★ ★ 1/2
Starring Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Produced by Tim Burton.
With every opportunity to be a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top and ridiculously enjoyable comedy-horror hybrid, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter somehow manages to be an all-too-serious, special effects-laden vampire-slaying flick. It is, quite literally, exactly what the title describes. And while the action sequences and special effects are enough to carry most of the movie, the pure audaciousness and total lack of any attempt at humor truly make the film a very one-dimensional ride.
Bending the events of Lincoln's real life (while taking a few liberties with his motivations and physical abilities) and American history around vampire hunting and phantasmagorical occurrences, Vampire Hunter manages to somehow turn itself into a very visually impressive and heavily-fictionalized (yet exciting) demon-slaying film that almost leaves you forgetting that you're watching our 16th president slaughter bloodsucking fiends. In fact, if you can somehow detach that part of the story, it can easily be interpreted as a rather enjoyable movie. But should you try to somehow apply any level of logic to what we all know (or at least whatever watered-down story of slavery and the Civil War that we're all taught in schools here in 'Merica) about the history of our great country, you'll probably just end up laughing to yourself at what a ridiculously odd pseudo-joke this film ends up being (it is, in fact, the exact opposite of the '60s cult films that were created on zero budget).
The basic premise of the film is as guessable and unsurprising as you'd imagine it would be – unless you happen to know nothing of the true history of Abraham Lincoln. In order to avenge his mother's death at the hands of the vampires, Lincoln trains to become a master slayer of the bloodsuckers. In the meantime, he studies law, falls in love with Mary Todd (featuring a very flat performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead), becomes a politician – and then President – and finally attempts to lead our country through a gruesome civil war. But that's not all! He does all of the above whilst maintaining his role as a pro vamp-killer! Pretty believable, right?
Regardless of whether you can imagine Honest Abe flipping and twirling and chopping the heads off vampires with an axe in reality (a la The Matrix), there is absolutely no denying the fact that, visually at least, this movie is a riot to watch. The special effects are spot-on, and in a nice change of pace, the usage of 3D technology actually aids the film in its delivery. And by the time Benjamin Walker gets around to being middle-aged Lincoln, you really start to see – with the aid of prosthetics and some impressive makeup work – his fairly decent resemblance to Lincoln (although in the beginning of the film, it's eerie how much he resembles a young Liam Neeson).
At the root of the film, one of the biggest tragedies of all is that writer Seth Grahame-Smith not only penned the novel, but he also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. The fact that he couldn't envision an even slightly or sickly humorous translation from the book to the movie is just a shame, especially considering he is more than capable of doing so – and did so earlier this year, in fact – having written the screenplay for Tim Burton's other 2012 release, Dark Shadows. Regardless, attaching the names Burton and Timur Bekmambetov to any movie will get the nü-Goths and fanboys out in droves, and 20th Century Fox will make its $70 million back. But alas, Vampire Hunter fails to really push the fun factor, instead taking itself far too seriously in its own mockery of history, missing a golden opportunity at being the first of its kind as a fictitious historical docu-horr-edy film.