Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
“Are you a patriot or a vampire?”
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper
Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.
There’s no denying that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a product of the digital age, and that a movie like this would never have been green lighted before the advent of CGI. Which, of course, gives rise to the question of whether the widespread use of CGI is a good thing or not. Ultimately, it all comes down to how well it is applied. Perhaps its best application was on Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and the fact that Jurassic Park was made twenty years ago suggests that Hollywood’s filmmakers have not been playing nicely with their newest, shiniest toy. It certainly beggars belief that the CGI on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter even shares the same technology with that used on Jurassic Park. Comparing the two is a little like comparing a two-year-old child’s scrawl to the Mona Lisa…
The film opens during Lincoln’s childhood, when he witnesses his mother being attacked by a vampire named Barts (Marton Csokas), who is his father’s former boss. Lincoln waits nine years, until he has grown into Benjamin Walker and his father has died in order to get his revenge. Luckily for him, he decides to partake of a few drinks for courage and catches the attention of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who follows the young man to the docks where he plans to kill Barts. Inevitably, Lincoln under-estimates the strength and durability of the vampire and is only saved from being turned himself by the intervention of Sturgess.
Vampires are everywhere, Sturgess later explains, although for the purpose of this movie (and presumably the Seth Grahame-Smith novel upon which it is based) they are able to venture out in daylight if they wear a sunblock and sunglasses, and don’t need a stake through the heart to be destroyed. Sturgess enlists Lincoln as a vampire hunter and, in a sequence reminiscent of all those 1970s martial arts movies, instructs him in all the combat moves necessary for protection from the vampires, who are not only capable of superhuman speed and strength but also possess the ability to become invisible. When, after ten years, Sturgess considers Lincoln ready to face the vampires alone he sends him to Springfield, Illinois to await further instructions.
But Sturgess is harbouring a dark secret which Lincoln is either too dim or too preoccupied to notice, even though the audience are clued in from the outset. The future president finally catches up with the rest of us when Barts discloses Sturgess’ secret just before Lincoln destroys him, and this revelation marks the end of their collaboration. Meanwhile, Lincoln is developing a relationship with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) despite Sturgess’ warning that he can’t afford to form any close relationships. And as Lincoln embarks on a career in politics, the head vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell), a plantation owner from whom all other vampires are descended, is orchestrating a plan to turn the United States into a nation of the undead.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a pretty silly movie, but I don’t have a problem with that. After all, you don’t go into a movie with a title like this one expecting anything other than a comic book level of storytelling. The cast, led by the relatively unknown Benjamin Walker, who bears a passing resemblance to the young Liam Neeson, do a capable job, and the movie is technically proficient even if the spectacle it provides is completely soulless. But the thing that really grates is the way the makers seem to doubt the attention span and intelligence of their audience. They don’t trust us to remember Lincoln’s childhood black friend who received a whipping from Barts in early scenes when he turns up as a grown man so they insert a handy 2-second flashback for our benefit, or a snatch of earlier dialogue is included to jolt our memories. I don’t know, maybe younger audiences are really that stupid – although I honestly do doubt it, somehow – but it’s just insulting for those us capable of breathing when we walk.
Of course, as the movie is primarily aimed at teens, it’s necessary to jazz up the 19th Century setting in order to ensure that even the infinitesimal attention span they possess doesn’t go wandering. Lincoln is imbued with the fighting prowess of a superhero and an unlimited capacity to yell ‘aaarrrgggh!’ every time he moves during combat. He also has the ability to skip across the backs of stampeding horses, which is kind of useful. Truth be told, I don’t mind action sequences like these – they are a kind of empty-headed fun – but, getting back to the issue of CGI – these sequences are rendered in such a cartoonish manner that you’re left thinking about what a shoddy job they made of it rather than following the action. There is a possibility that this is deliberate, given the movie’s graphic novel origins, but – if that’s the case – I just wonder why they bothered making a live-action version in the first place.