Release Date: June 20th, 2012
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell
Vampires are perhaps the most elastic of all mythical creatures, at least with regards to their representation in cinema. In less than 100 years, our undead friends have evolved from Lugosi-inspired Dracula clones, to violent and rebellious adolescents, to shiny, whiny, pinup teenagers. Timur Bekmambetov’s new summer action film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter pits the 16th President of the United States of America against vampire hoards of the horrifying, blood-sucking, shine-free variety, which feels almost like the return of an old friend after 5 years of Twilight fever.
The film’s opening scenes feature a young Abraham Lincoln foreshadowing many of the traits we have come to associate with the President throughout history: we witness him standing up against the injustice of slavery on a plantation with his family, we witness him vowing revenge against vampires after his mother is killed in front of his eyes, we witness him… wait, what?
The supernatural, ahistorical elements of AL:VH are presented with a complete sincerity, played without any attempts at humour, and there is a wonderfully fun dichotomy at play between seeing Lincoln develop as a leader, thinker and politician, as well as a badass axe-swinging vampire hunter hell-bent on revenge. This parallel is then taken a step further where real-world historical events such as the Battle of Gettysburg and the death of Abraham Lincoln’s third son, William, are given their own vampiric spin. While on the surface these scenes could be seen as reflective of a ‘bad taste’ given their playfulness with the source material, the earnestness by which these sequences are handled (particularly the latter) render them as emotive rather than humorous and work well within the context of the film.
Throughout the film, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is taken under the wing of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who trains him in the art of vampire killing. “Art” being the operative word here as Bekmambetov directs the action in a highly stylish, visceral and exciting manner which never outstays its welcome. Fight scenes are handled well throughout, as are the larger-scale action set pieces, such as the film’s climactic sequence aboard a speeding train. Lincoln gracefully slices and dices his way through a plethora of vampires, peppered with a generous mix of slow motion and high-shutter speed action sequences which combine to great effect and maintain the momentum of the scenes without faltering.
Let it be said, the action of the film is certainly the highlight. While it is admirable that the writers attempted to plausibly insert vampires into the history of the American Civil War, the script was not consistent and did contain one or two leaps in logic in order to squeeze in to the modest 105 minute run time. There were also moments in the first half of the film which felt very much glossed over, with Lincoln’s narration providing the backdrop for montages of vampire hunting and his development as a politician. I felt as though there could have been room to spend a little more time developing the supporting characters, particularly Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). This lacking of development also extends to the film’s supposed antagonist – the vampire leader, Adam (Rufus Sewell) – who is not really given enough screen time to develop himself as a significant threat.
Overall however, AL:VH is a great watch if you are in the mood for some over-the-top, stylish and well-executed action. Bekmembetov’s direction is commendable and fans of his previous films – particularly Wanted, Night Watch and Day Watch – will notice some of his characteristic flourishes echoed throughout. The film is let down by an average script and a lack of character development, but does provide enough entertainment to warrant killing a couple of hours on a lazy summer day.