Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

I’m a little behind on posting this review but I figure better late than never.  Also I’m testing out a new hyperlink system so let me know if it works 🙂

Once again, my experience with this movie was an exercise in molding your expectations to the kind of movie you are seeing.  For a movie like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, my expectations were moderated by the knowledge that the movie was based on highly whimsical pseudo fiction, Directed by the man who brought us Wanted and produced by none other than Tim Burton himself.  With that knowledge, I expected an underlying tongue in cheek atmosphere peppered with dark visuals and inspired action sequences.  What I saw hit pretty close to my predictions, though not without several important deviations which I’ll cover below.  All in all, I left the theater satisfied but wishing the producers could’ve done a bit more with their source material.  

Axe me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies…

From the title alone we knew that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (or ALVH as I will refer to it for convenience’s sake) wasn’t going to be your usual summer action flick.  Based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of other genre mash-ups including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, ALVH is the story of the secret life of slaying led by our erstwhile commander in chief (so inconveniently left out of the history books).  The movie begins traditionally enough, with a young Abe witnessing the murder of his mother by an unsavory blood-sucker by the name of Jack Barts.  Nine years later after the passing of his father, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) plots his revenge on his mother’s killer.  Unfortunately, as is the annoying habit with vampires, Mr. Barts proves fairly difficult to kill, and Abe is saved at the last minute by a mysterious stranger.  That stranger is revealed to be Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a man as Liam Neeson might say with “a very particular set of skills” which happen to center around sending the undead to an early un-grave.  Lincoln begs Sturgess to take him on as a pupil and with the condition that Lincoln gives up his quest for revenge, Sturgess accepts.  While inside he doesn’t agree to that condition, he proceeds to train for the next several years in the ancient art of… axe spinning?  The rest, as they say, is (fake) history.

For the most part, the cast was very well chosen.  In supporting roles we are given respectable performances by Cooper along with Anthony Mackie as Lincoln’s childhood friend Will and Jimmi Simpson as Lincoln’s employer and later on sidekick Speed.  There are definitely some weak points however, none more so that the role of Mary Todd played by Mary-Elizabeth Winstead.  Now I have a soft spot for miss Winstead that I can’t quite explain, but even I have to admit that she isn’t exactly an amazing actress.  Combine her lackluster performance with some less-than-stellar writing for her character and you’re left with one of the least compelling players in the film.  I did particularly enjoy Adam, the 5000 year old alleged progenitor of Vampire kind and the film’s central baddie.  Played brilliantly by Rufus Sewell (who many will remember most from the 1998 Sci-fi Noir Dark City), Adam projects a perfect blend of arrogance and menace while managing to avoid the sort of over-the top moustache-twirling quality which many action movie antagonists succumb to.  All of these supporting characters would be irrelevant, however, if they weren’t centered around a strong performance for the film’s namesake character.  In this department ALVH does not disappoint, and Benjamin Walker’s performance is the strongest aspect of the movie in my opinion.  Given such a difficult character to tackle (a fresh spin on such a well known historical figure) it wouldn’t have been surprising if Lincoln’s character had been the film’s undoing, yet instead Walker fits perfectly into the role and gives ol’ Honest Abe a strong sense of humanity without subverting the quiet, thoughtful image of the man which we usually ascribe to him.  On a related note, I’m very happy that they chose a young and relatively unknown actor to play the role, it makes it easier for the audience to see him as Lincoln rather than some actor playing Lincoln.

Real Life QWOPing, level 10

Apart from the strong performances however, the film stumbles in many regards including an unevenness of tone and several distracting technical failures.  The overall mood of the movie is surprisingly serious, with very little of the over-the-top humor that you might expect from a film with such a eccentric title.  This definitely works for the film as a whole but I would’ve like to see the writers have a little more fun with the subject.  That being said, the screenplay was written by Grahame-Smith himself so the tone he set can be assumed to be completely intentionally devoid of comic relief.  The story is fine but falters a bit when it jumps ahead to Lincoln’s presidency and the time of the civil war.  It’s at this point in the movie where many things go downhill, from the crowded mix of fictional history and real history to the fact that aside from Lincoln, the rest of the supporting characters barely looked any older (quick clarification, I’m talking about the human characters, I know that vampires don’t age so hold that snide remark you were about to make).  Even though it felt a little too convenient, I did find it interesting how the writers managers to simplify the moral ambiguities of the Civil War by changing it from about a battle of Americans vs. Other Americans to a battle of Humans vs. Vampires.  My main issue with the War as a backdrop for the later parts of the story is that it split the focus of the plot between two equally significant story lines, and both suffer as a result.

Verdict:  6.5/10
While it’s far from perfect, ALVH is a perfectly adequate piece of summer entertainment.  It combines the unique source material with sort of finesse for action choreography that director Tim Bekmambetov continues to showcase (only this time without the distractingly overdone “curving the bullet” gag from Wanted).  If you’re looking for a highly intelligent and cohesive piece of cinema, this movie probably isn’t for you.  However, if you are a looking for an above average vampire-slayer pic with some of the most ambitious and well-executed fight scenes in you’ve seen in recent years, by all means check this one out.  Fans of the book will also most likely be more than satisfied seeing as it was written by the author and does not derivate much from the source material.

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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7 Responses to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

  1. Crowded. That’s a good word to describe the latter half of the movie.

  2. I haven’t seen this one yet but my ignorant view on it is that it would have worked better as a tongue-in-cheek partial comedy, kind of like the Evil Dead series.

  3. kimonoko says:

    InterestIng review! I haven’t had the chance to catch this one yet.

  4. riverpearl says:

    The trailer for this film never fails to make me smile or laugh. I did see it and liked it although I found myself holding my breath hearing all the voices in my head about how politically incorrect it is. To me, the train scene was a bit overly long.

    I like reading your reviews.

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