Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Henry: "If vengeance is all you seek, you will never be able to save mankind."

I had absolutely no expectations going into this film. It could've been horrifically bad, especially when you consider how silly the basic premise is. Yet in that premise, there was some potential to pull off something moderately brilliant. Was it going to be satire? Was it going to be just a shallow gore fest? I was genuinely surprised that it was neither. Instead, it was a somewhat successful attempt to realistically tell the story of Abraham Lincoln as if he were a vampire hunter... go figure.

Lincoln has an extremely recognizable face. This created a burden on the production to produce an extremely specific look. What they pulled off was kind of extraordinary. In the final act of the movie, Lincoln finally arrives in all his bearded glory. But we spend the first two thirds of the film getting to know this man as someone other than the President of the United States. Someone who hasn't give those wonderful speeches, and hasn't been faced with a civil war. We get an very personal story of vengeance and love as he grows into the man we all think we know.

This movie's lead character, his mannerisms, and his vocal inflections are all known to us by the time he is revealed as the face we've seen thousands of times. So we connect this image viscerally with the person whose story we just went through. It was a subtle but very effective way of selling makeup. Also, the makeup was really well done. I have to give most of the credit to Benjamin Walker, who portrayed Lincoln. He added such a vulnerability to his performance that I fully bought his struggle.

Besides Lincoln, I thought the supporting cast was all pretty good. Rufus Sewell was a good villain, even if he didn't get that much to do. Mary Elizabeth Winstead provided a much needed anchor for the story as Mary Todd Lincoln. She had a fairly large role, although she was adjacent to the events for the most part, and she was an essential aspect to the primary character's progression. She also provided some natural grace and beauty to the story, and made the romance stuff really work for me. Dominic Cooper also gave an good performance as Lincoln's hunter mentor. He had to do some pretty dramatic stuff and he sold the conflict inherent to his character's origins.

The visual effects were pretty well done. Some of the stunts and scenes in this movie were absolutely spectacular. The vampire look was a little too monstrous for me personally, but it worked within the context of the film. These aren't nice sparkly vampires -- they are the nasty, bitey kind. Except I got the distinct impression they were still just people, looking after their own interests, and with their own world view. None of their actions were truly evil per se -- well, from their point of view, at least. Which always makes for the best kind of villains. Their whole struggle was about the survival and prosperity of their species. They did enslave and butcher humans, but is that an evil act when you consider that we are their food supply?

Bits:

Several moments from real history were highlighted throughout the movie. Often times there was a snippet from a famous painting, and the image would change to look like it was done with paint and brush strokes.

The axe being used as a weapon was a nice touch, and the fighting was for the most part engaging because of it.

The vampires had black blood, which fit into the nearly monochromatic color scheme of the movie.

The battle of Gettysburg played a significant role in the story. The vampires used the Confederacy to further their goals, so we had Union soldiers fighting vampires in grey during the flashes we got from this historic battle.

Lincoln's character arc is a bit of a refreshing one. He starts off as a kid who wants to avenge a wrongful death, and ends up becoming a politician to solve the larger problems the vampires present as a whole.

I have to applaud the writers for creating such a plausible story for this silly concept. There were some issues with pacing, and condensing a decades-long story into the framework of a two hour action movie. But for the most part, this thoughtful and somber story of vengeance, love, and politics was really well done.

3 out of 4 Silver forks used as cannonballs.

5 comments:

ChrisB said...

I'm sold. So many of the things you mentioned were those things the critics chose to be very harsh about. Sounds as though it is one of those films that you need to see for yourself, so I shall.

Thanks, J.D. Excellent review.

Matthew L said...

Saw this movie on Friday night. Loved the action, especially the fight sequences. Loved how they tricked the vampires at the end.
Liked the new powers they gave the vampires and that these aren't your sparkly kind. That's how vampires are going to be differentiated from now on, aren't they? Sparkly or non-sparkly. :D

It is indeed a silly mish-mash premise, but it worked for me. Although they did change a few things from the book in regards to Mary Todd's knowledge and what eventually happens to Lincoln.

Now let's see what they come up wiht Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I think Smith's next mish-mash book has to do with the Three Wise Men.

Annie said...

I'm undecided about whether to see this or not. I'm not American, and know absolutely nothing about Abraham Lincoln in real life or the era of American history he was part of. Is this important? I.e. will I enjoy the film less if I don't have that background knowledge? Or should I just enjoy the vampire gore-fest?

Matthew L said...

Annie: If you know nothing of Abraham Lincoln and the period of history he affected, then enjoy the film as an interesting mish-mash movie of vampires and American history. The placement of vampires in this portion of history makes for an interesting alternate explanation for what had historically already taken place.

There are some further historical scenes in the epilogue of the book this movie is adapated from that didn't make it into the movie, e.g. the World Wars were fought due to vampire uprisings.

I believe the movie is enjoyable without knowing all the actual history being represented in the movie, but having the historical knowledge enhances the movie.

It's kinda of similar to when Serenity came out, I had friends who had not wached a single episode of Firefly, yet they still enjoyed the movie while those of us who had seen Firefly got more out of the movie due to our increased background knowledge.

Annie said...

Ok, thanks! I'm planning on reading the book at some point as well so hopefully that will fill in some gaps :)