Saturday, June 23, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) - Movie Review

Did you know Abraham Lincoln had a secret motivation for ending slavery?  Well, neither did I!  Turns out Lincoln didn't like vampires too much and most of the slave owners in the South were vampires.  This is the alternate history Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wants to you to buy into.

Based off the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, AL:VH begins with a young Abe Lincoln defending a friend of his who was being whipped by a slave owner named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas).  Barts does not take kindly to Abe's intervention, and later that evening kills his mother, but Abe notices there's something odd about Barts.  Years later, a drunk Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), still seeking revenge, tracks down Barts.  After a failed attempt to kill Barts, it's revealed that he's a vampire.  Lincoln is saved by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who confirms that vampires are real, have been using slaves as a source of food and offers to train him as a vampire hunter.

You get a short Mr. Miyagi-like training montage, but they really don't spend a lot of time on that and just move on to the vampire hunting.  It jumps forward a few years and Lincoln gets a job in a shop ran by someone named Speed (Jimmi Simpson), meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and reunites with his old friend, Will (Anthony Mackie).  Lincoln finds there is boss vampire (Rufus Sewell) that must also be stopped.  The movie continues to jump ahead in time following his life until after the Civil War.

If you can't get around the premise, you won't be able to get through the film.  While they do try to integrate real, historical events into the movie, you can't expect accuracy when watching a film that has Vampire Hunter in the title.  One of the things that actually made this watchable is that fact that they take it so seriously.  Maybe a little too seriously though.  With such a silly premise and title, I wish they would have had a little more fun with it and it ended up feeling very flat.

I can see some people maybe even getting a little bit upset about Lincoln's motivation.  While they show you that he was against slavery from the get go, the movie sets up his primary motivation for killing vampires as wanting revenge against the one that killed his mother.  Ending slavery in the movie seemed like more of a way to just mess with vampires rather than it simply being the right thing to do.  I'm hearing the book was written a little differently as far as his motivation, so it seems weird it was changed for the movie, especially when written by the same person.

The actors really helped sell the film with how straight they played it.  I thought 'young Liam Neeson', Benjamin Walker was actually really good as Abraham Lincoln.  He really looked the part.  I always enjoy Mary Elizabeth Winstead and I think she did a good job with what she was given.  Dominic Cooper was interesting as well, and is one of my favorite actors out there right now.  I also enjoyed Marton Csokas and Rufus Sewel as effective, vampire villains.

The dialog, however, was pretty weak.  Some of the things the characters say are just eye-rollingly bad at times.  Also, there were a lot of inconsistencies with how they treated the vampires.  Sometimes people are bitten and die immediately, sometimes they get sick and die later, other times, they are bitten and then turn into vampires themselves in a matter of minutes.  Maybe this is better explained in the novel, but not really in the movie.  There's a lot of inconsistency throughout AB:VH, but should we really be expecting that much?

The visuals were at least interesting for the most part.  Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) got a lot out of his budget.  There's a lot of similarity in his style to that of Zack Snyder's in that there's lots of CG and use of slow motion.  Sometimes the slow-mo was used effectively, but it started to wear on me at the movie went on, as it was used way too much.  I also didn't like how they used darkness and fog to obscure everything.  It felt like it was done to save money by not having to have too much detail on screen.  There's a great horse chase sequence about halfway through, but even that looked bizarre to me at times.  I didn't see this in 3D, but I feel like this might have been one of those rare times when watching this in 3D might have actually helped with the visuals.

Another issue I had with the visuals were the color schemes they used.  There were scenes where everything had a white wash to it to where it was almost colorless.  Maybe this was done in an effort to make the movie look older.  There's was one sequence where just as the action was about to pick up, the color palatte goes blue/dark and then as soon as it ends, reverts back to more of a yellow hue.  It just felt like there were too many visual tricks or gimmicks used throughout.

I will say that this was some of the best aging makeup I've seen in a movie.  They effectively made Lincoln look older as the movie went on.  Maybe the makeup department for Prometheus or J. Edgar should take some notes from these guys.  The remaining characters are vampires, so you don't have to worry about aging them.  However, with some of the other characters, like Mary Todd or Will, they just grayed their hair a little bit and added some lines, which didn't look as authentic.

Make no mistake, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a good movie.  For every cool thing they did, they seemed to do something that I found inconsistent or bad.  At the same time, it's much better than it had any right to be.  Again, if you can get around the premise, you should be able to have some fun with it.  Benjamin Walker gives a good performance as Lincoln and there are some interesting action scenes and visuals.  I recommend it as a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


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