Seth Grahame-Smith turned the literary world on its side with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," his monster mash-up of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and, well, zombies. Many, including possibly Grahame-Smith himself, wondered if he would do as well if the content were completely his, and so "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" was born. It's a serious biography of Honest Abe's life that manages to interweave a vampire-hunting tale among otherwise historically accurate events.
Grahame-Smith was the screenwriter for the movie, and Timur Bekmambetov, director of the Angelina Jolie gunporn flick, "Wanted," was at the helm. The result is a flashy action film that stays true to the spirit of the book – and lots of vampires die. If you're a history stickler, you've already turned up your nose at the title and vowed to never see this film. However, if you can suspend disbelief for the length of the movie, you'll likely have a good time.
In the film, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker)'s mother is killed by vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), and young Abe swears revenge. Years later, he finally makes his move and kills Barts by shooting him in the face with a gun. Unfortunately, Barts doesn't stay dead, and Lincoln's life is about to meet a very premature end when Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) comes to the rescue. Sturgess agrees to train Lincoln in the art of vampire hunting, so long as he agrees to follow his mentor's instructions. Lincoln works as a shopkeeper and studies law during the day and kills vampires at night. For years, Sturgess sends notes about vampires who need to be offed – doctors, lawyers, bank owners – and Lincoln obliges, wielding his silver-tipped ax with stunning speed and dexterity. He's been warned against having emotional ties, but he has a couple of close friends, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie). Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also catches his eye, and he soon proposes marriage.
Of course, this is all set during a critical time in our nation's history. The North and South are fighting the Civil War, and the central issue of slavery has been cleverly cast as a vampire concern. The vampire-sympathizing South wants to continue slavery because slaves are a form of sustenance for them. The vampire-hating North wants to discontinue slavery to starve and kill the vampires. Since he's witnessed the atrocities that vampires have wrought upon his family, Lincoln becomes an abolitionist. You'll see some characters from history and the novel, such as Harriet Tubman, Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis (John Rothman), but other characters (Edgar Allen Poe) have been dropped from the film for a tighter, more cohesive experience.
Walker gives the material the correct amount of gravitas and is quite convincing when delivering famous Lincoln speeches and debate arguments. He looks like a young Liam Neeson, but that's not surprising since he played a younger version of Neeson's character in "Kinsey." With the appropriate age makeup, Walker certain looks the part of the 16th President, but for such a gifted orator, he can be quite awkward. This is partially because of the screenplay, but it's unclear how much of it was attributable to Walker. Winstead exudes a quiet, comforting charm as Todd, and the chemistry between the two is good enough that you'll believe they are a young, courting couple.
Beyond that, the other roles are minor and underdeveloped. Adam (perennial creepy bad guy, Rufus Sewell) is the leader of the vampires, and both Lincoln and Sturgess want him dead. Sewell is a one-note bad guy, Mackie and Simpson are given little to do as Johnson and Speed, respectively; and Sturgess should have been a more interesting character, but he wasn't.
As you'd expect from the director of "Wanted," the vampire-slaying sequences are creative and intense, and some are flat-out phenomenal. The "bullet time" effect from "Wanted" is often utilized to slow down slaughter scenes, which are somehow less daunting because vampire blood is apparently black.
This was filmed in 3-D, and there are numerous vampire kill-shots that are worth seeing on the big screen. Some natively 3-D movies have a more subtle effect on purpose, but when you pay an extra $3-5 for 3-D, do you really want subtlety? (I didn't think so.) The best 3-D sequence involves a horse stampede, and unless you have a 3-D TV, this is worth watching in theaters. There's also a thrilling skirmish aboard a speeding train, and there are some worthwhile 3-D shots of the battlefield.
You certainly won't find the meaning of life in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," but if you are willing to surrender to the experience, you'll find a fun movie that is a delight for the eyes.
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and 3-D.
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