The negative reviews seem to come in two varieties. The first is best described as a thinly veiled letter to the reviewer’s editor expressing extreme bitterness over having paid a small fortune for a journalism degree only to be sent out to sit in a theater and watch a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I have nothing to say to those people except “Wow, it must suck to be you when Adam Sandler season rolls around.”
The second variety is on a theme of “But… where’s the nod nod, wink wink? A movie this ridiculous, there should be all sorts of meta self-awareness! WHERE MA NODS AND WINKS AT?”
To the second variety of reviewers, I say: at the bottom of a fucking well weighted down with stones, with a mouth full of garlic so it doesn’t walk, is where – God willing and the creek don’t rise – your nods and winks are.
Look. The self-aware meta thing was awesome in Scream, when it first really came onto the horror scene as a thing well done that genuinely added an integral element to the movie. Scream, may I point out, came out in 1996. Children born the year Scream was released are legally able to drive now. It was well done in Scream and for a while afterward, but every year it got more and more stale, until at this point self-aware meta nod-nod wink-wink crap fulfills exactly the same function as a laugh track on a ’70s sitcom.
Do you really need a laugh track to tell you when something’s funny? Do you need someone poking you in the ear and loudly yelling “Look how clever we’re being! Look! Do you see it? Also it is time to laugh at the absurdity now! Laughter and admiration- go!”
What’s that you say? You don’t? Good – take that mindset into Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and you’re going to enjoy the movie a lot more than the reviewers who were apparently waiting for someone to tell them the movie is gloriously absurd.
AL:VH is played admirably straight, as a history of the life of Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) that somehow includes vampire-related carnage and physics-defying action scenes. As a child, Lincoln – already full of righteous wrath over the horrors of slavery – witnesses his mother being murdered by a vampire (a freakishly unrecognizable Marton Csokas). Come to adulthood, Lincoln sets out on a Mission of Vengeance that very nearly results in him being eaten himself before being saved by a mysterious Englishman named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper, whose Sting sunglasses and cockatiel hair don’t look nearly as anachronistic as they should).
Henry trains Lincoln as a hunter and sends him out into the world on vampire-slaying missions. No sooner is Lincoln out of Henry’s sight than he gets distracted by the awesome Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), decides that he can better serve the world in politics than in slaying, and manages to run afoul of the Big Baddies: vampire overlord Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma, the Enforcer (the glorious and criminally underused Erin Wasson, who if she ever tires of being a supermodel has a nice career in looming menace ahead of her.) He also gains sidekicks: Will (Anthony Mackie) and Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who could have carried the movie all by themselves. All this leads inexorably to the Civil War, which unbeknownst to the history books was actually a power grab on the part of vampires, who were using slaves as a readily available food supply.
AL:VH is one of those movies where just the supporting cast is worth the price of admission. But Benjamin Walker brings a charm and gravity to the role without which the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well; there are amazing (and awesomely over-the-top) action set pieces; and God be praised, the vampires are finally sort of scary and awful, instead of camp and “humorously” self-aware.
It’s actually that last point that raises AL:VH from a solid three-star use of an afternoon to four stars. I am so glad to see scary, mostly unglamorous vampires that I’m awarding the movie an extra star just for that. Tip for the movie industry: vampires should be scary. They shouldn’t be “humorously” self-aware (unless they’re Barnabas Collins), they shouldn’t be tragic and tortured souls (unless they’re Eli, who gets a pass for also being scary as shit), and for fuck’s sake they should not sparkle.
Sparkly vampires, Jesus take the wheel. Vadoma would pick her teeth with Edward Cullen’s bones.
So what’s the verdict? Four stars. I was so, so hopeful that AL:VH would be awesome, but I also feared. The book and screenplay were written by Seth Grahame-Smith, otherwise known as the author of the bewilderingly tedious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I don’t know how the hell the hand of any writer, be he never so unenthusiastic about the assignment, can make something tiresome out of the combination of Lizzie Bennet and the walking dead, but Grahame-Smith surely managed it. Maybe he liked this topic better or something, because this was an awesome story and it made for an awesome movie, if brought down a little by uneven pacing. Go see it; it’s fantastic, goofy fun.