Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Reviewed by: David Graham

Like an eastern European counterpart to Luc Besson, Timur Bekmambetov has recently donned his producer cap to churn out not entirely successful B-pics like Apollo 18 and The Darkest Hour alongside his own bigger budget takes on fantasy film-making. His Night Watch and Day Watch movies busted major hometown blocks and got him international geek recognition from post-Matrix fanboys, while Angelina Jolie lent graphic novel adap Wanted some A-list cred that perhaps sat uneasily with its sheer silliness. With support from producer Tim Burton (who also helped him fund apocalyptic cartoon 9), Bekmambetov now tackles trendy revisionist Seth Grahame-Smith's follow-up to his dubiously popular Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, the resulting film a good example of the contents of tins doing exactly what they say; it's just a shame that the Abraham Lincoln factor conspires to suck the life out of the Vampire Hunter element.

Having witnessed his mother succumb to a bloodsucker's disease, young Abe Lincoln burns with a desire for revenge on the slave trading fiend responsible. When his alcohol-infused attempt at assassination puts him in mortal danger, he is rescued by mysterious benefactor Henry Sturgess, who trains him up in the ways of vamp-vilification on the condition that the young store-clerk must devote his life to the cause at the expense of everything else. Lincoln tries to keep his blossoming romance with Mary Todd separate from his nocturnal pursuits, but struggles even more to keep a low profile when a childhood friend spurs him on to taking a stand in favor of slavery abolition. The scale of the war he's waging only truly becomes apparent when the South start using the undead in the brutal battle of Gettysberg; if Lincoln hopes to protect his loved ones and beloved country from the evil forces, he must make a final stand against aristocratic plantation owner Adam and his army of devils.

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Curiously reeling in his OTT sensibility for the most part, Bekmambetov makes a good fist of genuine drama and even squeezes a little humanity out of the central relationships between Lincoln and his supporters. He still knows how to deliver gloriously ludicrous action set-pieces though, coming on like Zack Snyder on crack for an outstanding chase over rather than on horseback, and staging several satisfying if derivative face-offs between a martial arts-enabled Lincoln and his shark-toothed quarry. They represent a pleasing return to the animalistic ferocity of the ghouls in 30 Days Of Night and last year's surprisingly enjoyable Fright Night remake, although Rufus Sewell is strangely under-whelming as an inhuman head honcho; the veteran villain is clearly beyond and above all this panto posturing by now.

Benjamin Walker is a likable lunk in the lead, his hulking but not over-built frame and old-fashioned boyish features making him a good fit for the period setting, while his straight commitment to the role is refreshing; he refuses to camp it up the way someone like Hugh Jackman might. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a sweetly feisty foil in their clumsy courtship, even if her role is later reduced to being the damsel-in-distress in the background. Solid support is provided by the likes of The Hurt Locker's Antony Mackie and quirky scene-stealer Jimmi Simpson, while Dominic Cooper brings a touch of British Hammer Horror-style class to a nicely re-imagined take on the traditional Van Helsing-esque character.

Grahame-Smith's elaborate storyline plays clever games with formative US events; the way the slavery issue and Civil War are incorporated into the action is fairly ingenious and not as overdone as you might expect. The revisionism isn't confined to American history either - a brave new take on the Nosferatu mythology sees them able to walk around in broad daylight, undead powers intact (which begs the question - when do they actually sleep?). There isn't a single stake in sight either - why settle for a jagged crayon of wood when silver-tipped axes are so much cooler? If none of it makes any sense, that doesn't mean it's not good, splattery fun - for about half of the duration anyway.

For some inscrutable reason, Grahame-Smith obviously felt the need to address rather than merely use actual 18th-century history and politics, and this derails the whole film for the majority of the second half. It's a depressing and disappointing decision, as the adventure builds up a nice head of steam up to then, but as soon as poor Walker is lumbered with the (admittedly impressive) old-man Lincoln make-up, the vamp-slaying action takes a back seat for a history lesson that should have been the exact opposite of this film's raison d'etre. At the same time, some of the novel's more intriguing rewrites of our timeline - including Lincoln's relationship with Edgar Allan Poe and the president's assassination - are abandoned in favor of a more straightforward narrative that focuses perhaps too exclusively on Abe's heroic quest.

The CGI effects are as cartoony as you'd expect from Bekmambetov, while the 3D is as unfortunately ineffectual as the script's occasional attempts at emotional sincerity, but this is still a full-blooded romp that puts the likes of the Twilight series in the shade. More could definitely have been done with Grahame-Smith's canny crossing of genres, and the pacing problems really kill the movie's momentum, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a diverting origin tale in a summer over-stuffed with franchise-fodder. Bekmambetov leaves the door open for more but wraps things up as neatly as the audience deserves; a sequel doesn't feel necessary but it would be fun to see Honest Abe's further adventures through history. Perhaps he could team up with Elvis for Bruce Campbell's mooted Bubba Hotep follow-up Bubba Nosferatu - the mind boggles . . .

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2012
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The president has a stake in a deadly game.
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Read more Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter reviews:

Jeff Robson ***1/2

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith

Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas

Year: 2012

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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