dir: Timur Bekmambetov
And yeah, no-one’s thoroughly sick of vampires yet, not one little bit...
Abraham Lincoln kills vampires. That’s all you need to know, because that’s the entirety of the premise as far as people were meant to care.
Pretty much all you need to read. You could stop here. Walk outside, if it’s nice out. Breath in deeply, enjoy the sunshine/night/hail/plague. Go on, get out of here.
Wait, WAIT! Come back, please, I was just kidding. I swear I’ll try to be more amusing / illuminating than this movie was.
The masses were meant to care all the way into the cinema. I can’t see how they could have cared, really, but maybe there’s a greater pool of history buffs out there that I didn’t know about.
The statesman of American history who kept the nation from tearing itself apart and freed the slaves also killed vampires in his spare time, and actually went into the Civil War with the intention of throwing off the shackles of the shadow aristocracy trying to rule from the shadows by taking away their food supply, being African-American slaves.
Sounds accurate so far. I hope one day someone with moderator status edits Abe Lincoln’s biography on Wikipedia, and replaces his actual biography with this more plausible one, and that way after the fall of civilisation, some record somewhere will be taken as gospel that he did indeed fight the pale horde and win. And that’s what future neo-humans will think actually happened, and pass down to further stupid generations.
This flick is based on one of those ludicrous but somehow profitable ideas that mashing something ‘classic’ with something ‘genre’ equals ‘money from nerds’. It started, at least the recent revival of this stuff did, with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which updated Austen’s classic tale about girls desperate to marry wealthy men with ninjas and zombies. I’m sure we can all agree that it desperately needed to be brought into the 21st century. I mean, the story of Darcy and Lizzie Bennett had been done so many times, so tediously, that it really needed a fresh, rotting take.
From there the floodgates opened, and every hack with a laptop and an e-reader copy of a classic novel started dreaming up really dull stuff to combine, sometimes quite artlessly. My mockery of this stuff doesn’t mean I’m not a consumer of it. Yes, I shamefully admit to having read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Android Karenina and Little Vampire Women, and now I’m utterly sick of the concept. So sick, in fact, that I happily paid to see this, much to my eventual regret.
This is not that great a flick, which I’m sure will surprise no-one from the idiotic premise. Lincoln had a hard enough time as it was fighting the South, secessionist states and depression. Adding vampires to such a mix pours sugar on a candy mountain. The biggest problem with this is that it’s mostly trashy without being fun. When Abe is chopping the ever-living heck out of vampires with his awesome axe skills, the film is alive. When people are talking, well, it’s neither interesting or credible.
And it looks pretty dull. Timur Bekmambetov has made a stack of flicks thus far, none of which I have liked, all of which are meant to have a hypervisual sensibility, and none of which really worked. He made Daywatch and Nightwatch, neither of which I liked, and he made Wanted, which was about the shittiest thing I’ve seen Angelina Jolie in, and that includes that version of Alexander the Great where she played Olympia with a Russian accent.
The worst part of his movies is that the characters don’t really seem to have any emotional believability for what they do in between the action scenes. He can generally handle action fine, just not other scenes.
Here the action scenes are a bit muddled and muddied initially, but at least Honest Abe looks cool spinning that axe around. The actor playing him, Benjamin Walker, isn’t that bad, but he’s not particularly interesting as the character, in fact he’s quite bland. I guess they didn’t want someone who was going to overshadow the character he was going to play, but this guy wouldn’t be noticeable even in a police line up covered in blood.
The pointlessness of the story also hits us pretty early in the proceedings, by making Honest Abe’s motivation for taking on the vampire menace the death of his mother. It’s not scene-for-scene a Batman retelling in olde timey get up, but it might as well be. His anger towards his mother’s killer pretty much transforms him into a paladin of the light, wielding his rail-splitter like a lightsabre, with the wisdom of some random guy who picks him out of a crowd to bring him into the war.
Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) is some guy who knows how to fight the vampire menace, and basically Obi-Wan Kenobis all over Lincoln, training him to fight and kill these ugly creatures instead of falling in love with them and having their vampire babies. In a scene of unintended, overwhelming hilarity, Sturgess trains Lincoln in the ways of the Force, I mean, Vampire Slaying, by getting him to recount the underlying psychological motivations and conflicts that are bothering him as he swings his axe. Lincoln gets angrier and angrier at himself as he swings, until eventually he gets so angry that the axe smashes straight through the trunk of some poor tree.
Sturgess intones immediately that it wasn’t Lincoln’s anger that cut through the tree, it was The Truth.
Goddamn, was I pissing myself laughing at that. He also tells him not to have friendships, family or other attachments, because these go against the teachings of the Jedi, sorry, Vampire Slayers, and weaken his wicked axe-wielding ways. Naturally, Lincoln still falls in love with the deathly dull Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and makes friends with a former slave (Anthony Mackie) and some redheaded guy (Jimmi Simpson).
As Lincoln works his way through the ranks of the ugly undead in pursuit of the one who killed his mother, he figures out that he can’t just win by bludgeoning, chopping or blowing them away. He needs a contingency plan, as he’s been trained by Sturgess to always pursue, and that contingency plan involves unleashing a war that will kill hundreds of thousands of humans, and a fair few vampires, in a momentous fight for the nation’s very soul.
With these kinds of alternate ‘secret’ histories, what happens is not up for grabs, because the signposts, milestones and such have to remain the same (unless you’re Quentin Tarantino, apparently, who didn’t let that stop him in Inglourious Basterds at all, not at all). As such, becoming President, marrying Mary, Gettysburg and his night out at Ford’s theatre aren’t really up for grabs. In between, of course, the vampiric narrative flavouring winds its way around the details of his life, even blaming the vampires for his son Willy’s death, and positing a climactic battle aboard a fiery train whose destination is History itself, without which the Yankees would have lost the war, apparently.
And the world we live in would have ended up very different. Perhaps it’s a function of my literalist brain, but the fact is this all came across as fairly unnecessary. I’m not so stodgy in my brain meats that I can’t appreciate a good what if?, but using this as a basis for an action film that doesn’t have enough decent action in it to justify its own existence doesn’t seem like a winning proposition for me. It could be that reverence for Lincoln and his legacy prevented them from going too out there or in directions that could have been more radical and interesting, because maybe they didn’t want to offend people. Whatever the reasons, they really could have tried making it more interesting.
It’s unlikely a flick like this could have been than what it is, considering its “source” material, and definitely unlikely given the director (whose work, in case it wasn’t clear, I can’t stand). Still, it’s amusing when it tries to be serious, and deathly dull when it’s trying to be funny. It even has Rufus Sewell in it as the big band, who I cannot stand, and who makes for a dull villain as he does in almost everything he does. There’s too many black marks against this flick for me to be able to recommend it to anyone on any basis. Oh, and that reminded me, Dominic Cooper, who I’ve been enjoying in so many flicks lately, especially The Devil’s Double, is rendered duller than a Newcastle winter, and that is this director’s worst crime of all.
I just don't want to talk about it any more. Mediocrity like this shouldn't be rewarded even with insults.
5 times I bet Spielberg wouldn’t have the balls to put a single vampire in his hoity-toity Lincoln biopic out of 10
“History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood” – how about we forget both and call it even – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter