Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is about the 16th President of the United States, who discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.
The film is an adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s graphic novel by the same name. Bizarre and fascinating as it may sound, the critics are not really impressed.
Manohla Dargis, Nytimes.com
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is such a smashing title it’s too bad someone had to spoil things by making a movie to go with it. Then again, a big-screen version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s comic novel was doubtless inevitable, given the delectable absurdity of the 16th president of the United States’ going all Buffy on a vamp army, splitting heads like rails. That sounds funny, and for a while it plays like head-exploding gangbusters on screen, particularly when the young Mr. Lincoln (a solid Benjamin Walker), in his grasshopper stage, begins learning how to swing a silver-tipped ax like a kung fu master. (As the great man said: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”)
From all the liquid, slo-mo action it’s clear that the Russian director Timur Bekmambetov still holds The Matrix close to his heart. He first popped up on American radar with a pair of supernatural diversions, Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006), that are close to incomprehensible (I became bored trying) but are crammed with enough gloom and pyrotechnics that he soon went Hollywood. His first American studio effort, Wanted (2008), is a modestly diverting if finally tedious exercise in which the stylized violence almost upstages its star, Angelina Jolie. Wanted is the kind of contemporary studio fun that shows a bullet exiting a human head in slow motion, giving you time to marvel at how the skin around the wound stretches as the projectile leisurely rips through the skull.
Mr Bekmambetov has a knack for screen carnage and he has plenty to work with in Abraham Lincoln, which gives him untold bodies with which to paint the screen red. (The intentionally drab, at times duo-chromatic palette dulls the colorful spray.) Outside of Nazis and zombies or, better yet, Nazi zombies, nothing says easily disposable villains like slave-trading vampires. And there is, no question, something satisfying — as the pleasure of the story’s pop conceit hits your deep historical outrage — about watching Lincoln decapitate a slave-trading ghoul, at least the first few dozen times. If only Mr Bekmambetov had a strong sense of narrative rhythm and proportion, and as great a commitment to life as he does to death and all the ways bodies can be digitally pulverized.
David Blaustein, Abcnews.go.com
There’s really no need to get into great detail about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s plot: Everything you need to know is in the title, though some details about Lincoln’s life have been changed. For instance, he loses his mother at a young age when she’s killed by a vampire and he sees the whole thing, creating his thirst for vampire-killing vengeance. Also, Broadway star Benjamin Walker is a considerably better-looking Lincoln than our 16th president, and producers do very little to change that. Same goes for Mary Todd Lincoln, who has never been depicted as a beauty yet is exceptionally attractive here.
One would think that a film with a silly title would be, at the very least, funny. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not. Even so, I’m not prepared to say that every moment is a wash. There is a sense of artistry in the production design, as well as stand-out performances by Rufus Sewell as vampire leader Adam and Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturgess, Honest Hunter Abe’s mentor. However, none of it is enough to make us forget the ridiculous premise. Done with a little less style and a little more soul and humor, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter might have at least been interesting.
Mark Kermode, The Observer
It should come as no surprise to learn that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is neither as good nor as bad as its laugh-out-loud trailer suggests. On the plus side, it's nowhere near as terrible as the all-title-no-trousers catastrophe of Cowboys & Aliens, a movie so awful that even the head of the studio that made it labelled it "crappy". On the downside, despite the Spinal Tap maxim that there's a very thin line between clever and stupid, this sometimes proves that there's an even thinner line between stupid and just plain dumb.
...all too often that solid central thread gets lost amid a whirligig of stop-go axe-swinging (Abe's trademark weapon of choice) and ambitiously ludicrous fight scenes. Narrative has never been the strong point of Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov, whose fondness for weightlessly explosive digital FX (a punch-up amid a stampede, a train on a burning bridge, neither encumbered by any sense of actual danger) habitually overshadows simple storytelling. And while this may not actually be based on a comic-book, it still suffers from the worst traits of those disappointing graphic novel adaptations that regularly mistake freeze-frame storyboard surface for substance.
With so much wrong, then, what's actually right about ALVH? Well, in terms of genre historical revisionism it's a lot more entertaining than the head-banging tedium of Jonah Hex, which somehow managed to make civil war zombies deadly dull, despite much scenery chewing from John Malkovich and a climax featuring steampunk warships aiming weapons of mass destruction at the White House. It's also, for all its narrative flaws, still less incoherent than either of Bekmambetov's previous "monsters among us" outings – Nightwatch and Daywatch – and closer to the director's adaptation of Mark Millar and JG Jones's comic strip Wanted in terms of sheer thrilling silliness.
Tim Robey, telegraph.co.uk
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could have been a game enough one-joke spoof of the historical biopic, lampshading its own silliness and livening up the joint with decapitations when required. Instead, it’s played dead straight, which is all a bit curious. When Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the role here played by solid novice Benjamin Walker, is released to qualify for Oscars at the end of the year, you can expect to see Timur Bekmambetov’s flick automatically cited as the livelier alternative, but if this is the fun one, it’s hard to imagine what the fun-free one is going to be like.
