In case you haven't seen the movie yet: There is nothing in my review or synopsis that I would consider to be a major spoiler.
When Abraham Lincoln was a young boy, he witnessed a man named Jack Barts whip his best friend, an African American boy named Will Johnson. In trying to defend Will, Abraham was almost beaten as well, but his father stepped in and protected him and his friend. As punishment, Barts, a vampire, snuck into the Lincolns' home and bit Abraham's mother as she slept. She later sickened and died, and Abraham, who witnessed the attack, became determined to kill Barts.
Several years later, Abraham Lincoln, now a young man, unsuccessfully tries to kill Barts and is saved by Henry Sturgess. Sturgess agrees to teach Lincoln how to kill vampires if he promises to only kill those vampires Sturgess directs him to kill. And so, by day, Lincoln studies law and works at a shop. By night, he kills vampires. Despite directions from Sturgess to have neither friends nor family, Lincoln finds himself falling for Mary Todd, a woman who knows nothing of the darkness he fights.
Eventually, Lincoln comes to the realization that Sturgess's way of dealing with the vampires is not enough. Vampires have encouraged slavery in America because it provides them with easy access to humans who can be killed without raising too much suspicion. Lincoln is of the belief that everyone, black or white, should be safe from vampires. It becomes his goal to end slavery and remove the vampires' access to an easy source of food, thereby making it difficult for them to exist in America in their current great numbers.
I went into this expecting an over-the-top and possibly campy action movie. At times, that's sort of what I got. There were moments when I could practically see the CGI – during the horse stampede, for example, or early on, when Sturgess threw Barts through a bunch of wood. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it all nearly as much as I had hoped I would.
One thing that struck me while I was watching the movie was that turning slavery into a vampiric plot to ensure a steady supply of blood somehow managed to lessen, rather than increase, the horror of it all. There were maybe a couple actual humans who supported slavery, but, for the most part, slavery was presented as something vampires were responsible for encouraging and taking part in. I found it problematic and discomfiting that, even if only in this movie, blame for slavery was shifted to vampires, as though humans could not possibly have done such monstrous things themselves.
Because the movie covered so much of Lincoln's life in such a short period of time, I was often left with questions. How long did Lincoln's vampire hunting training last? It seemed like it must have taken weeks, but his face was still healing by the end of it, so he couldn't have been training for that long. Lincoln's efforts to convince Speed, his employer and landlord, that vampires were real was skimmed over and dealt with entirely in a voice-over, leaving me wondering why Speed agreed to accompany Lincoln at all when he must have seemed like a madman. Stephen Douglas might as well not have been in the movie – all he did was make a speech, act vaguely jealous about Mary Todd's interest in Lincoln, and then vanish from the story.
The romance between Lincoln and Mary was shoddily done. I kept wondering why Lincoln made little to no effort to keep himself at a distance from her. He already knew that vampires were adept at hiding among humans, so he couldn't be sure Mary wasn't a vampire. Even if he had known for a fact she wasn't, his being around her put her in danger. The one time he tried to tell her what it was he did at night, she though he was joking, and he let her think that. He did not try to tell her the truth again, not even when he decided to propose to her. I cheered when she found out what he'd been hiding and got angry with him for it, although I would have expected the damage his secrets had caused to put a greater rift in their marriage than it did.
When I watch or read anything involving fantasy elements, I keep any eye out for any established rules for the way things are supposed to work. If any rules are given, I expect them to be followed. Unfortunately, this movie appeared to have problems in that respect. At one point, Sturgess explained to Lincoln that vampires cannot kill other vampires. One scene made it appear as though this meant that vampires could not even attack each other. However, if that were the case, then another scene near the end of the movie should have been impossible. Then, in a later scene, I was pretty sure I saw Lincoln get bit by a vampire he was fighting. According to all previous instances when a person was bitten by a vampire but not drained dry, Lincoln should have sickened and died from the bite. He did not.
Overall, although this movie wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen, it wasn't nearly as much fun as I had hoped. Watching a young Abraham Lincoln learn to wield an ax the way Buffy learned to use a stake was nice, but the movie as a whole never moved beyond “meh.”
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- R.O.D.: Read or Die (anime OVA) - If you'd like something else that reimagines historical figures as butt-kicking action heroes...well, in this one all the historical figures are villains. But they still kick butt.
- One of Seth Grahame-Smith's books - If you haven't read the book upon which the movie was based, you might start with that. If you've already read it, you might try Unholy Night, which takes on the tale of the Three Wise Men. I've written about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
- Blade (live action movie) - If you'd just like to watch vampires get killed in a dark, bloody, slick-looking action movie, you might try this. The main character is half-vampire, half-human.
- Underworld (live action movie) - Another one you might want to check out if you'd like an action movie with vampires. In this one, it's vampires vs. werewolves.
- Army of Darkness (live action movie) - If you'd like a campy, fun action/adventure movie, you might try this. There are monsters galore, and the main character uses a chainsaw in place of the hand he lost in a previous movie.