JUNE 22, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
As often as I can, I try to judge a movie on how well it delivers on what it sets out to do. Dismissing a film for having a goofy plot is ridiculous to me; I’d much rather see a movie with an outlandish idea than see one try to “top” another film that did the same thing, storywise. So if I hated Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it wouldn’t be because of its SNL-skit type plot, but if I could sense that the filmmakers found it just as stupid as some audience members right. Luckily, that was not the case.
In fact the biggest surprise about the film is how remarkably straight they play it. No one-liners (“Emancipate this!” is not refrained from the Vs Zombies version of this story), no winky jokes like “They’ll make a statue of you someday, Abe!” or whatever – strip his historical significance away and it’s a typical vampire flick, complete with the mentor that harbors a secret, a montage style training sequence for the hunter, and lots and lots of vamps being dusted. The only times I laughed were when director Timur Bekmambetov delivered one of his trademark insane shots, like when villain Rufus Sewell threw a chair (in slo-mo) that landed perfectly under his partner so she could sit and simultaneously pin down Abe. And that’s just me laughing at such an outlandish stunt being pulled off well – it’s not played for laughs any more than anything else; in fact I don’t think there’s a single actual joke in the entire movie.
Also working in its favor is something that threw me off in the trailers and such – the fact that Abe is a younger man here, instead of the one we think of (stovepipe and beard). If this WAS a goofy movie, this would be a bad call, but since it’s a serious approach, it makes total sense in context. Without such an iconic appearance, it’s a lot easier to get on board with the movie’s story and approach, so that by the time he DOES appear like that (in the movie’s 3rd act), the audience is with the movie and thus it’s not as ridiculous to see him brandishing an act as it might have been had we not been tracking this character from childhood for the past hour or so.
See, that’s the other thing – it’s structured like a typical biopic. We see him as a boy, he gets a life lesson that’ll be important later, he goes out into the world to find his way, meets his future wife… if the vampires were all just random jerks this could be a movie about any historical man of action. And it admirably sticks to real world facts and events, but works the vampires into it. For example, the movie tells us that the real reason the Civil War began is because freeing the slaves would mean that the vampires no longer had access to free food, which was keeping them from spreading out of the southeastern part of the United States. And the death of Lincoln’s son Willie is attributed to a vampire bite, which is acceptable since in real life the cause wasn’t definitively determined (the “most likely cause” was typhoid fever). I was a bit disappointed that it doesn’t have a clever explanation for his assassination like Vs Zombies did, but that also might have been asking a bit too much from us.
Plus it’s just plain enjoyable. The action scenes are varied and exciting; I particularly liked the horse stampede (featuring a vampire THROWING A HORSE at Abe!), and while it doesn’t live up to the insane mastery of Wanted, Bekmambetov stages another epic train sequence here that’s one of the more exciting action scenes of the summer so far (certainly better than anything in Snow White or MIB3). At times I felt like they were aiming for a PG-13 that they didn’t get (the human deaths tend to be off-screen or quick; I think there’s only one F bomb) and just opted not to contest it with the MPAA, but there are plenty of vamp decapitations and some 3D blood splatters to enjoy.
It does feel a bit choppy at times, as if there was a 120 minute cut that they shaved down a bit in order to squeeze an extra runtime in per day. Abe is just the President all of a sudden, Mary Todd’s relationship with Stephen Douglas just disappears (as the movie depicts it, Abe basically stole her from him), and some sequences jump around awkwardly. For example, at one point Abe’s friend Speed (Jimmi Simpson) races into a location on a wagon to rescue Abe, and then they drive off, but then there’s a cut and the wagon is gone and they seem to be in a completely different location but still in the same escape sequence. The scene where Sewell discovers Lincoln’s existence also seems to take place much later in the narrative than it should, which suggests some of it was re-ordered as well. It’s never incoherent or anything, just not as smooth as it could be, which makes me wonder if we’ll be getting an extended version on Blu-ray later this year. Hell they don’t even mention his death; we see them take off for the theater (noooo!) and then we flash forward to the present day, where Dominic Cooper (the mentor guy) is still recruiting young dudes to help him rid the world of vampires. It’s a testament to how reasonably well they pull off the biopic feel to the other parts of the movie that something like this would even be an issue in a movie about our 16th president battling monsters.
As for the 3D conversion, it’s one of the better that I’ve seen (which is admittedly few; I often avoid the conversions but I was told this WAS native prior to seeing it). They don’t go overboard trying to compensate for the fact that it’s NOT native 3D, which is what sinks so many attempts, and keep “comin at ya” shots to a minimum (I wonder how many people who hate on 3D realize that it’s these distracting shots that ruin the actual point of the effect for the rest of the movie – you’re not SUPPOSED to notice it any more than you’re supposed to “notice” that a film is in color). Of course, the flipside means that the effect – faked or not – is minimal compared to most of the others, so even though it’s free of the bizarre glitching that many suffer from, it’s also such a slight effect that it’s not really worth a surcharge. Your call I guess.
Some folks are never going to get past the goofy concept, but that’s their loss. While not a home run (in addition to the editing issues, Rufus Sewell’s villain is depressingly generic) it’s much better than I was expecting, and I laud them for not making a comedy. Ben Walker is a great leading man, too, and I like that Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes up for not appearing in any of the trailers (what the hell, FOX?) by getting the most poignant kill in the movie - just another one of the movie’s surprises.
What say you?