Absurdist, revisionist history is nothing new. As it turns out, Hitler was killed by a bunch of cinephiles, the Cold War ended because a superhero blew up a few cities, and JFK’s murder was all a conspiracy. Oh you, so misinformed on the crazy goings on of the batshit storytellers of our generation. Didn’t you know that Abe Lincoln had a hobby of killing vampires with an axe? Well, don’t worry. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has you covered, ready to convey all its historical inaccuracies to you the only was it knows how, with lots of action, plenty of style, barely any substance, and total commitment on the parts of everyone involved, for good or for ill.
The story goes that as a young lad, Abe Lincoln saw his mother brutally murdered by a vampire. Having spent his entire life thirsting (ha) for revenge, Lincoln takes up with one Henry Sturgess, who teaches him in the finer points of undead homicide. As Lincoln sets out into abolitionist era America, he soon discovers a dastardly conspiracy set up by the vampire hierarchy in America. See, it’s the vampires that are fueling the slave trade, feeding on the personnel brought in, and it’s they who are leading the confederates. So, of course, Lincoln does the only thing logical thing he can do. He gets himself elected president and starts The Civil War, all in the name of ousting the vampiric menace from the fruited planes of America.
Ridiculous! Absolutely, 100% stupid! When compared to all the crazy revisionist history out there, this one has to take the cake as the most out there. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the script, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has no pretensions towards historical accuracy or political messages. Yes, it does take itself semi-seriously at some points, but, for the most part, the movie is in on the joke with everyone else, and revels in the absurd joy that comes from seeing our 16th president kung fu his way from a farm to the White House.
Careful Benjamin Walker, I’m sensing a theme. By all means, if you want to make a name for yourself playing blood soaked american presidents, have at it. But, try some other stuff. Your certainly good enough. As Lincoln, Walker fulfills much of the same role that James McAvoy did in Wanted, an everyman who suddenly finds himself gifted with a remarkable facility for murder. But he does indue his role with a certain innocence and humanity that does a lot of selling this whole ludicrous project.
Dominic Cooper is all intensity and cold looks as Henry Sturgess, but damn, does he look swag in those 19th century sunglasses. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly fine as Mary Todd Lincoln. Rufus Sewell hams it up mightily as the big bad vampire Adam, and Anthony Mackie is pretty good as Lincoln’s childhood friend Will Johnson.
Really, these performances aren’t all that great, for this movie, they are pretty spectacular. There wasn’t any need for anything emotionally resonant of dramatically hard hitting. All that was needed was a total commitment to the stupidity on display, and every cast member accomplishes that. The movie works because of them.
Ok, that’s a lie. The movie works because director Timur Beckmembetov has an uncanny eye when it comes to staging action scenes. Sure, the kooky political conspiracies and grand speeches are fine and all, but you don’t come into a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter expecting much more then some sweet living vs. undead violence. Much as it was with Wanted, Beckmembetov can get hamstrung with the supposed character moments and beats, but never loses his stride when it comes to the blood and guts. Let me tell you, if you thought the stuff in Wanted was cool, Vampire Hunter will make you shit your pants.
The highlight comes at around the halfway point, and sees Lincoln chasing his quarry in the midst of a herd of stampeding horses. It’s a remarkable scene, with plenty of clever camera shots, and a confident sense of space, not to mention some instances of pure awesome. Lincoln has his axe, and the what does the vampire have? Nothing. He just throws horses at our hero. How sweet is that?
Ok, yes, the movie does kind of blow its load in that scene. The two big scenarios following it, a frantic battle in a plantation and the fiery finale on top of a train, don’t quite live up to the scene with the horses, but are still plenty exciting in their own right. There was not a single point in the film where I was checking my watch, waiting impatiently for the next crazy thing to happen. Beckmembetov knows how to pace his movies; Vampire Hunter never slows down, not for a second. True, there is an extended scene that depicts Lincoln’s presidency that is relatively blood free, but I was too busy roaring with laughter at the ridiculous direction the plot had taken by that point to care.
There is nothing in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter worth writing home about. I saw this thing with my dad, and afterwards, he summed it up pretty spectacularly. “I would have been totally fine skipping that movie, but I don’t regret not skipping it.” There is nothing wholesome about this slice of absurdity; it’s nothing but empty carbs and trans fats. But in a summer that has been surprisingly good to us thus far, a little junk food is totally fine.