has a knack for over the top, incredibly filmed action scenes and this new flick has it’s fair share of those.
On the surface, the film has a really silly premise…I mean, just look at the title. However, there is much more going on here than just vampire hunting. There is a backstory that fuels a young Abe Lincoln’s quest to rid the nation, particularly the South, of a rising vampire infestation. History as we all know it is altered right off the bat here. A young Lincoln’s mother is murdered by a vampire right in front of the boy’s eyes. Upon witnessing this, Abe makes it his lifelong mission to find her killer, known as Jack Barts. The films doesn’t spend much time between Abe as a young boy and Abe as a young man. Lincoln turns to drinking and runs into another person interested in his cause. Henry Sturgess, played marvelously by Dominic Cooper, is a man who also wants to rid the country of vampires but is unable to do so himself…for reasons we find out later in the film. He befriends Abe after he unsuccessfully attempts to kill Barts. They form a partnership that allows them to both work towards each others goal. Henry has a plot of his own and Abe Lincoln is the key element to making it a reality. He trains the young lad and helps turn Lincoln into one hell of a vampire killing machine. Along the way, the head vampire Adam, devilishly portrayed by Rufus Sewell, decides that he has had enough of Lincoln offing his men. As Adam prepares to confront Abe, our future President is just beginning to get into politics. We see him give rousing speeches and impress other politicians who convince him that being in government is where he should be. Adam invites to Abe to a ball, where a battle ensues and Abe pretty much wipes out all of his right hand vamps. It’s after this fight that Lincoln decides to trade his ax for politics…in other words, he aims to defeat the vampires by uniting the nation against them and cutting off a big source of their food supply by freeing the slaves. As noted early in the film, slaves are a major feeding source for vampires due to the fact that they are dispensable simply because they lack the freedoms and necessary means of defense that others have.
The movie cuts from this point to Abraham Lincoln already being President. I would say about 35 or so years go by when we see Abe again. He is much older and calmer now that he has a family of his own. He’s married to Mary Todd and they have a son, Willie. By the way, his courtship of Todd provides the film some nice lighthearted moments earlier in the flick. The Civil War has begun and Lincoln is a stressed out leader who is desperately trying to free the slaves while trying to keep the country intact. Not only is this North vs. South…it’s also the living vs. the undead. Having put down his ax, he now battles the vampires with his leadership of the country. Unfortunately, when the vamps from his past decide to revisit him, they go after his family. It’s at this moment that the older Lincoln must take matters once again into his own hands…and begin personally destroying the evil yet again.
The cast is a good one that’s filled with some quality talent. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (best known as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) does a nice job as Mary Todd. Her first meeting with Abe is nice and cutesy. He immediately grabs her attention due to his mysteriousness. Abe pursues her and eventually wins her heart. The love story within the film is more of an undertone to the rest of it. It plays in the background and actually works because it doesn’t overshadow the main premise of the picture…which is Honest Abe killing vampires and avenging his mother’s death. Anthony Mackie turns in a serviceable turn as Abe’s childhood friend, Will Johnson. It’s in Johnson that we see one of the reasons why Lincoln is so against slavery and for freedom for all mankind. Rufus Sewell’s Adam is a good villain for the persistent Lincoln. He underestimates Abe pretty much throughout the film and pays for that in the end. Dominic Cooper’s Henry Sturgess is the most interesting character here, next to Abe himself. Cooper has just enough charisma and cool energy to pull off the role of Lincoln’s trainer. The training sequences and the times Henry and Abe are together on-screen keep the film moving along at a nice pace and keeps the viewer from getting bored during times where it starts to drag a bit. Now…onto Benjamin Walker, the man behind the title character. How does he do as our 16th President? Well, if this were a serious drama about the ‘real’ life of Lincoln and only the non-fiction side of him, then Walker would rate just ‘ok’. However, this is not based on fact only. This is a film that allows the ‘character’ of Abe to become something completely different…something history has no comparison for. Walker does well understanding that he is trying to imitate the President. Yes, thanks to spot on costume design and makeup, he looks the part, but his Abe is man with a much more different mission than that of the Great Emancipator. Benjamin does good work as both the young man and the elder Lincoln. A fun fact…he really reminds me of a young Liam Neeson. There were many scenes where I found myself in awe of just how similar the two actors are. Neeson was originally cast as our 16th President in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln, which opens in December. However, due to him opting out of his contract, which had expired, he was replaced by Daniel Day Lewis.
The best moments of the film occur when Abe is actually battling or killing the vampires. Director Bekmambetov knows how to direct this style of action. The scenes are filmed with aggression and intensity, which makes them a lot of fun to watch. The attention to detail is impressive. Besides some well produced action shots, I also enjoyed the build up of what was to come. Watching Lincoln as a boy dealing with the death of his mother gives him a determination that plays to his strengths later in the film. In fact, the film really can be split into three acts. The first is a Abe as a young, fearful boy…second is Abe as a vengeful, sort of careless at times young man…and third is an elder Abe who is much smarter and wiser due to the events that led him to becoming President. We see many sides of him and yes, I know this is fiction, but I’m sure that there is quite a bit of the drive we see in the character that translates to the actual man himself. My one major complaint about AL:VH would have to be the editing. There are a few scenes that quickly go from here to there with not much explanation. I can only assume that the ‘gap’ footage hit the editing room floor. Normally this wouldn’t bother me too much, but here it managed to make me shake my head a bit as to why. I feel like if the ‘gaps’ had been filled in a bit better, then the film would have made even more of an impression on me.
I would say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn’t really need to be seen in 3D. It adds a little to the overall experience of the picture, but not as much as others. Another fact is that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people may not enjoy seeing such a silly premise for close to two hours, while others, like myself can get lost in this strange, yet entertaining twist on history. Perhaps if the film had been released a couple of years ago, at the height of the vampire craze, there may have been much more desire to see it. The majority of moviegoers will more than likely skip this fun adaptation, but I recommend seeing it if you get the urge to watch something fun and different. I did not read the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, so I have no comparison as far as that goes. I will say that as a film, watching Abe Lincoln slay vampires was a nice diversion from the usual movie fare.