Thursday, June 28, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Movie Review)

(Oops! Forgot to post this last Friday before the podcast!) -Paeter

Last Christmas I saw a movie poster that I thought must be a joke. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", with Tim Burton attached as a producer. I'm a big Tim Burton fan, and I dig vampire flicks, but the title screamed of B-movie badness.

Still, I thought the same of "Cowboys And Aliens" but ended up really enjoying that movie. And like "Cowboys And Aliens", it looked like director Timur Bekmambetov (director of "Night Watch", "Day Watch" and "Wanted") was aiming for a serious vampire flick rather than a comedy. I'd heard the same was true of the book the movie was based on. So I entered the theater not knowing quite what to expect, but still hoping for a good experience.

Understandably, the story is centered on Abraham Lincoln, who (in this story) lost his mother at a young age because of a vampire. When he grows older, he vows to kill her murderer and meets a mysterious man who trains him to hunt vampires. He learns along the way that vampires are using American slavery as a tool to provide themselves with an unending supply of victims. So along with hunting vampires by night, Abe also enters the realm of politics to end slavery, both to deprive the vampires of easy victims and y'know... because slavery is wrong.

There are a lot of things about this movie that make it worth watching. The performances are all very nice and engaging. And small pockets of human drama added to the vampire slaying serve to emotionally ground the film and give us a reason to care about people that the vampires might kill (some of whom they do). There were more than a couple scenes that made my eyes well with tears, both happy and sad ones. But I suspect this was because of the thoughts of my wife and boys that I brought with me to the experience, rather than because the performances and script were truly exceptional.

The genre mash-up works very well. After the Underworld movies took vampire hunting into a world of cutting edge weaponry, it's fun and gripping at times to see people trying to fight vampires with the earliest fire-arms, which are good for about one shot many times, requiring significant fumbling to reload for another shot. And with a modern visual combat style, Abe's silver-lined axe spins around in a dance of death that's a blast to watch.

I don't ever remember being scared, although there were times that I felt tense. The movie sits much more in the realm of action vampire flick, rather than a vampire horror movie. Lot's of cool slow-motion action and green-screen. The fake backgrounds were pretty easily identified, but after a bit they didn't bother me and I just enjoyed the experience for what it was. (Although there was one scene involving a ton of stampeding horses that looked painfully fake at times.)

Despite being fun to watch, my chief complaint is a massive hole in the script. When Abe begins his training, he suddenly becomes capable of supernatural physical feats, like chopping a tree down with one swing, killing with a weapon in his teeth while hanging upside-down, or pulling off wire-fu combat moves that would make Neo proud. There is never any explanation offered for these sudden abilities Abe possesses. And without clearly established rules regarding the limits of his powers, I never once feared for his safety. As the movie progresses, Abe's friends join the fight and gave me cause to be concerned for their safety, but Abe was never in danger in my mind, and this robbed the movie of a tremendous amount of tension.

Near the beginning, as Abe is first being trained, it seemed as though the movie wanted to explore some ideas that time just didn't allow for. The vampire lore of the movie has clear roots in Christianity, or at least in Judaism. God is referenced several times by vampires as a being who truly exists. It is implied that somehow "truth" is what gives Abraham his power, although no further details are offered.

There is also indication that vampires cannot be seen in mirrors because, as a part of their curse, God has taken away their ability to bear his image. Granted, I don't believe our physical appearance is what the Bible specifically means by "the image of God", but it was still an interesting idea. However, before the thought could be completed by the character giving exposition, a bit of action distracted the characters and ended the conversation almost mid-sentence. So I may never be completely sure if this idea was what the script intended to present.

Fans of vampire flicks should put this on their list of movies to watch, though I don't think it's urgent to see it in the theater. The cool action visuals and nice performances, grounded in some real human stories, make for a well rounded experience. Though the lack of concern for Abe's safety keeps the experience more casual than it should be. There are spiritual matters to bring up or think about if you really want to, but they'll probably be easily forgotten or missed by most.

Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality.

Quality: 8.5/10
Relevance: 7.0/10

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