Mania Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter -

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Starring: Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, and Martin Csokas
  • Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

"Fourscore and seven bloodsuckers ago..."

By Rob Vaux     June 21, 2012

 In early letters to her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln complained that he seemed sleepy all the time. Now we know why: he spent his evenings slaughtering the undead like hogs. That's the gloriously ridiculous premise of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a premise that director Timor Bekmambetov transforms into an equally ridiculous whole. It demands a certain amount of leeway from the audience, adopting a faux serious tone wherein the filmmakers are in on the joke but the characters aren't. Only Bekmambetov gets to poke us in the ribs, while Honest Abe (Benjamin Walker) and his colleagues must stare po-faced at whatever ludicrous insanity the director sees fit to unleash upon them. Many, many people will not be down with this equation. But if you embrace it (embrace it, I say!), it turns into the summer's most fantastic guilty pleasure.

Needless to say, Bekmambetov plays it fast and loose with history, willfully ignoring a number of Lincoln's real-life traits in order to facilitate the high concept here. After witnessing the death of his mother at the hands of a vile bloodsucker, young Mr. Lincoln teams up with expert vampire killer Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) to enact revenge. Sturges helps him transfer his railsplitting axemanship into superb combat skills, then sets him loose to track the mosnters down one by one. The vamps, unfortunately, have bigger things on their minds. The advent of slavery allows them to feast with impunity, and their leader Adam (Rufus Sewell) dreams of a nation where his kind can move in the open. Lincoln, tiring of delivering vengeance retail, embarks upon an ambitious plan to bring it to the vamps wholesale: a plan that ends with him in the Oval Office.

Most of the film takes place in Lincoln's comparative youth, allowing him to engage in all manner of eye-popping stunts as he cuts down the armies of the night. That becomes the primary purpose of the exercise, as Bekmambetov's imaginative choreography finds fertile ground in Walker’s gangly, uncertain Emancipator in Chief. He flies around like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, silver hatchet spinning and snaggletoothed opponents dropping like nine-pins before him. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter pushes the envelope just far enough to let us see the cheese, then pulls back and lets us enjoy it full-throttle. For a film so fight-heavy, it rarely runs out of inspiration, aided by Sewell's understated villain and a pair of vicious underlings (Erin Wasson and Martin Csokas). It also scores points for making its vampires really scary, aided by a subtle 3D effect in their eyes that redeems the otherwise pedestrian use of the medium.

The film does less well when actual history enters the equation. It does a fine job of conveying how little we actually know – the notion that even the most revered figures have secrets lost to the mists of time -- but it gets extremely squeamish any time it needs to use an actual person or event. Alan Tudyk is wasted as Lincoln's famous debate partner Stephen Douglas, while the connection between Lincoln's legal career and nocturnal crusade remains frustratingly vague. Bekmambetov fudges some details around the Battle of Gettysburg in order to provide a rousing finale -- and it certainly rouses in the true spirit of the endeavor -- but it also robs the film of a certain energy. Had it combined those elements more successfully, it might have become a real classic instead of just a silly good time.

This is the season for silly good times, however, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter brings us the silly in the best possible way. It shouldn't work as well as it does, and you'll probably hate yourself in the morning (God knows I do), but the sheer off-the-wall originality of it means that you'll also be cackling like a loon through most of its running time. When if not now does such a movie deserve our attention? The summer is flying by at a rapid rate, with the last few heavy hitters limbering up in the wings. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter provides a delirious pause before the final course... and a reminder that "simple" doesn't mean "the same old thing."


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Wyldstaar 6/22/2012 12:30:58 AM

Just got back from seeing this at a midnight showing.  It was a fun ride, and an interesting take on the events of the time.  If King Leonidas can fight a Persian army consisting of monsters and mutants of various sorts in 300, I see no reason why Abe Lincoln can't slay the undead.

Hookedonavengers2012 6/22/2012 1:12:57 AM

 This will be fun...I can't wait to see it!

karas1 6/22/2012 5:11:10 AM

The summer is flying by at a rapid rate, with the last few heavy hitters limbering up in the wings.

Yesterday was the first day of summer.  Let's just banish the fiction that we're watching summer movies and go with Spring movies instead.  When all the good movies have been released by the beginning of July, what does that leave for August?  Not much.

Wiseguy 6/22/2012 5:54:54 AM

Late summer, Total Recall, Expendables 2, Dredd, Bourne Legacy, The Watch, Resident Evil and 2 of my now must watch for the end of summer LAWLESS and Gangster Squad. So yeah I think we'll be alright at the end of summer.

I'm planning on checking on Mr Lincoln over the weekend. ctually surprised Rob gave it that high a grade.

Hobbs 6/22/2012 6:07:11 AM

That's an unfair take on 300 Wyldstaar.  I haven't seen Abe yet but one of the things people seem to forget with 300 is that it's being narrated by a solider who left the battle early.  He is trying to pump up his troops for the coming battle and telling a fable story of their dead king thus making him a legend in the process.  All Legends are embellished and 300 was no different.  Funny how most don't notice it was being narrated but oh well.

Summer is flying by?  What?!?


iceknight52 6/22/2012 6:28:05 AM

Finished the book and can't wait to see it this weekend! When it comes to calling out Hollywood and other similiar mediums about losing originality I'm by far guilty. Then comes a film/novel like this that we immediately pass off as ridiculous instead of embracing the fact that it was brave enough to try a new angle of originality. I for one am eating crow after this book and can't wait to see how it transpires onto the silver screen.

silversurfer 6/22/2012 6:46:42 AM

Look: It's Abraham Lincoln- Vampire Hunter. This equals FUN. Just have fun and go with it!! You know what you're getting. There's all kinds of movies that will come out the rest of the summer for them to be deep an meaningful...this isn't one of them. It's a popcorn movie that's intended to make everyone look at it say that Abe would've been a bad-ass vampire slayer: Period. I'm going to see it this weekend because you need to have a good time every now and then, plus everything doesn't have to make logical sense in order for it to be enjoyed.

monkeyfoot 6/22/2012 6:54:32 AM

I want to see Brave too but I'll probably see this one this weekend and the Pixar film later. I want to see just good well-crafted mayhem.

joeybaloney 6/22/2012 7:56:15 AM

I was ready to pass on this because all the advertisements I've seen made it seem like it was being played totally straight and I just couldn't get behind the premise in that case. Now that I know it is more tongue-in-cheek I think I'll check this out.


Hulkfan4ever 6/22/2012 8:20:10 AM

I am really excited to see this too. It will be nice to have a unique vampire movie to sit through instead of another tired, been there done that zombie movie.  

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