Fans of the faux biography written by Seth Grahame-Smith should find plenty to enjoy with this Summer’s most uniquely titled feature film. Offering large portions of larger liberties taken from the life of America’s 16th President, Tim Burton tosses his name behind Timur Bekmambetov’s new film ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, which Seth also penned as the screenwriter. You get all the slow-mo action and uber-cool camera angles you’ve come to expect from Bekmambetov’s previous work with WANTED, DAY WATCH, and NIGHT WATCH plus a bit more sophistication than you’d expect if you look closer.
The Great Emancipator is characterized quite differently in this tale, remembered in a new light by examining the dark shadows Lincoln allegedly hunted. Upon his Mother’s death/murder and fueled by revenge, Lincoln seeks out his own brand of justice, tracking down the man he holds responsible only to learn that Mommy was done in by a Nosferatu with our favorite Modus Operandi. Hate and grit soon fill Lincoln’s britches as he learns to be quite the Jedi with an ax. Lincoln soon amasses quite a body count, and soon people start to take notice. One side being the vampires angered at their fallen brethren and the other side being the citizens of the North listening for a voice of reason on this whole pesky slavery issue. Of course it’s all part of a larger plot that involves heavy use of CGI to be properly conveyed or so I’m sure Hollywood would demand you believe. Those films digitally converted to 3D in post-production aren’t gonna sell themselves.
Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln carries this film as if it were Tiny Tim, protecting it and showing a tenderness you wouldn’t expect, but probably should from mash-up genre films. The notion of “Honest Abe” is toyed with to great lengths in the closer examination of all the secrets Lincoln had to keep for the greater good of those he cared for most. The family struggle between Abraham and Mary at times smacks of the same raw tension you’d overlook in JAWS. Jimmi Simpson, Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary round out an ensemble cast that play the story as straight faced as having a tongue in cheek will allow. Each actor hustles in tandem, offering a well balanced line up of characters to root for and, most importantly with an endeavor like this, believe in. They often take wooden dialogue and carve subtle nuances that make you smirk just long enough for the next bit of explosions and decapitations. If you subtract any scene leading to any bits supernatural and just played it as a straight historical biography, you’d have a lot more folks clamoring to fill theater seats. And that’s what people really want. Right? Right? No. It’s Summer. And if you want me to spend my time indoors, at a movie theater, when I could easily stay at home with Video On Demand, Netflix, YouTube videos of kittens, or good ol’ fashioned Pornography, then you better give me what this film promises with their advertisements.
One striking element to notice throughout the film is the special effects make-up. I’m not writing about the CGI jobbies done on the piranha looking bloodsuckers, but rather on the age progression of Walker as a nubile newcomer to Illinois lawyering to the weathered and weary leader of the free world you’ll find on the $5 bill. The folks behind PROMETHEUS should take note of this, unless of course their intention was to make Guy Pearce look like a DICK TRACY villain, then all apologies. Of course I am a bigger fan of practical effects but the evils of computer generated imagining are needed to deliver some of the most memorable sequences of this film, my favorite involving a stampede. I do appreciate that any restraint that would normally be used in said sequences for films like WILD, WILD WEST and JONAH HEX is completely relinquished for a jaw-dropping, did-they-really-green-light-this, chuckle fest that will make you look left and right to see if everyone is having as much fun as you are. Well, as much fun as you can have with pants on anyway. That said, there are certain bits that seem like a dick measuring contest in terms of cool points with how many different ways Lincoln can dispatch the bad guys. I feel that there was some wasted potential in that they should have pulled more folks off the computers and put them to work hand-crafting models. All in all, the visual effects assist the action in playing out in a consistent tempo, as if INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL were the same film. That’s equal parts good and bad, sweet and sour, if you’re confused.
