I don’t think anyone expects Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be good. Or decent. Or anything more than this summer’s Snakes on a Plane. Which, to some degree, it is. I liked Snakes on a Plane because it delivered precisely what the title promised.
The movie opens with the young Lincoln defending a freed slave from being taken back to the South and otherwise cruel treatment at the hand of vicious Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). That night, Barts sneaks into the Lincoln household and promptly kills his mother.
Some years later, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker)’s working as a clerk for Joshua Speed (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Jimmi Simpson), biding his time until he can kill Barts. After a heavy night at the bar, Lincoln makes his move, shooting Barts in the eye and getting quite the surprise when he discovers that Barts is a vampire.
Abe’s saved by a mysterious figure and wakes up the following morning in the manor house of his benefactor, the layabout playboy Henry Strurges (Dominic Cooper). Henry takes Lincoln under his wing to teach him the ways of vampire hunting, informing him that the South is infested with the bloodsuckers, and they’re making their way north, led by the head vampire, Adam (Rufus Sewell).
As Lincoln perfects his skills, he meets the saucy Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her fiancee, Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk). That’s about where the historical accuracy stops.
Of course, something named Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn’t aiming for anything close to the records–this is 3rd-grade textbooks at best; it’s more about silly fun, taking an American icon (and portraying him in the most hagiographic manner possible) and adding some vampires. That’s not so bad, but the constant pot-shots at the South gets pretty aggravating.
The action is good, particularly two set pieces, one involving a train and another dealing with a stable of horses (and this movie gets at least one star for throwing a horse at the screen), though it’s a reminder that, 13 years later, The Matrix is still recyclable.
The 3D doesn’t add much; there’s a shot early on of the elder Lincoln writing in his vampire journal as the camera creeps up on the desk, but outside of that, the only other shots I recall are wood splinters shooting toward the screen–I’m certain there’s more, but not much beyond the throwing-it-in-your-face style of 3D.
The cast works well, too; no-one’s trying to steal the show, they know the kind of movie they’re in and the kind of character types they are, and they don’t strive for much beyond that. Walker, I think, was chosen mainly for his profile, which admittedly looks pretty funny silhouetted against the moonlight as he digs ever-so-many graves for his increasing number of victims.
I haven’t read any of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novels, but when his first book of this type, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies debuted in 2009, it seemed like a great scheme: take the premise of a public-domain book, and toss in some zombies. The idea alone seems to dictate the tone–semi-serious with an undertone of tongue-in-cheek.
And to that end, director Timur Bekmambetov pulls it off. There’s a few winks at the camera, but he never gets too self-aware; the film is played mostly straight, but with a definite sense that Timur’s inviting you to laugh whenever you think it’s going over the top.
In the end, it’s better than you think. It’s fun, delivers what it sets out to do, and has some good action. Nothing great, but just the right fit for a fun, summer flick.