When I review a film, comic book or a book, I usually try to find a way to relate to the material to find a common point as to find the things I usually look for in its story. I really wasn’t certain how I was going to approach “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” since it is a fantasy action horror movie that is based on the mashup novel with the same name. I am at a slight disadvantage since I haven’t read the novel as of yet (then again it may be a good idea to see a movie first before reading the book). The best way to approach such a film that is a fantasy about one of the most respected American presidents in history would be not to take the movie seriously and to accept that the idea may be based on an alternate universe.
Well, the last time Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) and Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) had collaborated (as co-producers) was with the animated film “9”. With their adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel begins in 1818 with a young Abraham Lincoln living with his parents (Robin McLeavy and Joseph Mawle) who works for Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). When a dispute broke out because of Lincoln’s actions in defending a young slave named William Johnson, his parents end up being fired by Barts and decides to collect on their debt in blood with his mother‘s death. Nine years later, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) sets out to take vengeance for his mother’s death, for which he is unsuccessful since Barts has now been revealed as a vampire. Abraham is saved by a man called Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) and his taken under his wing as Abraham is taught the skills needed of a vampire hunter. But it seems like Abraham’s revenge will have to take a less priority, as his calling now leads him to an ongoing war and ultimately leads him to the presidency. All his exploits are chronicled in a journal that he keeps close to him all the time.
The film’s premise is pretty standard and in many ways, it appeared to have taken inspiration from other vampire fiction tales that we are very familiar with. I do have to admit, that the idea of using Abraham Lincoln’s time period and his name for telling a story about vampires has put me a little off. I guess I’ll have to break down the film in the way I usually do, and that is to be as objective as possible. The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith is filled with encounters with one action sequence after another. The film does have other twists and turns and even some surprises that added several intricacies to the film’s plot. This is all about Lincoln’s time and his moment in history; the film manages to intertwine certain moments in history as well as fantasy to give the story a little credibility. It was a good move, as the viewer sees certain moments in Lincoln’s history that came with a different twist with his war with the undead.
It does manage to make it work, and as I’ve said, this is not a story to take seriously. I do have some issues with the way the film went around the scripting as it delivers everything with a straight face. I mean, I understand that this is an action-fantasy film and the direction does wisely play on its strengths, but I felt that the film moved a little too fast at times, that I wasn’t allowed to take in the details of the plot. Granted that all of these details were supposedly coming from Lincoln’s journal, so I understood its occasional incoherency. I guess this was an attempt to cover up the rather flimsy characterization. The characters had very little dimensions and I found several scenes to lack emotion. I mean, they were developed mostly through visuals and action, but I did not like the way it moved to one scene to the next, it feels as if details were coming from nowhere.
I mean, I felt that Lincoln’s friendship with Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) lacked something we could call believability and while I know the depths of his relationship with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), I felt that it wasn’t developed well into the script. I guess the film wanted to cover as much things from the source material as possible, from his boyhood, to his rise as a hunter up to his moments as a politician and then to president that the film was really episodic. The performances were decent given what the actors had to work with. This is an action movie and its fast pacing did not give them much time to shine with their portrayals. I mean, I felt that the William Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and Mary Todd characters were underused, as they had enormous potential to grow alongside Lincoln.
The make up effects were a little uneven for me. There were moments that the vampire make up looked gorgeous with the very feral and savage look, and then there were moments that I thought that they were sloppy because of the CGI re-touches. The same could be said about Benjamin Walker’s make-up as the older Lincoln. The vampires in the film have the usual qualities of the vampires in “Blade”--they use ointments to cover up for sunlight, they are allergic to silver, inhumanly strong and fast, invisibility. There is one addition that I thought had potential, as the vampires in this film cannot kill one another willingly.
Those who are familiar with Bekmambetov’s work in the Russian movies “Nightwatch” and “Daywatch” would know exactly how he does his action sequences. He keeps the editing and cuts close and then utilizes wide shots to show the action. He does know how to make the scenes look very cool, and kind of “Blade” and “Underworld”-like in style and tempo with some use of martial arts. I did have some issues with the direction’s over-reliance to slow motion, posturing and freeze frames, as I know this is used when the actors cannot really perform the action with a needed confident stance. The film has a few war scenes (Battle of Gettysburg), but they were more of a montage than something to express a bloody battle between humans and the undead. Be that as it may, the film has handsome cinematography and the set designs and costumes were excellent; I did feel that I was in this period in time. There were also scenes that had good CGI effects and it looked cool in 3D with wood and bullets flying.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is one movie that is rather difficult for me to really get into. I mean, my personal feelings for the beloved president may have gotten in the way. I know this may be an alternate universe, and this is a fantasy not to be taken seriously, but the lack of emotions prevented me from really enjoying the film as I usually would this with kind of film. This would have worked so much better if it took a more upbeat tone and mood or something that adheres to pure camp. True, the film is expected to have variations from the novel, and I guess to cover as many points from it, the film felt rather episodic. I guess to approach the film, one has to keep in mind that these are derived from a journal, and such things are often lacking in details. This is one film that would’ve been better if it was longer, I understood its intentions and that it had to work with limitations. “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” is one stylish action-packed romp that didn’t exactly pay off the way I wished, but It succeeds as a visual and aural feast. I cannot knock it for what it wanted to do.
RENTAL [3- Out of 5 Stars]
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