I once had hope for the movie adaptation of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. With WANTED’s Timur Bekmambetov at the helm, at least it’d have a visual flair to make this rather unique revisionist tale of Abraham Lincoln’s secret life nice to look at. Couple that with Seth Grahame-Smith, the writer of the novel, penning the script for the big screen treatment of his own literary work, and now you’ve got the story in good hands, too, right…? People who get ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER are going to be making it, right? Well, if that was the case, then what we wound up with wouldn’t have turned out to be such a complete and total piece of shit. And, even by calling it as such, I feel like I may be a bit too positive in my assessment. This film is absolutely atrocious. Then again, that’s what happens when you take an interesting book that came together well enough to be a New York Times Best Seller and change nearly everything about it that makes it both good and different. What makes it so unforgivable is that it was Grahame-Smith making that translation, and the author himself didn’t get what actually made his original work for readers. How does that even happen? I really don’t want to waste time trying to compare book and movie, because they’re two totally different stories really, the main difference being that the one on the page is riveting and the other isn’t even close to that. But it’s the movie’s lack of historical context, its inability to grasp any sort of emotional depth and its reliance on “Hey, look… Abraham Lincoln is fighting vampires, isn’t that cool?” that really sends it into the territory of horrendous cinema.
AL:VH wastes absolutely no time in trying to get an axe in Honest Abe’s hands, as it’s only 10 minutes in before we’re already being treated to a training montage. In the few minutes before, we’re rushed through the death of Lincoln’s mother, so it doesn’t mean anything, even if it is the catalyst for him wanting to hunt vampires, any type of relationship with his father is ignored, because the elements of the story where that would have mattered have been removed and his dislike of slavery, which amounts to his childhood friend is black, and he saw him get whipped once and… well, that should connect the dots enough for you in the audience if character development uses up too many brain cells for you. As for how his training even comes about, it’s pretty obvious that when a stranger – Henry Sturgess, played by Dominic Cooper, who has done much better work than this - approaches you in a bar, and then you see that same guy come to your rescue later, wielding information rather freely about vampires and asking if you’d like to learn how to kill them, you say “Yes.” Yet with his vengeance for his mother being the sole reason he’s so eager to sign up, it might have helped to get some idea of how important his mother was to him… maybe she taught him to read and write, maybe she encouraged his intellectual curiosity, maybe she was always there for him, maybe it was a number of things that really brought them close together. Unfortunately, there’s no time for showing us any of that, if it means less time away from Lincoln chopping down trees with a single swing in a fit of cheaply done visual effects. And the visuals only get worse, as a chase through wild horses that involves a thrown equine and a couple of participants leaping across them as if they were cars in a modern era action flick laughably prove.
Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, who manages to play the older Lincoln far more convincingly than the younger) makes a deal with Sturgess to take out vampires selected for him in exchange for his training, but no thought or explanation is ever given to why these particular vampires are being selected or why Sturgess wants them taken out in the first place. Too bad that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the film’s stupidity. We’re later treated to Lincoln’s budding romance with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that feels like a dialogue exchange that might have taken place during the performance of a high school play, and to cap it all off, when it’s time for Mary Todd and Lincoln to profess their feelings to each other eye-to-eye, Winstead is able to stand upon his top hat in order to achieve the desired height. Let me run that back for you once more… a top hat was capable of supporting the weight of a grown woman.
Worst of all, there’s no historical context whatsoever. There’s no attention paid to the time in which all of this is happening. How else do you explain Lincoln getting a history lesson on vampires in the form of a slideshow/movie? Yeah… in the 1830s… exactly. Furthermore, Lincoln’s politics and his reasoning for heading into the Civil War are completely glossed over, because why bother laying out any type of rationale for the characters when you can just get the Union and the Confederates, complete with vampire troops, on the battlefield fighting? The Civil War, which made up a small fraction of the book, winds up being a major piece of the film, but, without the proper foundation to get to such a key moment in Lincoln’s life, it becomes nothing more than a series of action beats and a way to incorporate more vampire action into the film. Toss in a train sequence made-up entirely for the film that sends the message that the Civil War was won with forks, while, at the same time, adding nothing to the overall story but more special effects, and you wind up wondering if the creative forces involved here were metaphorically trying to tell us they know what a train wreck they’ve made.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER has been absolutely gutted as a compelling story to see in going from page to screen, but the visuals can’t even be defended for delivering eye candy. The film looks cheaply made, and, even though I wasn’t a fan of Bekmambetov’s last film WANTED, I could at least acknowledge he was able to give me some cool things to look at. Not so much here, as Bekmambetov looks to have graduated from the Zack Snyder School for Action Filmmaking, using slow motion every single chance he gets and maybe even creating a few more chances just to he can use it some more.
Characters are created for no apparent reason other than a token black guy (Anthony Mackie) in a movie that takes place during the Civil War might be a good idea. Other characters are introduced within five minutes of them dying, rending their involvement rather useless, since their lives didn’t resonate at all in order for their deaths to mean a damn thing. This movie is a fuckin’ mess, and rather than head out to the theatre to catch this one, you’re better off cracking open ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER in book form. At least that way you can get engaged with a story that you want to keep progressing through until the end, unlike what you get on-screen which really will have you wishing it will stop sooner rather than later. If there’s one thing I owe Abraham Lincoln’s contributions to the United States, it’s a bit of honesty about this film, so here goes… it sucks. Now I feel I’ve served my country well.
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