Review: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Four stars and seven years ago, the most fun movie ever hit theaters.

Sarah Harper

 

Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith

Rated: R

Playing at area theaters

 

There are two things to know about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” before you decide whether or not you want to see it. The first is that it’s one of the most fun movies to come out in recent memory. The second is that during one scene, a vampire throws a horse at Abraham Lincoln.

That’s right – blood-sucker Jack Barts grabs a giant horse and throws it at the sixteenth president of the United States of America.

How did we get to a point so ridiculous? It all starts during Lincoln’s boyhood, when Barts kills Lincoln’s mother. Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker, swears he’ll get revenge. The renegade Henry Sturgess, played by Dominic Cooper, coaches him and assigns targets. Living and working in Springfield, Ill., Lincoln moonlights as vampire killer, committing wildly choreographed murders. All the while, he’s only pacifying Sturgess: His real target is the man who shouted at him, “Your mama’s blood was thick and sweet!”

That’s how Lincoln finds himself on a field of deranged, sprinting horses. He’s chasing Barts — together, they run on the horses’ backs, they get trampled by hooves and they both fall off the side of a cliff. It’s crazy, and it’s just one example of how large and in-charge this movie is.

“Vampire Hunter” is a revisionist history in which the phrase “This is a fight for the soul of our nation” refers to both the Civil War and a fight against veiny-faced vamps. The movie is grandiose and often grotesque, committing the tackiest of cinematic crimes. But it’s a marvel nonetheless: Everything feels humongous, everything moves quickly and the suspenseful moments are jump-worthy. It’s admirable how the filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov committed so fully to both the plot and the characters: Their choices suggest that they took seriously the screenplay and the novel it’s based on, both written by Seth Grahame-Smith.

In spite of how massive and fast-paced and momentous and energized this movie feels, it’s attracted a lot of haters. A lot of people don’t take “Vampire Hunter” seriously because of its premise. The president of the United States is a vampire killer? It’s based on a book written by the same guy who wrote “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”? You’d have to be deaf to miss the “puh-lease” resounding through the movie-going nation. But puh-lease people, let’s get over our need to attach irony to anything that might be genuinely fun. It’s our duty to suspend disbelief at the theater – so what if we have to break every skeptical bone in our bodies to do it?

Granted, “Vampire Hunter” isn’t without fault. The 3-D is far too noticeable. The most harrowing example is toward the beginning of the movie, when a whip cracks in the face of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend Will Johnson. Our point-of-view changes so that we see the world from Johnson’s eyes, and the moment is suddenly a joke: The whip comes crashing toward us, jumpy and fake-looking. There’s nothing remotely funny about this — a black boy being whipped in the face in the 1800s — but the unwelcome change in viewpoint coupled with the low quality animation is a sham.

The pack of villains also disappoints: Even though Jack Barts is Lincoln’s greatest source of anger, he doesn’t turn out to be the head honcho bad guy. The actual boss man vampire is a shell of a character – his sharp-toothed minions are undeveloped too.

The good guy department is in much better shape.  Benjamin Walker brings the earnestness. Whether he’s casually spinning an axe or wooing the demure but ultimately boring Mary Todd, he’s commanding and sincere. To borrow a term from “Wayne’s World,” he’s Babe-raham Lincoln reincarnate.

Another noteworthy performance was given by Jimmi Simpson, aka Liam McPoyle in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” As Joshua Speed, he subtly transforms from Lincoln’s creepy and somewhat jealous boss to one of his greatest allies.

This movie won’t win any prizes for cinematic genius, but maybe it should. It’s history, twisted, and its high self-esteem makes for an intense watch. And it’s fun. Not kidding.