Call me crazy, but if you’re going to make a film titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you have a responsibility to the audience to embrace the absurdity of that premise and deliver a movie that’s fun, irreverent, and in no way serious. Lincoln is unquestionably a very silly movie; the problem is Timur Bekmambetov – director of Wanted and the “Russian version of the Matrix,” Nightwatch – doesn’t know how silly his movie is, as he attempts to balance the ridiculous with the sacrosanct and fails miserably. For every ludicrous sequence of our 16th President brandishing a silver-dipped axe against the hordes of the undead, there’s a ponderous attempt to juxtapose monumental events in our nation’s history (utilizing actors in cheesy, glued-on chin beards) that completely sucks all the fun out if it.
This is a movie that features an incredibly insane sequence of Abraham Lincoln chasing down a vampire in the middle of a horse stampede, jumping and flipping off of the backs of the running horses! Then, thirty minutes later, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln imagines herself in a better, Oscar-baiting Lincoln biopic, bawling, screaming, and pounding on Abe’s chest as their 4-year-old child Willie lies dead next to them after a sneak vampire infiltration into the White House. (Willie’s age at the time of his death incidentally – is historically inaccurate. He was twelve when he died of Typhoid, and the film never bothers to mention any of Lincoln’s other children.) It’s moments like these – and the attempts to shoehorn in events like the Lincoln-Douglas debates – that curse the film with schizophrenic shifts in tone, dooming it to misguided novelty status.
Benjamin Walker plays it painfully straight in the titular role, buried under laughably bad facial prosthetics that make him look like a young Liam Neeson (strangely enough, Walker actually portrayed the 19-year old version of Liam Neeson’s Alfred Kinsey in the FOX Searchlight biopic). This choice was no doubt inspired by Steven Spielberg’s desire to cast Neeson in his long-in-development Lincoln film (Daniel Day Lewis has since taken the role). He seems affable enough, with a Eric Bana-esque charm, but would it have killed him to cock his stovepipe hat and deliver a snappy one-liner to a vampire about having his head “emancipated” from his shoulders, just one time? His trainer/mentor Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) brings a bit more life to the proceedings with an edgy, proto-punk/goth approach to counter Walker’s stodginess, but not enough to raise the movie out of its self-aggrandizing mire.
Despite the woodaxe-flashing, vampire shrieking, numerous cheap jump scares, and all the flipping, twirling, slashing, Civil War-Fu, the action in Abe Lincoln feels static and pedestrian; Bekmambetov is still too beholden to the now rote and tedious fight choreography of The Matrix films, going to the dramatic, slow-motion well once too often. Yet, there are some truly fun and original set pieces here, like the aforementioned utterly ludicrous horse stampede, and the whole thing wraps up with a very impressive and visually spectacular vampire assault on a cargo train carrying silver bullets and cannonballs to combat the vampiric Conferdate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. (Did I really just write that sentence?) The perennially smarmy and sneering Rufus Sewell as the main baddie, “Adam,” sets fire to the wooden supports of the railroad tracks during the attack, creating a fantastic, fiery blaze and sending Lincoln and his freed slave buddy Will (Anthony Mackie) leaping from plummeting, flaming train cars. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter also boasts a beautiful, sweeping helicopter shot at the opening that transitions from the current Washington monument, to its half-built state in the 1800’s. In fact, most of the digital effects work here is solid, featuring some truly epic Civil War battlefield scenes and nice glimpses into our nation’s past, like the under-construction White House and Capitol building.
Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Little did they know that one day, their legacy would be warped and used for Summer entertainment cannon-fodder for the masses,with a grating, thumping dubstep soundtrack and buckets of demon blood.