Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
20 June 2012
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can be described simply thus: Four Score Years and BOOM!
Long before Honest Abe became America's sixteenth president, he picked up an axe and started kicking undead bottom. That was the premise of Seth Grahame-Smith's successful and genre-defining monster mash-up which he has now adapted for the big screen, helmed by Daywatch / Wanted's Timur Bekmanbetov. We see Abe first as a young boy, standing up to the slave-owner that would hurt his friend and then as a young man trying to avenge the unnatural death of his mother (at said bad-guy's vampiric hands and teeth). Taken under the wing of Henry (Dominic Cooper), Abe (now played by Benjamin Walker) learns that vampires can be found all over the country, silently living as a sub-culture that quietly but savagely picks off those at the edges of society. Henry teaches Abe for a life-long mission which he says must be fuelled by truth, not revenge. However he warns Abe that the forces of darkness will search out his weaknesses and he should refrain from friends and family. Things change when Abe meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and quietly woos her. But just as Henry warned, there are many agendas at work and the life of a vampire hunter is not an easy one... it attracts the wrath of vampire lord Adam (Rufus Sewell) and a series of events are set in motion that will change the life of Lincoln, his friends and finally the country itself...
Yes, this infamous historical mash-up comes at us loud and proud with all the signature bells, whistles, missiles and slo-mo action for which director Timur Bekmambetov has now become famous. What it lacks in subtlety - and to its credit early scenes are staged with the seriousness and care of a genuine period-piece - it gets back in sheer cheek and an audacity of scope as things progress. After his last outing, helming Mark Millar's subversive superheo outing, think of this as Wanted: Undead or Alive, a period drama with a very contemporary feel.
As the film's momentum increases to manic levels, Bekmanbetov throws everything at the screen creating a delightful maelstrom of chaos that grips you by the eyeballs and doesn't let-go. For the most part it works, hitting a majority of the requisite factors needed for a summer blockbuster roller-coaster ride and a bit more besides. But with all that unapologetic CGI and obvious wire-work in fullest force, some scenes work better than others. The scale of some moments, such as a train barrelling across a burning bridge or Lincoln trying to defeat a dinner-party full of vamps requires only the normal suspension of disbelief. However, like the notorious tree-swinging scene in the last Indiana Jones movie, some scenes go that bit TOO far: a confrontation that sees Lincoln facing off against nemesis Jack Brooks as they leap from stampeding horse to stampeding horse is so blatantly silly that we're lifted out of the moment by the sheer absurdity and defiance of physics. It's such moments where Timur could possibly have dialled things back and still not lost any forward motion.
The period-setting of the piece is well-handled, some more nuanced moments evoking the atmosphere better than one might expect - especially when it comes to the attitudes to slavery and civil unrest. But, no, it is never allowed to get in the way of all the more 'important' strom und drang seen throughout, the 3D aspect being fully embraced. This is, after all, marketed as an action movie albeit one with tongue and fang clearly in satirical cheek and its nose peeking out from the history books. By turns earnest and sweeping and then gloriously silly and entertaining, it becomes filled with one set-piece after another, a multitude of wirework and fantastical combat which should completely satisfy the average summer cinema-goer... as long as you don't care about the historical liberties it clearly takes. Most of the time you'll happily accept the story as wonderfully fanstastical alternative-history and who wouldn't buy the ideas of vampires in Congress?
Relative newcomer Walker does an excellent job in the title role, evoking a young Liam Neeson and Cooper is more than able as his mentor and friend. Some of the supporting players fare less well, with some story-strands feeling not as quite well-formed. There's also a chunk of Abe's life missing, jumping from his marriage to Mary through to him having already won the White House - a leap that is somewhat jarring with its sudden addition of the iconic chin-hair. An extra fifteen minutes of breathign space might not have gone amiss.
But all in all, this is great fun. It knows and acknowledges its particular niche and then mines the hell out of it . At less than two hours it never overstays its welcome and it's hard not to leave the cinema with a smile on your face. Bekmanbetov delivers exactly what we'd expect given his pedigree and more - and is quickly establishing himself as the go-to guy for over-the-top actionfests, here with added texture. A feast for the eyes and a buffet (Buffy?) for the still-beating heart, this is simply a great summer romp.