Fox // 2012 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // February 1st, 2013
History prefers legends to men.
There's something to be said for a movie that delivers on its title. If one was to go into a theater to watch Snakes on a Plane and then complain it's nothing more than snakes on a plane, that person is being foolish. Likewise, expecting historically accurate drama from something called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is just as inane. It's far from a perfect movie; silly, ridiculous, and gives audiences exactly what it promises. You can't ask any more than that.
Long before becoming the most revered leader in American history, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, Flags of Our Fathers) grew up as the son of a hard working father and a mother he loved very much. His life is changed, though, after he witnesses a brutal attack on his mother by a monstrous force. Growing up seething with anger, one day he gets a gun and goes out to exact revenge. While he shoots the attacker right in the face, the man is unphased, attacking Lincoln until he's luckily saved by a young man with seemingly insane strength and power. This man, Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper, Captain America: The First Avenger), has a secret: he's a vampire, and there are tons of them living throughout the United States. Better yet, he's going to teach Abe how to fight them. Armed with a silver axe and a wealth of martial arts skills, Lincoln goes on the warpath, slaying bloodsuckers until it's time to settle down and become President. Although, even then, they aren't going to let him go easily.
I never read the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also penned the screenplay), so I didn't know what to expect beyond the title which seemingly heralded an action-horror schlockfest. Given that I generally don't have much time for this kind of stuff, I didn't hold out much hope. Imagine my surprise when Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turned out to be an enjoyable piece of fantasy.
By shoe-horning a vampire mythos into Lincoln's biography, Grahame-Smith and director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) essentially let the movie write itself. Taking events from Lincoln's life -- the death of his mother, getting a job as a shopkeeper, his Presidency, the Civil War -- and putting a vampire twist on it, they we're all set. That's all there is to this movie.
As Bekmambetov demonstrated in his previous bloodsucker films, Nightwatch and Daywatch, he knows how to work the vampire action. This is more Underworld than Nosferatu, but it isn't trying to scare anybody. Instead, Bekmambetov brings a stylish, stunt-heavy, effects-laden product to the table, one that works very well. You need a fight atop a speeding train going over a burning collapsing bridge? Bekamabetov is your man. The film looks great, with solid effects and decent performances all around...for this kind of movie.
The problems with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter emerge when they stray from the fangs and the fights; a little less than half the movie trying to reconcile actual events in Lincoln's life. The birth of his hatred toward slavery, his friendships with historical figures, his marriage to Mary Todd (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and politics of the Civil War all serve to drag the pace of the film down. Given its 100+ minute running time, this is all plainly unnecessary.
The marriage business is worst offender of all. The other stuff has at least some relevance to the vampire tale, but his courtship and marriage is pointless and entirely too serious. Winstead is undeniably nice to look at and her performance of a young and less crazy Mary (she's a little hard to believe as and older haggard First Lady) is just fine, but the relationship adds nothing to the picture. The argument might be that, since this was biographical, they couldn't overlook it for fear of complaint. Come on...this is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. If they were willing to take the liberty of saying that vampires fought for the South because slaves were an easy food source, they could have just as easily mentioned he got married and be done with it. It would have shaved a good fifteen minutes off the runtime.
The good news is none of this sinks the picture, because of Bekmambetov's wild and inventive action (they use horses as cudgels, for goodness sake), and hammy performances from Walker as Lincoln, Alan Tudyk (Firefly) as Stephen Douglas, and Rufus Sewell (Extreme Ops) as the 5,000 year old lead vampire. Sure, it's got its problems, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a perfectly enjoyable bit of action-horror.
Fox delivers a pretty good Blu-ray release: a 3D Blu-ray, the 2D Blu-ray, a DVD copy, a downloadable copy, and an UltraViolet streaming option. Since the film has been up-converted to 3D, that part isn't as dynamic as it could be, using the effects more for throwing things in the viewer's face than any kind of immersion. The image suffers from the film's hugely prevalent night scenes, rendering some of it hard to see, though the traditional Blu-ray almost completely rectifies the problem. It's a good looking 2.40:1/1080p transfer that does the film's stylish palette justice. Black levels look great (in 2D, at least) and the detail is very strong. Better still is the DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track, which is loud, full, and features great dynamics. There is almost constant ambient noise, with differentiation between the two sets of surround channels, not the doubled-up rear speakers we mostly get from this kind of mix. It's one of the better pure sound mixes I've heard in some time, and is almost worth watching the disc based on that alone.
Extras are plentiful, but not that deep. A making-of featurette runs over an hour and gives a pretty full picture of the production, but isn't terribly exciting. There is a ten minute animated short that presents Edgar Allan Poe talking to Lincoln in the White House, which is nicely rendered, but makes little sense. A Linkin Park music video and a trailer round out the disc. These features only appear on the Blu-ray, though, so you folks out there who haven't upgraded from DVD are out of luck.
Set a historian with little sense of humor in front of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and they will revile it. It plays fast and loose with the 16th President and the events surrounding his life, but I can't bring myself to care about that much. This an action fantasy about a bearded dude with an axe, making good on the fighting, stunts, and special effects, which is more important than historical accuracy. Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis gave us that.
This judge votes against impeachment.
Review content copyright © 2013 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* 2D Version
* Short Film
* Music Video
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download