“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
This phrase is often tossed around as an admonition to learn from your mistakes so as to prevent yourself from making them again. To hear some people talk, you’d think that the worst possible sin would be to continue to make those same mistakes over and over again. But what if there was something worse? What if you not only continued to make those mistakes but also managed to use history to make them worse?
Such it is the lesson we get from “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”.
The story begins as Abe (Benjamin Walker) is finishing an entry in his journal, telling his story in retrospect. Flash back to when a very young Abe stands up for his friend who’s being whipped by a slaver or some similarly unsavory character who’s most likely a vampire. This moment draws the ire of these unsavory vampires who take their revenge by killing young Abe’s mother. Years pass and Abe tries to get his own revenge on the murderous bloodsuckers: he’s less than successful. At the last moment, a mysterious stranger, Henry (Dominic Cooper), rescues him. Later, Henry agrees to teach Abe the fine art of vampire slaying. Following that training, he takes a job as a shop boy in Springfield, Illinois, works his way through law school, meets back up with his childhood friend (Anthony Mackie), woos Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and, of course, hunts vampires all while on his way into a career in politics.
The rest, so to speak, is history.
In the loosest sense of the word.
To coin another old phrase, “It’s pretty, but it can’t type.” Director Timur Bekmambetov brings the same stylish touch that he brought to his previous works like “Night Watch” and “Wanted”, but like this year’s previous historical adventure “The Raven” there’s not enough style to make up for the lack of substance. Even though an action movie like this should be able to get by on just being good-looking mindless fun, this film never seems to elevate itself to actually being fun. The action scenes seem repetitive – the majority of them involving Abe in axe-swinging battle with a vampire – and the shiny wears off quickly. The only set piece that deviated from this formula was just on this side of ridiculous.
If this series of mediocre action pieces weren’t bad enough, unfortunate wooden acting strings them together. Neither of the lead actors are able to convince me to believe in them or the world they inhabit; it’s one of the things that denied any emotional weight to the actions of the characters. Unfortunately, the other thing that undermined my faith is the very nature of this particular flavor of speculative fiction: The story takes place as an overlay on what we already know about history. It has the potential to add an interesting spin to a story we already know, but that also means that we know certain things won’t and can’t happen. Historically, the heroes are never in any real danger and, therefore, there are never any real stakes (so to speak). Without those stakes, or even the smallest emotional connection, there’s nothing to care about.
“Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is as dry as almost any high school history text, somehow managing to take an interesting concept and make it boring and rote. The best lesson you can take away from this it to take your money somewhere else.