Abe Lincoln has kind of a mythical being in my household. It all started when the Wii had a Abe Lincoln avatar that could be used to play Mario Kart Wii. It seems that my lovely wife gravitated towards this character and began to trash talk as she played claiming that she was using official “Abe Lincoln Quotes” such as “Eat My Dust.” Somehow I never quite believed her that Abe said these things but alas the legend of strange Lincoln quotes continued. It wasn’t long after that day that she expanded the legend of Abe by telling me of all the ridiculous things he did in history (long after he was dead).
To solidify her notion that the history books don’t tell us everything we should know about Abe Lincoln she brought home a book by author Seth Grahame Smith called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The twisted tale takes a biography of Abe Lincoln that is free of copyright and is now considered public domain and sprinkles in a twist. It turns out the book has been re-written to be both fiction and non-fiction mixing history with a outlandish tale of Abe Lincoln hunting vampires because they killed his mother, and freeing the slaves to keep the plantation owning vampires from buying their “food supply” at slave auctions. If the idea of a book on this subject wasn’t silly enough, June 2012 gives us the Abe Lincoln summer blockbuster we all never knew we always wanted in the form of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (3D).
I will admit that I never read the book, but the title alone had me laughing and I really wanted to see how they adapt something like this to film. I was quite pleasantly surprised that the film wasn’t super campy and cheesy and actually took the subject matter quite seriously. I have heard some say that this is to the films deterrent, however I believe it is quite the opposite. With a clever mind in the directors chair (Timur Bekmambetov) and producer Tim Burton this tale unfolds nicely despite its serious nature. The film never really tries to shy from the fact that the plot is ridiculous but also doesn’t dwell on it either. It decides to take the ball and run with it as far as it can and doesn’t try to focus on the one liners and campy nature it could have quickly degraded to.
I think the main reason that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter succeeds is because of director Timur Bekmambetov. The director first started gaining steam back in 2004 with the release of the foreign film, Night Watch which was a fantasy tale set in Moscow about vampires and the fight between the people of day and the demons of night. While it didn’t garnish mainstream appeal the film went around the indie and horror geek circles and gathered a cultish excitement at the time. He became noteworthy on the mainstream American circuit by making Wanted starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and James MacAvoy in 2008. Wanted became the hit man film that had thousands of teenage boys thinking that you might be able to curve a bullet it you concentrated enough. While certainly not groundbreaking film making, Bekmambetov created a fun escapist film. And in 2012, he does it again with a fantastical story of one of America’s greatest presidents.
Bekmambetov has a wonderful way of filming stylized violence and making a ridiculous tale seem almost believable. Although there is no reason you should believe that Lincoln could wield an axe like a baton twirler on speed and lived a secret life of killing the undead the direction the film takes has you nodding your head with approval. It’s action packed set around the backdrop of a story the history books drilled into your heads as a child. Bekmambetov knows how to edit a film and move story along from scene to scene and keep it action packed an interesting at the same time. It doesn’t shy away from an R rating, but doesn’t dwell in over the top hatchet wielding violence either. It makes Lincoln look cooler than ever before, and makes you wonder if it was really Abe Lincoln who taught Chuck Norris his awesome roundhouse kick (it’s probably the power of the beard at work).
Somewhat newcomer Benjamin Walker takes on the lead role of Abraham Lincoln and actually carries the film quite well. I’m very glad Burton was only the producer because I don’t think I could put up with a Burton directed Lincoln film starring Johnny Depp in a stovepipe hat and Helena Bohnam Carter as Mary Todd Lincoln. Once you get over the fact that Walker looks a lot like a young Liam Neeson, the actor suits the role just fine. Coincidentally enough I found out while writing this review that Walker has actually played a “young Liam Neeson” in the Neeson film, Kinsey (2004). Anyhow, part of the reason this film works well as an escapist film is because Walker isn’t a household name playing the president/hunter. You’re not focused on the fact that it is “famous actor A” playing Lincoln and more focused on the visual effects candy and the clever tale this film weaves.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turns out to be quite the rail-splitting good time. It’s mindless fun that doesn’t dwell in camp and takes itself just serious enough to be a fun ride. The 3-D format actually makes the stylized violence even more fun than it probably should be. I question if the the 3-D effects are necessary but they were done well and did not take me out of the film. The film is just plain old escapist fun. It’s a popcorn flick that I know I won’t mind watching again. If you’re still not convinced head to your favorite theatre and purchase a pair of tickets for the show. Then even if you still don’t want to go to the theatre you can use the logic of my favorite “fake” Lincoln quote of all time:
“Well, We already have the tickets.” -Abraham Lincoln.