Because, correct me if I’m misremembering eighth-grade history, the Civil War was fought to keep vampires from conquering the country, right?
We all know that Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) came from humble beginnings, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that a vampire killed his mother. Worse still, when that vamp, Jack Barts (Martin Csokas), bites down on Mrs. Lincoln’s (Robin McLeavy) neck, young Abe (Lux Haney-Jardine) sees him do it, and the memory eats away at him. When he’s older, he decides to seek vengeance. But first, because he’s a nice guy and killing isn’t his bag (yet), he gets drunk. Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) sees him do it and intervenes just in time to keep Lincoln from becoming just another vampire meal. Before you can kill them, you have to participate in a training montage, Henry tells him, and thus this former rail-splitter learns new uses for the ax (e.g. cutting off the heads of the undead).
But he’s not satisfied just with killing a vampire here and a vampire there. No, the future president wants to bring down all vampires in our little piece of the New World, and to do that he must eradicate slavery. You see — as the movie explains in a totally not-trivializing-a-historical-tragedy way — the true reason for Southern slavery is that vampires have slaves shipped there and then suck their blood. It is the compromise that keeps them from wreaking havoc across the continent, Henry tells Abe. Abe’s childhood friend and adulthood vampire-slaying-buddy Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who is African-American, thinks the “let them eat slaves” plan is an even crappier compromise than the three-fifths thing. Along with Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), Abe and Will decide it’s time to put an end to the whole corrupt system. How? Why, how else? Politics!
I’ll bet you thought I was going to say ax-facilitated beheadings. There’s some of that, but mostly, politics!
Along the way, Lincoln gains a wife in Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a debating partner in Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk) and a powerful enemy in vampire progenitor Adam (Rufus Sewell).
Every now and then somebody will come along and try to make a dramatic, action-packed movie about, like, a painter or a writer or something like it. This seldom works, because watching people typing or painting is like, well, watching that paint dry. It takes effort to make such a movie really grab and hold on to its audience.
A movie about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and vampires is the opposite of this. It is ready-made cinema-friendly fare. Don’t believe me? Check out this movie’s trailer, which made awesome Michael-Bay-ish use of the Gettysburg Address. Something for the history nerds, something for the vampire fans, all rolled up in one delightfully cheesy package.
The movie itself, however, doesn’t do this. Instead, it is a lifeless endeavor that never really gets going. It appears to be having fun with history, appears to be rolling out some campy vampires, but it does so with about as much verve as your average employee safety video. Walker gives a remarkably humdrum performance, making the legendary Lincoln seem like a not-terribly-interesting dork. The spark that should give life to the dialogue fizzles out. The action feels disconnected. The movie lacks energy. It should have been either a taking-it-seriously full-tilt dark action movie or a campy romp. It feels instead like a bland by-the-numbers summer tent pole — explosions, sure, but little else.
With its whimsical melding of history and supernatural, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter started with solid B, B+ material. And yet somehow this movie is a very flat and colorless C-
Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov with a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (based on his novel), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.