Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Grindhouse Ax Fu Classic or Meaningless Bargain Bin Distraction?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is exactly what it says on the tin. That’s easy. What’s harder to answer is whether or not this movie is successful at being an entirely unique and enjoyable experience. How better to answer that question than by comparing it to four distinctly different movies? Let’s cut the ear off this one.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I should probably first write about this movie for a few minutes. It is an alternative history movie, which asks: “what would happen if you took the historical Abraham Lincoln and introduced vampires into the mix?” He becomes a pop-culture superhero that fights his Civil War-era rivals with a sharp silver-tipped ax and “ax fu,” instead of sharp political/social words and decisive actions. I enjoyed trying to inject my own thoughts into the movie, but when I left the theater and tried to explain what exactly I liked about the movie itself, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t enjoy the movie itself. I enjoyed chopping it down.
So here are four movies I like better:
Akira is one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen. It’s explosive. It’s violent. It’s bloody. It’s beautiful. Behind all of the chaos – both in terms of the muddled story itself, and the movie’s frenetic visual pace that rivals any modern music video – there is a deeper, larger, more grandiose purpose to it all. This was not a movie in the traditional sense of plot, character, and story. This movie was a tour de force when it came out, and still is an explosive bomb that was so successful that even 30 or 40 years after its 1988 release, there will still be people that revere it and try to emulate it, just like the Seven Samurai. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will limp its way to bargain bin status in less than a year.
Reservoir Dogs has plenty to say and says it in such a roundabout way. The dialogue at the beginning of the movie means nothing to the plot, but it adds a sense of flavor to the movie. You know these are seriously bad guys. They take great time and thought deciding how best to do very bad things, much like how most of us would take the time to weigh the pros and cons of doing good things, or at least, selfishly neutral things that are also fun. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn’t try to make history fun for the next generation, instead using the character and the setting to merely sell tickets.
Tron: Legacy and Tron are both movies that get more flack than maybe they deserve. There is one particular scene in Tron: Legacy that stands out as probably my most favorite cinematic scene out of any movie I’ve ever seen, or at least firmly in the Top 5. The main character from the first movie was lost for a very long time and his son spent all of that time looking for him. Eventually, the son finds the father, and wisely, that scene was a central trailer in advertising Tron: Legacy. It perfectly summarizes the visual and emotional depth of the movie. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter aspires for nothing greater and has nothing of value to give to the audience, visually or emotionally.
To end on a lighter note, I enjoyed Wayne’s World from start to finish. I haven’t spent even one minute thinking about if Wayne’s World has something more to offer behind the surface. That’s not the point of this movie, and I’d like to believe everyone who made the movie had that clear goal from the get-go. It’s a comedy and nothing more. Its focus is so tight that everything has a purpose, whether to tell a joke or help describe the joke. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of my favorite comedies. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a bipolar mess of a movie, that doesn’t know if it wants to be an action movie, a drama, a comedy, or even a wuxia.
Closing Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Wu Xia? The Chinese martial arts genre most represented in the west by all the flying people fighting each other in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I say? Well, that “ax fu” I mentioned earlier was probably one of the more dramatic aspects of the movie. Physically dramatic. It was much like watching a pure and authentic show of a martial art such as kendo or karate, in that it was dramatic and lively. This was obviously part of a practiced weapons-based art that the actor playing Abraham Lincoln (or at least his CGI body double) is well versed in performing. Combine that with other scenes of actors on wires flying everywhere with a healthy disregard for gravity, and it makes for an unpleasantly jarring experience.
My favorite scene in the movie shows Lincoln taking a break from his mental studies to practice his physical studies. This was a great example of a positive direction the movie could have took: think of it like the martial arts classic 36th Chamber of the Shaolin set in the west. That would have been a movie worth recommending. Sure, it would essentially be ripping off one of the best “training” movies of all time, along with Rocky or really any movie with some degree of character development, but hey, at least that would have been something worth recommending. Instead, we’re left with a haphazardly mix of potentially great half-ideas and poor execution that should find good company with all of the other bargain bin releases that also tried and failed.