The most interesting aspect of this film is how coyly it lies in wait to strike as one of the most polarizing exploitation films of the past 10 years. If you only see vampires versus humans, stop reading and watch an infomercial instead. If you see the battle of our current state of politics in America with current President Obama, you’re on the right track. And if you see the undertones of the fight for homosexual equality then you’re running against the crowd like I am. Lincoln is probably the last Republican that everyone of any political affiliation can unanimously agree was a righteous dude. They wouldn’t have put him in BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE if he wasn’t. So of course with a film dealing with this epoch of American history you’re going to ruffle feathers just discussing the numerous factors of what turned brother against brother and nearly tore the Union apart. The end of slavery was a crucial turning point and necessary development in the growth of America. The film presents that the vampires want to forge a nation of their own built on their Old World values. The dichotomy is that as blacks are slaves to whites, all mankind will serve as slaves to Vampires. I say that only scratches the surface. The Vampires represent a collective belief that we should all cling to the old ways, to live in fear and let those in power decide the best course of action for us all while they rule as Kings. Lincoln states harmoniously that we are all equal in God’s eyes and that though change may be painful, so is growth. Essentially you have the physical embodiment of violence depicted on screen of the political turmoil and strife that surrounds contemporary politics today. A conservative agenda backed by states’ rights seeks to battle against the civil liberties of the individual citizen. Ultimately, and sadly, the winning side almost always goes to those with the biggest bite. But then again you probably shouldn’t this worked up over a film that’s as historically accurate as Zack Synder’s 300.
Many critics have decided to prove they once took an A.P. History class in High School by retorting with such knee-slappers as “The second worst thing to happen to Lincoln in a theater.” It’s one thing to pan this film, but it’s another to pander flippant disinterest as a mask of sophistication. You can say, “It’s in the title, what do you expect from a film like this?” Well, I expect the same thing out of every film I watch; to entertain me. “But it’s good for what it is, maybe even better.” Sure, cinema has the power to move us, unite us, and educate us, but it can also desensitize us, brainwash us, and disappoint. Just because you have an interesting concept and a witty premise does not entitle you to the contents of my wallet. I worked hard for my money, and it’s about time Hollywood remembers they have to work just as hard for my money. If you’re taking a trip to the theater, leave your emotional baggage at home. If you go to McDonald’s you don”t expect to get food poisoning, but you settle for a shitty burger. How’s any of that ever gonna change for the rest of us if you don’t do something about it? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the most entertaining piece of propaganda and satire about America politics in a long time. What else you got to fall back on? MARS ATTACKS? DAVE?
What people root for in this movie is the courage of conviction in their personal beliefs and politics. We’ve all heard enough stump speeches of needing change and defending liberty from politicians, but here we have a politician make that stump by exploding a tree with single ax swings and then defend us all as if he was trying out for a sequel to BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF. We want to see our leaders stand by the words they speak, not simply placate us. There most be a purpose to our sacrifice, not just simply a handshake and an empty promise. It’s pretty difficult not to root for a man like Lincoln, so of course the only logical step is to examine and skewer why we do. Knowing that is the true difference between a legend and a legacy. Now here stands a mighty task to all ticket-holders. How long are you willing to suspend your disbelief? Will you allow the absurd and the ridiculous to flourish if it means its very existence will help tide the mediocrity that consistently threatens the box office? What are you willing to not only accept, but also support so that there continues to be blood and gratuitous violence at your local cineplex?
Why the Hollywood brain trust in charge of marketing decided to invite Linkin Park to the soundtrack is somewhat beyond me. Probably based solely on the connection of their names and that the target audience of this film will reach puberty in 2 years. Add another zero to that paycheck, boys. Personally I would’ve went with Blood of Abraham and really got America riled up. There’s not much room for a sequel given the series of events, both historical and fictional. This film is coal powered and fires on all cylinders. If you need proof, look no further than the absence of a title sequence for the sake of cramming more story onto the screen. Is it perfect? No and you’d be hard-pressed to find a film with a colon in its title that is perfect, so suck on that til you cool down. Beat the heat this summer, and soak up some air conditioning with your popcorn at a matinee or a midnight screening.
Bonus Shits & Giggles…