“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is likely to be the most critic-proof movie you’ll see all year.
After all, everything you need to know is right there in the title. If your inner historian balks at the thought of turning one of America’s legendary presidents into a silver-coated axe-swinging, vampire slayer, then this definitely isn’t the movie for you. Or if the premise just simply sounds too absurd for you, skip it. It’s not going to magically morph into a Martin Scorsese film just because you bought a ticket. But for those that do, you’re in for a ludicrously entertaining good time.
Seth Grahame-Smith (“Dark Shadows”) brings his 2010 novel which re-imagines Lincoln encountering and fighting vampires throughout his life to the big screen.
After a vampire kills his mother, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) vows revenge, but his first vampire slaying attempt goes terribly. It’s only thanks to the arrival of the mysterious Henry (Dominic Cooper, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) that he doesn’t wind up dead himself.
Henry teaches Lincoln the art of vampire hunting in exchange for becoming a glorified vampire hit man. Soon Honest Abe is swinging his axe with amazing skill killing any vampire Henry assigns via courier. Lincoln’s travels take him to Springfield where he meets his future wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winsted, “The Thing”) and reunites with his old childhood friend, Will (the always welcome Anthony Mackie, “The Adjustment Bureau”), who inspires him to fight for the end of slavery.
Grahame-Smith name drops and has cameos for historical figures including Harriet Tubman, Jefferson Davis and Stephen A. Douglas so trivia buffs might enjoy these random meetings. It’s a bit forced, but I appreciate the historical shot outs. Once Lincoln learns how to fight them, the vampires don’t prove to be that big a threat beyond outnumbering him. And I desperately wish Rufus Sewell (“The Tourist”), one of my favorite typecast villains, had a (sigh) meatier role as head vampire Adam beyond working a killer Southern plantation owner accent and looking menacing.
Director Timur Bekmambetov, the man who nearly turned the disturbingly mean-spirited “Wanted” comic book into a fun film, has far better material to work with and his focus on highly-stylized visuals plays well here.
He’s the closest a filmmaker has come to paying homage while moving forward as the cinematic successor to Wachowski brothers’ work with “The Matrix.” You likely won’t see prettier action scenes — albeit with a healthy dose of vampire decapitations — anytime soon.
At times —like a chase through a horse stampede — Behambetov’s ambition tests the film’s estimated $70 million budget with loose, obviously CGI effects, but I admire his audacity for shooting that and repeatedly trying to deliver something the audience hasn’t seen hundreds of times before. And Behambetov made a genuine effort to not milk audiences paying for 3D by adding in several old-style 3D effects to make objects appear to come out of the screen. His efforts definitely make the film worth the 3D price.
The film’s engine loses a bit of steam in the second act when Lincoln decides he can better fight on behalf of his fellow man with his words rather than hunting vampires and gets into politics. Walker is a lot of fun as young Lincoln as he gets to create his own interpretation, but as the movie plays out, he gets lost behind Lincoln’s top hat and beard. The vampires are based in the south and have no desire to see their easy food supply halted so they back the Confederate Army in the Civil War, forcing Lincoln to realize in order to save his country from vampire tyranny, he’s got to pick up his axe for one more epic battle. Fortunately, this last battle is worth the lull in action with full-scale vampire homicide.
It’s Abraham Lincoln … killing vampires. Complaining about a nonsensical plot here would be like complaining there wasn’t enough gangsta rap in “Rock of Ages.” If ever there was an “either you’re in or out” movie in 2012, it’s definitely this one and if you’re in, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” just might be the most satisfyingly guilty pleasure of the year.
Rating: 8 out of 10.