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Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

An audacious concept and over the top action sequences make Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter worth checking out as long as you’re on board for vampire killing presidents.

This film is based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith. Everyone thinks that they know the story of Abraham Lincoln, but the truth is far stranger than the fiction. As a young boy, Abraham Lincoln’s mother is killed by a vampire known as Jack Barts. Lincoln grows up seeking vengeance on the monster, but when he has his chance to kill Barts, he finds himself woefully unprepared. He is only saved at the last second by a vampire hunter named Henry Sturgess. Sturgess takes Lincoln under his wing as an apprentice vampire hunter. Lincoln refines his fighting skills and vampire hunting techniques. When he is ready, Sturgess sends Lincoln to Springfield, Illinois to start ridding the town of vampires, but Lincoln finds himself torn between his duty as a vampire killer, his blooming political career, and his newfound love for Mary Todd.

Going into Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, my biggest question was what the tone of the movie would be. Would they nod and wink at the camera, fully acknowledging what they were doing was absurd? Would it be funny? Would it be serious? There were a lot of different ways they could go with this. Ultimately, they ended up playing it totally serious. As young Abraham Lincoln swings his axe around and 3D blood spurts out of the screen, they play it the same way they would in any action-horror movie. It just so happens that the action hero is also the former president. And for the most part this serious approach does work. There were times when I would sit back and realize, “I’m watching Abraham Lincoln kill vampires with an axe.” It would feel like it was some sort of “Saturday Night Live” skit of a “Funny or Die” parody, but then you’d be immersed back in the story again and go along for the ride. It’s a bizarre, strange mix that they actually make work fairly well. The sheer audacity of the filmmakers to create a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and get it on the screen is worth a tip of the top hat.

While they do play it pretty straight, they do have fun with the fact that this is Abraham Lincoln. His weapon of choice is an axe. His nickname of “Honest Abe” comes into play. You see the real reasons behind the death of his son and the Civil War. While the first 3/4 of the movie could have been any person besides Lincoln, the last 1/4 of the film relies heavily on the fact that it is him.

And while Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is played out seriously, the vampire battles are completely over the top. Lincoln kills vampires in ways that would make Blade say, “Really?” One fight takes place among a horse stampede. It’s incredibly stupid and defies the laws of physics and common sense… but it’s fun. It’s just so insane to see Lincoln chasing a vampire while jumping across horses in the middle of a stampede, you can’t help but say, “Now that’s something I haven’t seen before” and go along for the ride. We’re also treated to Union soldiers fighting vampire Rebels, horses busting through walls of plantations, and a spectacular train battle. If you’re into action, this does deliver as Timur Bekmambetov’s films typically do.

As I watched Benjamin Walker play Abraham Lincoln, I kept thinking that he looked like a young Liam Neeson. Ironically, he did play a 19-year-old Neeson in Kinsey, but he and Neeson have a lot in common. They’re both likable and strong presences. They’re both believable in action scenes. And they both sell the often ridiculous concepts of the movies they’re in. Walker carried the movie well. He’s paired with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln and she does well, too. It’s quite a contrast from her role as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The rest of the cast including Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, and Marton Csokas do fine jobs as well.

While the 3D doesn’t bring all that much to this movie, it did help with the vampires. As they transform and pop out of the screen, you can’t help but jump away from them. They also do some strange effect with their eyes where there is real depth to their irises. It’s like there’s hollowness to them which I can’t describe. I thought it was a creative way to enhance the monsters with 3D beyond having stuff simply fly out of the screen.

If you strip away the novelty of the lead character being Abraham Lincoln and the outrageous action settings, what you’re left with is your standard vampire hunting story. The vampire hunter has some vendetta against the creatures for killing a family member, he trains to fight them, he eventually battles his way through most of them, then in the end he has a big boss fight with the leader to save someone he loves. It’s like a script by Mad Libs – simply fill in the blanks. There’s nothing new at the core of this story, and that makes it somewhat boring.

The pacing of the movie also has some issues. It’s most interesting when we see young Abraham Lincoln battling vampires and falling in love. When it shifts gears to when he’s an older President of the United States in the last quarter of the story, it starts getting quite dull. Things don’t rev up again until he picks up the axe once more and the big finale starts.

If you’re even remotely considering buying a ticket to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, then you’re a prime candidate to enjoy it. The title alone tells you everything you need to know, so if that appeals to you, then you’ll probably enjoy the sight of our former president killing vampires and making speeches.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10