Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is possibly the most effective title of the year. No one will be leaving the cinema surprised. Like Timur Bekmambetov’s 2008 bullet bending Wanted, the film shares a similar illogical premise, but perhaps rather surprisingly, alongside its elaborate action sequences, attempts to tell a part fictive and factual story of a man and a nation. There is real Lincoln and fictional Lincoln, historical references and amendments, and the whole vampire premise is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and fight to end slavery. But the film ultimately, in trying to do so much, does too little.
The film begins as a simple tale of revenge. Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker, witnesses the murder of his mother as a child, and plans to avenge her. But, lacking the power to do so, he becomes the pupil of vampire hunter Dominic Cooper, who unlocks his inner strength and picks Lincoln’s bloodsucking targets. However, whilst initially adhering to a relatively formulaic structure, the plot soon becomes unmanageable. Lincoln falls in love with an engaged woman, vampire ring leaders are introduced, Lincoln enters politics and the Civil War begins. All of these plot issues are dealt with the speed and care of a speeding train.
Because too much is crammed in, the narrative ultimately suffers. Lincoln’s engagement with politics is mishandled; one moment he is a shopkeeper moonlighting as a vampire hunter, then he is giving a speech to a small crowd after a couple of brief flurries of political interest, and then he is the President. The lack of detail and care given to Lincoln’s Presidential rise consequently makes it wholly unbelievable. This plot problem is exaggerated by Benjamin Walker’s performance as a completely uninspiring and powerful Lincoln, who would make a more believable librarian than American President.
The rushed nature of the storytelling, coupled with flurries of action sequences, renders the narrative episodic, and character development suffers. Whilst we get to know Walker’s and Cooper’s characters to some extent, the rest of the characters are undeveloped. The film’s principle bad guy is given no background or clear motive, and the existence of vampires is not properly explained. There are also inconsistencies. One moment a vampire is strong enough to hold together two train carriages, or a group of vampires ravish a battlefield, and the next Lincoln and his associates kill myriads of them without breaking sweat.
Despite the film’s narrative faults, visually, much like Snow White and the Huntsman, the movie is impressive. The battle scenes look fantastic and Benjamin Walker is aged fantastically as Lincoln, dodgy beard aside. The film’s 3D is also far better handled than the majority of releases I’ve seen. However, given the general murkiness of the movie, and the darkness of 3D glasses, clarity is sometimes missing. Although I do not want to use the review as a means to attack 3D, and whilst the film’s use of the visual form was better than most, it still seemed relatively redundant. The time could have been better spent on the film’s narrative.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does not fail because of its premise, which from the evidence of my mostly empty screening, has repelled viewers. Movies like The Mummy or Men in Black have proved that the wacky or unfamiliar can make for hugely entertaining and funny films. But Bekmambetov’s effort ultimately suffers because it tried to do too much. It wastes an opportunity to be much funnier, and is overburdened by excessive plot tangents and an overly serious tone. Like Benjamin Walker’s performance, the film was bland, too serious and forgettable.