Whizzily digital slow-motion mêlées are Bekmambetov’s thing, as the Russian-Kazakh director has shown in his cumulatively exhausting Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006), but they have a video-game unreality here that stifles engagement. A chase sequence over the backs of stampeding horses is a sallow nightmare of barely-intelligible CGI. The movie needed a Joss Whedon-ish lightness of touch, essentially, but it’s brought to us by chefs who lack the patience for a decent soufflé. Grahame-Smith’s screenplay, preserving his book’s diary format, trades wit for an earnest cod-historical register that makes heavy weather of its big metaphor. “We’re all slaves to something!” explains Rufus Sewell’s arch-vamp villain.
It’s not all bad, by any means. The storytelling has a certain Saturday-matinee verve, and there’s some mileage, without going all David Icke, in the notion of secret societies infecting America’s soul down the generations. Anthony Mackie has a kick-ass dignity in the role of Will Johnson, a real-life ex-slave who became Lincoln’s friend. Visually, though, it remains a sloppy and alienating affair: when 3D dust-motes and train-engine sparks are the most tempting things to look at, something has failed.
Hugh Hart, Wired.com
Action auteur Timur Bekmambetov takes the premise very seriously, staging a glum, if visually spectacular, drama enacted by skillful performers who display not a glimmer of disbelief about the absurd notion that our nation’s Great Emancipator left a trail of beheaded vampires in his wake.
Screenplay writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own novel, figured out clever ways to interweave Honest Abe’s vampire-slaughtering obsession with documented fact about our 16th president: Lincoln’s mom died when he was a kid. He chopped wood with an ax, worked as a store clerk while cramming for his law exams and endured the death of his young son during the Civil War.
Plug those factoids into a 19th-century American landscape teeming with plantation-owning vampires, and faster than you can say, “Four score and seven years ago,” there’s your high concept in a stovepipe hat.
History buffs might appreciate the savvy incorporation of biographical milestones into the R-rated movie, which opens Friday. But that’s not the problem. The real drag about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is that, in the face of such an audacious premise, nobody on screen seems to be having much fun.
At their best, Vampire Hunter’s set pieces unfurl like color-blasted fever dreams: A silhouetted Lincoln chases a vampire across a stampede of horses smeared in dusty orange. The blood from the president’s ax morphs into a pen stroke in the journal that recounts his superhero antics. As villainous Adam uncorks a history of vampires through the ages, paintings morph into blood-sucking thugs. And Bekmambetov makes a nightmare scenario even worse by adding shrieking, incisor-flaunting soldiers to a Civil War bayonet charge.
But visual virtuosity can only take a film so far. The time-fractured fight choreography grows tiresome, muddied by a strange color palette that alternately bathes characters in blue, filters scenes through sepia-toned earth hues or blasts everything with an orange-and-brown aura. The cumulative effect is atmsophere-over-story overkill.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
For the creative team behind this Abe endeavor has decided to take things completely seriously, to insist that these Lincoln vs. vampire shenanigans are, in the director's words, "a manifestation of the real drama, the real nightmare the country went through, which was slavery." Right.
And though care was taken to make sure that the film's Civil War props were authentic, Vampire Hunter's tone is unapologetically savage. Even the occasional runaway train is not enough to hide the fact that a movie consisting of multiple vampire attacks quickly gets repetitive and exhausting. Not to mention very, very bloody.
Bekmambetov, whose previous works include the Russian Night Watch and Day Watch and Angelina Jolie's Wanted, is not one to shy away from the brutal. Although the film's use of 3-D is mostly pedestrian, it's at its most effective when those vampires and their grotesque dentures provide enough "open wide" moments to unnerve a team of Beverly Hills orthodontists.
Vampire Hunter's dramatic intentions are way ahead of its ability to execute them, so even capable actors such as Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rufus Sewell don't make much of an impression. And star Benjamin Walker, in his first significant film role, doesn't do much more than look appropriately lantern-jawed and determined.
Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter
The movie’s virtues and some of its miscues essentially originate with Grahame-Smith’s script. Taking the conceit that the institution of slavery was a vampire-motivated plot to provide the undead with fresh blood, Grahame-Smith adeptly connects Lincoln’s vampire vendetta with his anti-slavery crusade. Marrying this high-concept premise to a coherent narrative proves more challenging, however, as the tales of Lincoln’s vampire-slaying exploits make an awkward fit with the historical facts of his life.
Following up 2008’s Wanted, director Timur Bekmambetov showcases Lincoln as America’s “first superhero” (despite his lack of any supernatural abilities), shaping the first act around the future president’s desire for retribution. The initial scenes of the young lawyer dispatching the wide variety of ghouls that seem to favor Springfield in hand-to-hand combat delivers some initial thrills that more turgid set pieces later in the film seem to lack.
Tall and lanky, Walker seems like he was cast more for his potential resemblance to Lincoln than for his acting or action abilities. While he appears fairly capable -- if not especially accomplished -- handling Lincoln’s legendary ax, slower scenes opposite Winstead and other actors tend to drag with Walker’s restrained delivery and stiff demeanor. Winstead’s performance as Mary is far more spirited as she flirts with Lincoln in earlier scenes and later argues with him over the fate of their family and country. The supporting cast is efficiently tasked with supporting Lincoln’s twin goals of destroying vampires and winning the war.