You would expect a film called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be both low budget and low brow. Even if it wasn’t those two things you’d expect the movie to go all out in the camp department, with its tongue placed firmly in its check. You’d expect a movie about the United States’ 16th President killing vampires to be full of bad puns, winks at the camera and goofball antics.
What you wouldn’t expect is for a film where Abraham Lincoln uses a silver-tipped axe to chop of vampires head to be played straight. Well, as straight as an action film featuring a Civil War jam packed with vampires can be.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Here’s the premise, in case the title doesn’t give it away: Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) kills vampires. After the death of his mother from a blood sucking fiend, Lincoln grows up swearing revenge. He is finally old enough to kill the vampire who took his mothers live, but utterly fails because he doesn’t know that the guy is a vampire. Thankfully Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) arrives just in the nick of time and saves his life and teaches Lincoln the power of truth and how to kill vampires. Becoming quite adept at it, Lincoln eventually triggers an all out war between the vampires and mankind that turns out to be the Civil War. With the help of Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Will Johanson (Anthony Mackie) and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) Lincoln takes on the vampire king Adam (Rufus Sewel).
It’s an absolutely ridiculous premise that should easily have you giggling just be hearing the title. However, much like the book, it plays its subject and humor with a straight face and a surprising amount of historical accuracy… if you ignore the whole vampire thing. This is not a movie that makes fun of its own ludicrous story, but instead embraces it head on and turns Abraham Lincoln into an axe wielding, one-liner spewing bad ass of epic action proportions. Instead of shying away from the film’s historical characters the movie embraces them and dives headfirst into making Lincoln into an action star, not a camp joke. It’s obviously a risk for a film most people expect to be one two hour punch line, but it works.
To begin with the action set pieces are simply stellar, with the final one creating one the most ridiculous and impressive train heist scenes ever seen. Director Timur Bekmambetov, whose previous films have always shown glimmers of great action direction, finally seems to have landed where he needs to be — or gotten the budget he needs to do what he wants. Lincoln is packed full of his slow motion action sequences and stylized camera, but something held him back a bit this time around it makes for some stellar action. It’s also fantastic that the producers didn’t shy away from the R rating, as having this movie without the copious amounts of blood and gore would have easily parked it int he bad camp section of film.
Of course none of it would have worked at all if Lincoln hadn’t been played right. Newcomer Benjamin Walker, who was probably selected for his somewhat Lincoln-esque looks, delivers a strikingly human Lincoln for a movie where he also plays a ninja, axe wielding Lincoln at the same time. More impressive is that his older Lincoln is even more impressive than his young one. Aided by a healthy amount of prosthetics, and a the fact that old Lincoln is the Lincoln audience recognize, Walker strikes quite the action star as the President of the United states.
The film is far from flawless, however. The pacing is all over the place, as is the story at times. Obviously condensing the book into a two hour film caused some trouble for the screenwriters as they often seem to lose the storyline. It leads to some moments where what’s going on isn’t always clear. It also causes a few issues with expository stuff about how vampires work in this particular fiction. Eventually that all gets sorted, however. You’re already being asked to believe that Abraham Lincoln was a secret vampire hunter so making some other leaps in logic doesn’t really hurt the film all that much.
The key here is that you could put anyone’s name in the films title and you’d still have a solid action movie. The fact that it’s Abraham Lincoln only sweetens the deal and makes the whole affair that much more fun to watch on screen. The story may not be that much to gawk at, but it’s delivered with gusto and a straight tone you wouldn’t expect. For some reason the silly premise and straight play work. Plus, Lincoln is just a bad ass.