Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I was tempted to do this up like "In Defense of Liking Battleship" rather than a straight review for EFC, just because I do kind of see them as two of a kind in some ways. They're both pretty dumb ideas whose execution problems include being kind of generic once you strip away their odd origins. Both also got so dismissed out of hand that it was actually kind of a surprise to see, hey, there are some good people involved trying a little harder than you might expect.

It seemed like the folks around me dug it, even if they did sound like drunk/high college kids. The big, nutty action got a lot of hooting and hollering, and that was pretty cool. It was nice to see folks having fun with what is clearly an insane movie.

I do sort of go back and forth on just how satirical some of the bits folks were laughing at were. As much as parts of the movie feel like they don't have the slightest bit of brain involvement, I found myself wondering whether the moments when Abe would just have an action-hero moment were more "exactly what they seem to be" or "diabolically camouflaged evisceration of what they seem to be". See, one of the things I really like about AL:VH is that it never diminishes Lincoln's real-world legacy to pump up this story, and in fact doesn't really strongly tie his opposition to slavery to the vampire threat at all. So it's very clear that Lincoln does genuinely heroic, admirable things in real life - and compared to that, the big "F--- YEAH!!!" action movie moments are kind of hollow and ridiculous... But we still respond to those in a more visceral way.

Again, I don't know if that was necessarily something planned by the filmmakers or whether it's me reading stuff into it. There's a part of me that really wishes that the filmmakers were willing to stick the knife in and twist on this point. The Fourth of July is coming up, and we'll probably hear a lot more about the military than what the day really commemorates, a declaration of principles and the desire for the rule of law. It's not so far off to wish for more celebration of the things people fight for than the actual fighting itself.

(Also, as much as I liked that the vampires were not the "real" evil behind the Civil War, I'm a little disappointed that they were just generic ghouls. There was a great metaphor on the fringes of this movie about vampires being privileged elites sucking the life-blood from an underclass - something a lot of politically-minded horror should really be running with today, but as usual they find those elites too seductive - but Timur Bekmambetov ain't the guy who's going to make that movie.)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 June 2012 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, 35mm)

It seems quite unlikely that something by the name "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" was ever going to be a great movie, and this particular one doesn't come particularly close. What's surprising is that it gets as far in that direction as it does, and how often it avoids disaster to actually do right by its gonzo premise.

Abraham Lincoln's story is taught to every American child, but there are apparently some parts generally left out. Like how the illness that claimed his mother (Robin McLeavy) was the result of a vampire bite, or how young Mr. Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) sought vengeance on her killer (Marton Csokas), only to discover he needed to be trained by vampire-hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). This eventually brings him to the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell), the most powerful vampire in America, even as Lincoln romances the lovely Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

I suspect that in screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith's original book, this secret history is a bit more convincing; he first gained note not just for how out-there Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was as a concept, but for how cleanly he combined the two opposing sensibilities. The movie version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter certainly shows some seams, but it's also surprisingly respectful: Grahame-Smith doesn't diminish Lincoln's actual deeds to bolster his fictional ones, and while vampires are involved in the Civil War, they're not the "real" cause of it.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: