PG Cooper: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

Posted: July 2, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: June 22nd, 2012

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith

Based on: The novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith

Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, and Anthony Mackie

I had a moderate interest in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter earlier in the year when I first saw the poster. I thought the idea of Honest Abe kicking vampire ass could make for a very fun film. But my interest disappeared when I first saw the trailer. The film looked to be taking itself way too seriously, and I feared any potential for a fun film had been lost. When the film came out, most critics seemed to confirm my scepticism by hitting the film with a barrage of negative reviews. In spite of this, I found myself seeing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. My expectations were low, but I went in with an open mind all the same. Were my expectations warranted, or had I underestimated Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

The film depicts an alternate history (obviously) where before Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) was the President of the United States, he was a vampire hunter. In the film’s world, a young Abe Lincoln watches his mother’s murder at the hands of a vampire. When Abe becomes an adult, he makes it his mission to kill the vampire who took his mother’s life. But Abe quickly learns that he lacks the skill to bring down a vampire and his almost killed. Luckily, Lincoln is saved by a man called Henry (Dominic Cooper). Henry has experience with vampires, and teaches Lincoln how to become a vampire hunter. Abe learns quickly and becomes a skilled hunter, but eventually learns he can do more good on a greater scale as President.

While the film does what I feared in taking itself seriously, it does so in a way that works. As silly and ridiculous as the concept of Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires is, the film treats it in a way where I could suspend my disbelief and accept it. Part of the reason is because the film does not feel like it was designed solely around the gag of Abe Lincoln killing vampires. The story is genuinely well thought out and interesting, and the way the film mixes real history with supernatural fiction is actually pretty cool. I was surprised by how immersive I found the story.

The film is aided by a mostly strong cast. Relative unknown Benjamin Walker leads the film with a charismatic performance as Abraham Lincoln. Walker takes the role seriously; it never feels like he’s trying to play for laughs. He makes Lincoln very likable, and I also really enjoyed his arc from a young boy who sought vengeance, to a wise man devoted to the greater good. Most of the supporting actors do a good job as well. Dominic Cooper does a good job as Abe’s mentor Henry. Henry has a pretty interesting back story and I like the way his views often clash with Lincoln’s. Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead also do solid work with slightly underdeveloped characters.

Where the cast falls short is with the villains. Throughout the film, most of the vampires are just there for Abe to slaughter. However, there are three vampires whom the film tries to make feel like greater threats. These vampires are the vampire leader Adam (Rufus Sewell), his sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson), and the vampire who killed Lincoln’s mother, Jack Barts (Martin Csokas). The problem is these vampires don’t feel any more threatening than the average bloodsucker. There are points where one of these characters will show up and it’s suppose to feel like an epic moment, but it really just feels like another flesh-bag for Lincoln to cut down. This is in large part because actors Rufus Sewell and Erin Wasson inject little personality into their characters. Martin Csokas fares a little better. Jack Barts may not be anymore threatening than Adam or Vadomo, but he certainly had more personality.

Probably the film’s biggest strengths are the visuals. The cinematography is cool and crisp, and there are some creative things done with lighting and colour. The art direction also does a good job at both capturing the time period, as well as the gothic-fantasy elements. There’s also some impressive visual effects and great action scenes. The action scenes are especially entertaining. Whether it be Abe slicing and dicing his way through vampires, or a civil war battlefield littered with vampires, or a group of vampires attacking a train. The action scenes are tons of fun.

By contrast, the film’s biggest weakness is that it bites off a bit more than it can chew. This film tries to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln, cover the civil war, incorporate vampires into both aspects, explain some vampire lore, and tell the back story of supporting character Henry. And it tries to do all of this in a film under two hours. As a result, certain elements feel rushed and certain characters under developed. Granted, this isn’t exactly a deal breaker, and the short run time does mean there’s seldom a dull moment. Still, I’d have liked to see more development to certain aspects of the film.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a perfect film, nor even a great film, but it is vastly better than I expected it to be. At the end of the day, even with its flaws, I had a lot of fun with Vampire Hunter. I was entertained from beginning to end, engrossed in the story, impressed with Walker’s strong performance, and stunned by the striking visuals. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a film a lot of people won’t be able to get behind based on the title alone, but I had a blast.

Rating: B

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