Let’s be honest: the idea of a former U.S. president hunting down the undead and cutting their heads off is flat-out stupid. It sounds like something a “steam punk” high school student came up with during his Literature and War final sophomore year. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is, expectedly, teeming with flaws and inconsistencies, but a few aspects during the first half make it worth seeing.
The film begins with Abe’s childhood days, when his mother is killed by their landlord. He plots revenge as a young man (Benjamin Walker, looking like a young Liam Neeson) and attempts to kill his personal demon. The landlord reveals himself to be a vampire, and Lincoln is saved by a man named Henry, a vampire slayer (Dominic Cooper). Henry agrees to teach Abe how to hunt and kill vampires, and from there the film follows the course of Abraham Lincoln’s life from hunter to lawyer to President.
The main characters - Lincoln, Henry and Mary Todd (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – are the best the acting in this film has to offer, with a smooth interaction is fun to watch. The rest of the cast, however, is lacking.
The vampire leaders in particular are the worst, with horrendous dialogue that offer them no sense of threat or presence, despite their disproportionate screen time; the nameless vampires that Lincoln stalks provide a greater sense danger.
The training scenes are montaged to death, and the film fails to properly explain the characters’ enhanced strengths, but the movie picks up speed as the audience is treated to scene after scene of exciting, gritty combat.
The vampires themselves are intense, fast, and aggressive, and every fight truly feels as if Lincoln’s life is at stake. He uses an axe as his primary weapon (a rail splitter – get it?) and he uses it to great effect, killing his foes in a hard-hitting yet stylish way. At the same time, the gore and mutilations are restrained enough to keep the film from going overboard. It may seem that a film like this would need excessive carnage as its only selling point, but this decision is for the best: as a result, Lincoln finds clever, brutal ways to accomplish his kills and avoids the plot from dissolving into that of a simple “slasher” film.
By the halfway mark, though, everything dies down. The action stops, the vampire leaders become more annoying, and the film’s stupid mistakes become unforgivable. For example, there were several missed chances to for scenes that only this film could have pulled off. There are a few shots of Civil War battles, almost all of them are CGI and meaningless in context. Those could have been improved with vampires out on the battlefield as, essentially, super soldiers: leaping over fences, tossing enemy troops like pillows, destroying cannons with their bare hands. Alas, this is not the case.
Honestly, the movie stops being fun at the one hour mark and never really picks back up. It is also virtually humorless: the actors involved treated it like Shakespeare. Ultimately, once the action died, so did the film.
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), Seth Grahame-Smith (novel)
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Anthony Mackie and Dominic Cooper