Sorry this thing is a day late. I, along with thousands of other people, lost power after a huge thunderstorm hit the DC area. Imagine my horror when I realized that this cost me not only my air conditioning, but the internet as well. Talk about adding insult to injury. First world problems. Gotta love ‘em.
Anyway, the power is still out, but there’s a public library not far from where I live. This is why you don’t just switch over to Kindles, kids.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012):
The Plot: When little Abe Lincoln witnesses a vampire murdering his mother, he swears revenge. Years later, Young Man Abe (Benjamin Walker) gets drunk enough to try. It doesn’t work out, but the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) offers to train him in the ways of badassery. A few montages later, Abraham Lincoln is a bona fide Vampire Hunter (kind of a title drop!). But things get complicated when he falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and decides that he needs to do something about that slavery thing. Does this idealistic young man with a dark secret have what it takes to rid America of this vampire scourge?
The premise of this movie is a bit silly. Are we…is everyone pretty clear on that now? Yeah? Okay, good. Let’s take another look at that title before we move on, though. What does it bring to mind? Historical inaccuracy, bad action, and lame one-liners? Pretty much, yeah. But Vampire Hunter exceeds those expectations. If using 80s action movies and Underworld sequels as a foundation is the low road, then this film takes the high road. That really wasn’t that clever. That makes two of us.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wisely avoids taking the “internet commodity” approach, though its titular character is fast becoming just that. Historical figures, like celebrities, have been absorbed by popular culture. And if anything other than my ex-wife has the ability to rob a person of all humanity, it’s pop culture. Ouch.
What really makes Vampire Hunter work is that it treats its characters like people. Events in the film largely happen because they have to—historical accuracy, and all that—but Seth Grahame-Smith’s script makes it feel like they happen because the characters need them to.
Even ridiculous movies need some heart. The recent 21 Jump Street reboot/adaptation turned out to be fantastic, not just because it was hilarious, but because it had real affection for the characters. Here, Benjamin Walker brings a certain humanity to a figure who’s become more myth than man. Obviously, the film isn’t wholly grounded, but vampire hunting Lincoln has a fairly reasonable emotional foundation. His young self’s courtship of Mary Todd is charming and sweet, laying a solid foundation for their grown up relationship. Walker and Winstead play well off each other; their chemistry does a lot to ground the film.
Credit goes to the supporting cast, as well. Dominic Cooper makes for a pretty sexy vampire, even if his hair is totally ridiculous in every scene. Seriously. Every single scene. Cooper’s performance isn’t quite as strong as Walker’s, but I guess it makes sense that a SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER vampire wouldn’t seem as human as a human.
Anthony Mackie, who some of you may recognize from The Hurt Locker, is tough and likeable as Abe’s oldest friend, Will Johnson. Jimmi Simpson, who appeared on the show Pysch as a recurring character in the ultimately tiresome “Yin-Yang” arc, turns up as Abe’s other friend and confidant. I totally thought he was Paul Dano. Like, for the entire movie. My girlfriend made fun of me, even though she thought that Benjamin Walker looked like Paul Dano, which he absolutely does not.
A film like this with a protagonist like Abe Lincoln needs fairly compelling villains, which it finds in Rufus Sewell’s Adam, the oh-so-cleverly-named first vampire. His performance is understated, but he still manages to convey the power that makes Adam so intimidating.
At the end of the day, though, how much does any of that stuff matter to most people? You don’t go see a movie like Vampire Hunter for historical accuracy or well-drawn characters, or even convincing performances. Things like that are a welcome surprise, and an ideal part of any film, but ultimately, you’re there to see some blood. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter delivers in that respect.
The fights are over-the-top, almost to the point of being silly. I haven’t seen Wanted, and I only made it through 10 minutes of Night Watch, but research tells me that’s just director Timur Bekmambetov’s style. The choreography lets Abe do some cool stuff with an axe, but an over-reliance on CGI keeps things from ever getting really cool. Fun, yes, but never quite cool. A friend of mine pretty much summed up the action in the film when he turned to me during the credits and said “I’m so glad they had a scene with horse parkour.” To clarify, that’s not horses doing free-running, but Abe Lincoln and a vampire pretty much doing parkour on a stampede of horses. It’s…ridiculous.
And that’s the film in a nutshell. Vampire Hunter does a fairly good job of striking a balance between grounded characters and absurd action, but at the end of the day, it’s just trying to have a good time.
If you’re going to see this, I suggest that you don’t set your expectations too high. So turn off your phone, dial down the volume on your inner critic, and let yourself enjoy the silliness. Have a drink, if that helps.