Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(doing my best to leave spoilers out)

It’s a good movie. It’s definitely enjoyable. Unfortunately for its box office prospects it’s not a popcorn movie- the requisite for which is pretty much just massive CGI with little to no plot. “Leave your critical thinking at the door” kind of action, like the MIB franchise (which I admit is what I consider “Hollywood dreck” from a creative standpoint; as a cinephile, however, I appreciate it for what it is: large-scale, fun, CGI spectacle). I really want this movie to do well, but as a mix of contemporary history and vampire action flick they would've been just as well off naming this "Abraham Lincoln: Box Office Poison."

I think the biggest complaint I hear about this movie is people saying “Hollywood’s gone too far” or something to that effect. That the idea of a President- an iconic historical figure, someone integral to the creation of our very country- can be reimagined in a supernatural environment is laughable. In a previous post, I railed against that limiting, dream-killing, unimaginative mentality, so in order to not beat a dead horse on that subject I’ll simply address it this time with: Fuck that, this is what Hollywood is all about! It’s easy to make up shit about tornadoes taking people to magical lands of elves and faeries, or interplanetary galactic rebellions. But when you splice fantasy and history together? When you take actual historical reality and add mythology to it? That is just as good storytelling if not better, because you have an existing framework that you have to work within. You can’t just make it up as you go along. And in this case there are actually two sets of constraints: our history itself, and the generally accepted “rules” of the vampire mythos. No mean feat to craft a story that conforms to both.

Some of the plot twists you could see coming a mile away1. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just subpar storytelling. And this movie has a story to tell. Saying that not all movies have a story to tell may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Some movies (the aforementioned “popcorn” movies, shoot-em-ups, comedies…) seek only to entertain. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love me some Boondock Saints. But this movie is telling a story. And that in itself proves to be a formidable obstacle: Lincoln’s actual life would be enough to fill hours and hours of screentime; adding a creative fantasy flourish to an already dense narrative leads to inevitable plot holes and unanswered questions2. But again, if you’re willing to take this movie at face value, if you’re willing to let Hollywood tell you a story that’s this preposterous, you have to expect that to come with the territory.

Sure, the movie comes equipped with some tired clichés: the “training” montage is pure Action Movie 101 cheesetasticness. You don’t have to love it, but damn, don’t hate; this is what you go to the movies for- for “what if” imaginary scenarios. You and I both know that martial arts are an anachronism here, as foreign to 19th century America as sushi, but fuck does it look cool. This is Timur Bekmambetov at his best. And although it may not be his most visually arresting movie (Daywatch), there’s plenty of style here. The fight scenes are amazing to watch so just go with it. Say what you want, but the image of a 50-year old Lincoln swinging around an axe like a goddamn samurai is amazing. That’s what Hollywood is all about- creativity. And if you insist on being closed-mindedly resistant to the thought of Lincoln- who, in actual real life, was an adept axman and strong wrestler- being a flashy fighter, if you insist on not stretching the boundaries of what’s possible, I have one word for you: Quidditch.

The love story is uninspired, boring. There was nothing to really draw the audience in, to make it remarkable or even interesting. In fact, if it wasn’t a part of history it probably wouldn’t have been included. Kind of a waste of opportunity to deepen the story, or at least the characters. Which was probably my biggest complaint- WAY underdeveloped characters. For example, Speed: why did he like Lincoln so much?3 (PS- Yeah McPoyle!!!)

If this was just a Civil War era vampire drama, it’d be a middle of the road entertaining-but-not-incredible vampire movie. A hell of a lot better than Van Helsing, probably better than Underworld. Maybe somewhere near From Dusk til Dawn for sheer entertainment value. So leave your bullshit preconceptions at the door and enjoy it.


1)      Henry being a vampire
2)      like, How did weeks at a time, and ultimately two entire decades, go by with absolutely no vampire activity in his life? Especially when he had established himself as scourge of the undead?
3)      Speed even became an advisor later in Lincoln’s life. Also, did Lincoln never meet anyone else again in his life? Two decades later, his circle of friends still consists of Speed (the first person he met in town), William (his childhood friend), Mary (his love), and Henry (the man who saved his life). Not very dynamic for such a charismatic man.

There were some unnecessary plot devices. They liked to quote each other, for one thing. I think there were 3 times in the movie that someone said “A wise man once told me…” and then repeated some pearl of wisdom that one of them had spoken earlier. And when Abe proposed to Mary, the camera stayed on his axe as they walked away, just in case you didn’t get that he was leaving that part of his life behind. Also, his “A-ha!” moment about silver weapons for his troops at war was more of a “Duh!” moment for the audience.

There were definitely some ridiculous elements- Mary standing on his hat was implausible at best; 2 men sharing an axe to fight in tandem was just goofy; the stagecoach rescue/sideswipe was absurd. But take the good with the bad. Some were downright unforgiveable though- that CGI horse stampede was horrible. And I say this as a man who went along with the “infected” from I Am Legend (just as a frame of reference). Sooooo bad. They ran with horses, and I kept thinking “OK, the horses will be gone soon and we’ll get back to some physical combat.” But no, they kept running with the horses. They ran across the horses’ fucking backs. Dude actually picked up and THREW a horse at Lincoln. Ugh. And lastly, the train/bridge scene… remember the scene in Speed? Where they all had to lean or some bullshit so the bus could jump the gap in the freeway? Remember how fucking retarded that was? This is about as bad.

But all that being said, I still think it’s a good movie. A fun movie, to be sure. A hell of an interesting concept. It just took itself a bit too seriously. It needed to tread a little more into Dark Comedy territory. Near the end, when 50-year old Lincoln realizes he has to come out of vampire hunting retirement and he begins to practice his weaponry, he drops the axe. That scene wasn’t presented as funny, more as a measure of his mortality, his faded skills. But it WAS funny. And at the end when Mary calls up from the carriage “We’re late for the theater.” That’s darkly comedic shit right there. If it was presented as such, and if there were more of it throughout the movie, it’d be a much better show.

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