Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a movie filled with awesome axe fights from start to finish and yet… there somehow aren’t enough.
This logically inconsistent feeling the movie leaves you with is its greatest flaw, because it distracts you from the joyful, baby-faced, vampire-killing that Abraham Lincoln (played by Benjamin Walker) brings upon his foes time and time again.
This movie’s greatest crime is that it makes you think about it. Isn’t that a weird thing to dislike?
Some spoilers below.
The story of the film spans Lincoln’s life, although you’re really not going to learn anything about Lincoln. Like the book it’s based on, the movie cherry-picks figureheads and moments from Lincoln’s life and uses them to create its own narrative.
And this is okay! This is actually what we’re here to see. There is a perverse joy in treating history like it’s just another item in the toy box. A giggly, adolescent glee in seeing how far you can go while remaining respectful of the accomplishments of that history. The story of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter accomplishes this without trouble, neatly tying together America’s history of slavery with its struggle against vampires. Lincoln comes off golden in this respect. Vampires would use everyone as slaves, as chattel, and thus is it deeply, morally wrong for mankind to mimic the behavior of monsters.
The movie makes this point quickly. The hard work of actually changing someone’s opinion is glossed over in favor of more thrilling axe-to-face time. This is okay, too! This is also what we’ve come to see. The idea of Lincoln being a master of political theater AND supernatural combat is exciting, and the movie does a great job with its numerous fight scenes, building them in intensity as the film moves forward, so much so that you are actually disappointed when he’s elected president and puts his axe away.
It doesn’t do as great a job with its characters, most of whom are nearly literally introduced in a “Hi I am Historical Figure No. 27, nice to meet you Abe, I like/hate you!” fashion. Despite this thinness, the actors involved play their roles very earnestly, giving you enough to become charmed by their manner and invested in their struggle. (Except Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Mary Todd, who is given nothing to play with and consequently plays with nothing.) Ben Walker as Abe Lincoln is engaging all throughout, and surprisingly convincing as an age-makeup Lincoln. Dominic Cooper as his mentor Henry Sturges is deliriously charismatic and for a little while you’re not entirely sure the movie shouldn’t be about him.
Despite the bumpiness of the film, it’s still fun and nearly sticks the landing. The 3D effects in it are used to great effect, as well. This is weird to say, but Lincoln’s presidential desk in 3D is kind of awesome.
But it’s missing something and it wasn’t until the very ending that what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is missing became clear to me.
It’s not clever enough.
Lincoln’s struggle against vampires is woven in well with his actual recorded life, but it’s all in very broad strokes. The vampire story doesn’t really engage with the minutae of the Civil War until the very end of the film, and the cleverness on display here makes you wish Lincoln’s supernatural battle had been woven into American history in far greater detail.
For example, the Washington Monument is seen as in construction throughout the film, leading one to theorize that Lincoln may be using it as part of a larger anti-vampire plan. No such luck, unfortunately. It exists as historical scenery. Similarly, Mary Todd’s lifelong struggles with depression are non-existent in the film, which is a shame as it would have been so easy to weave it into her having to accept the secret world that her husband battles. John Wilkes Booth is never named or seen, and neither are the anti-war, anti-North movements that fed his fateful actions.
The end of the movie fulfills this need, but it’s not enough in light of what comes before it. You end up with a movie that’s a little undercooked. It’s good, it’s entertaining, and wow do you want to see Benjamin Walker on the big screen again, but it’s not the mind-blower you might be hoping for.
Chris Lough is the production manager at Tor.com and is not allowed to spin axes in the office anymore.