Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not really a film, but about six or seven good ideas for action set pieces stapled together into an adequately coherent series of events. At worst it is an imperfect CGI sideshow, but the few clever elements that it features are unique enough to elevate it above the level of generic, violent bogwash like the Underworld franchise.
Adapted by the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from a book he also wrote, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter examines the imagined past of America’s most famous president as a slave emancipator and demon exterminator. It spans Lincoln’s life, from the death of his mother at the hands of a local vampire when he was a child until the Civil War era when he was apparently sending Union troops to do battle with Confederate bloodsuckers.
Lincoln, played by Liam Neeson lookalike Benjamin Walker, learns to combat fanged hicks with the help of Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a fiery whippet of a man who’s mood is always an inch away from aggressive combustion. Sturges is fashioned after RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes, complete with silly sunglasses and the costume of a self-consciously dishevelled dandy, although the film as a whole is otherwise more concerned with middling historical accuracy than this kind of anachronism.
Timur Bekmambetov directs with flare similar to that seen in his other works, although the preposterous action sequences feel a little more restrained than those found in Wanted or Night Watch. This is for the better, since the viewer’s eyes can keep up with the action while still allowing for insane stop-start slo-mo stunts and, in particular, a creative scene involving horses that seems to echo the stampede from The Lion King.
Berkmambetov’s particular brand of batshit cinematic choreography is maturing in a far more satisfying way than, say, that of Zack Snyder or Michael Bay. But if you didn’t enjoy his previous movies, you probably won’t savour the mixture of historical figures and contemporary combat on show here.
Some have criticised Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for juxtaposing an unflinchingly serious tone against an eye-rollingly silly supernatural plot. But in reality it dares to stick its tongue so far into its own cheek that the skin threatens to rupture. And even the biggest cynic will have to bear it a grudging respect for bothering to dabble in such wildly conflicting genres.