Nonsensical Lincoln an Ax-Wielding Disaster
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter posits that the sixteenth President of the United States, the man who had to lead a fractured country during the Civil War and who would deliver the Emancipation Proclamation on the fields of Gettysburg, was also a clandestine destroyer of the blood-sucking undead. I have not read the acclaimed source material written by Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows), but as he is also responsible for the screenplay for this adaptation I imagine the film hews pretty close to it. Still, whatever interest I might have had in reading it, if there was any potential I might have picked it up at a local bookstore, thanks to this movie the likelihood that will ever happen has been reduced to something way past zero.
Why? Put simply, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch), produced by celebrated gothic auteur Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a disaster. Preposterous, devoid of any reason to exist, spiraling through events, characters and emotions as if they were utterly unimportant to the eventual outcome, the movie is a digitally laborious CGI-filled 3-D monstrosity that had me slapping my forehead in continual frustration. It is dead on arrival, and how anyone, anywhere could decide to plunk down money to watch it and then walk out of theatre thinking this is some sort of masterpiece is way beyond me.
Not that I can be entirely sure this is Bekmambetov and/or Grahame-Smith’s fault. I remember reading reports that the movie was clocking in at close to three hours. Then hearing later on that it was now something just north of two. But the version I and the rest of my preview audience endured was 105-minutes in length, meaning this epic covering roughly four-plus decades of history barely has any time whatsoever to make its sprawling scenario make anything close to a lick of sense. There’s so much plot stuffed into this mess nothing has a chance to plant roots and grow. The movie is sound, fury, blood, guts and gore, little things like character and nuanced storytelling left on the cutting room floor.
Not that this isn’t an intriguing concept. At least it was for the geeky B-movie obsessed fan-girl not-so-secretly lurking inside me. Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), still reeling from the murder of his mother at the hands of the nefarious Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) a decade earlier, is astonished to learn that this villain is a vampire. Taken under the wing of the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), the ax-wielding truth-telling future lawyer develops the skills and the talents to hunt and kill these bloodsuckers, certain that each one he decapitates is one rung on the ladder leading him to back to Barts.
Things get even crazier from there. The future Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets mixed up in this tale, as do Harriet Tubman (Jaqueline Fleming), Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) and Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk). On the fictional side of things, Lincoln buddies up with abolitionist-leaning store owner Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and former childhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) to help him rid the world of undead bloodsuckers, while the duplicitous Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson) are the chief vampiric threat looking to rule over the United States and subjugate most of humanity as cattle for they and their kind to feed upon.
Forget the fact that the movie doesn’t do much interesting with its potentially amusing, unquestionably silly premise. Disregard that it plays with history in about as strait-laced a manner as say Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds did back in 2009. Forget that no one is actually playing a character, developing a relationship or trying to ground any of the proceedings in anything close to an honest emotion. None of that matters because the movie, for all it gets wrong, for everything it almost gets right, is so consistently idiotic it’s almost as if it has been designed expressly to generate titanic headaches from its audience and precious little else. It is as if no one involved cares if the viewer enjoys themselves, making sitting through the whole thing about as laborious a process as any I’m likely to be faced with throughout the remainder of 2012.
I will say, at least from a visual perspective, I did appreciate a tiny bit of what Bekmambetov was going for. The train-set finale has the strange, austere look of old Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner or George S. Cook photographs, the film going into a shimmery black and white haze punctuated by fierce fiery oranges and specs of burning floating embers that are frequently incredible. It is also worth noting that, unlike his three previous features, the director for once seems interested in allowing most of the dialogue-driven, scenes to play themselves out without the use of multiple edits, changes in film speed or other pointless visual flourishes that would only distract from what the characters are saying to one another.
Those small items aside, I don’t have a lot that’s positive to say about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I can’t comment on the actors because none of them are given enough to play with or to do as they all are portraying tropes and caricatures instead of flesh and blood human beings. The movie makes wrong move after wrong move, Bekmambetov and company cutting their collective throats so frequently it leads to a shockingly lifeless epic that’s nothing short of a monstrous catastrophe.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)