I tried. Oh, how I tried. I tried to enjoy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I really did. As I sat in that theater I thought back to every film class I've taken, every discussion we had, searching for some far-flung aesthetic that might redeem what I was watching. I found nothing. There is no redemption for Timur Bekmambetov's latest contribution to the world of cinema.
To say it had plot holes would be giving it far too much credit. There needs to be some amount of substance in order for there to be a hole, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is one giant gaping maw of terrible. Even if you ignore the boneheaded lapses like the 50 stars in the flag at Gettysburg, or the fact that Mary Todd Lincoln's aging makeup is worse than your average Halloween costume, you're left with a movie that has absolutely no identity. It vacillates from farcical to heavy-handed so often that you would think this was two, or perhaps even three, entirely separate films mashed together. Even the camera filters refused to remain consistent, leaving me occasionally wondering if I wasn't watching a dream sequence or a flashback.
I didn't think such a thing was possible, but somehow this moves fails on so many levels that it can't even be enjoyed as something “so bad, it's good.” Truly, it is frustratingly bad. More than once I threw my hands in the air in disbelief, not necessarily because of the absurd action on the screen, but because somewhere someone watched the final cut and gave it the green light. A few times I even emitted an audible, “Oh, come on ... ”
Provoking such a visceral reaction might normally have been a saving grace, even if that reaction was profoundly negative. However, things eventually got so out of hand that I just stopped caring altogether. I couldn't let myself get caught up in wondering why Mary Todd Lincoln broke her engagement to Stephen Douglas just because Abe suggested it once, or why the evil vampires stormed a train only to blow up the tracks several miles down the way. Asking how or why anyone did anything in this debacle would be a fool's errand.
Despite the nonsensical actions and confounding motivations, the performances given by Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were probably the least offensively awful facet of this catastrophe. I really can't say anything bad about the acting itself, because criticizing that would be like blaming your waiter for bringing you bad food. Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis couldn't have made this any more watchable.
Naturally, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was in 3-D. Not the tasteful, enriching 3-D of Scorsese's love letter to cinema, Hugo, but the crass, commercial 3-D where knives fly out of the screen at you. How exciting. I remember being impressed by that effect as a six-year-old in Disney World almost two decades ago, but it's lost a lot of luster since then.
You might be thinking that even if the plot was utter crap, the visuals would still be solid. They weren't. In 300, Zack Snyder set the gold standard for movie adaptations of a graphic novel. A visual masterpiece, the film pays clear homage to its still-frame origins with shot after beautifully constructed shot containing little to no movement. Even the action was deftly stilted with the brilliant juxtaposition of super slow-mo and fast forward. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has nothing to offer in this regard, falling completely flat even when reduced to pure spectacle.
As I'm writing, I realize there's an avenue of salvation that I haven't yet considered. Perhaps some good can in fact come from Bekmambetov's disaster. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should be shown in film classes worldwide as a shining example of what not to do. It illustrates failure so perfectly, and succumbs to so many pitfalls that it has real merit as a cautionary tale. That being said, definitely don't go see this piece of garbage unless you need a reminder of just how bad movies can be.