In 1818, young Abraham Lincoln (Lux Haney-Jardine) lives in Indiana with his parents, Nancy (Robin McLeavy) and Thomas (Joseph Mawle). Thomas works at a plantation owned by Jack Barts (Martin Csokas). Young Abe befriends a young slave named William Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and intervenes when the young man is beaten by a slaver. Thomas is fired, and that night, Lincoln sees Barts break into the house and attack Nancy. She falls ill and dies, and Lincoln is told that she was poisoned.
Nine years later, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) decides to get his revenge. He attacks Bart, but Bart is a vampire and easily overpowers him, but Lincoln is saved by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a vampire-hunter who offers to teach Lincoln his skills. Lincoln accepts and uses a rail-splitter’s axe with a silver blade-edge. Ten years later, he travels to Springfield, Illinois. All the vampires in America, he has been told, are descended from Adam (Rufus Sewell), a 5000-year-old plantation owner who lives in New Orleans with his sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson). He is also told of the vampires’ weakness against silver and is given a silver pocket watch.
In Springfield, Lincoln befriends a shopkeeper named Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winsted). Though he had been told not to form close relationships, he falls for her. Lincoln is hunting vampires pointed out to him by Sturgess, including Barts, whom he kills. But not before the latter reveals that Sturgess too is a vampire. He confronts Sturgess, who admits that he had been bitten by Adam years ago and thus cannot kill vampires himself but has been training vampire killers to do it for him.
Lincoln decides to quit, but Adams learns about him and uses Johnson to lure Lincoln into a trap. He captures Lincoln and reveals his plan to make America a nation of the undead. Speed rescues Lincoln and Johnson, and they escape to Ohio. He marries Mary Todd and becomes a politician, campaigning to abolish slavery. He is warned that the slave trade provides a source of food to vampires and they may retaliate. But Lincoln is elected President, moves into the White House with Mary, and they have a son named William, who is bitten by a vampire and dies.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis convinces Adam to use vampires on the front lines of the Civil War. Lincoln confiscates silverware and melts it down for silver weapons. The turncoat Joshua Speed informs Adam that Lincoln will transport the silver by train. Adam and Vadona attack the train and Lincoln, Sturgiss, and Johnson, who are on board. Speed is killed and Adam learns that the train is only carrying rocks. Lincoln dumps his watch in a blunderbuss and kills Adam, and the good guys jump the train before the weakened trestle collapses. All this time, the silver was on its way to Gettysburg via the Underground Railroad.
The Confederate vampires assault the Union forces and are destroyed by the silver weapons. Mary Todd Lincoln kills Vadoma with one of her son’s silver toy soldiers, avenging him. Two years later, April 14, 1865, Sturgiss tells Lincoln that the vampires have fled the country. Sturgiss asks Lincoln to become an immortal vampire, but he declines and prepares to go to the theatre.
The film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. It was produced by Tim Burton, Bekmambetov, and Jim Lemley, with Simon Kinberg as executive producer. It received mixed reviews, positive for style, action, originality, Walker’s performance, and the music by Henry Jackman, but negative because of inconsistency, overuse of CGI, and pacing. It was not considered a box-office success. It premiered for 1800 sailors aboard the Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln. Most critics considered the overly serious tone of the film inconsistent with the crazy premise. But some were pleased with the patriotic plot and affective style, and with Benjamin Walker, who looked like Liam Neeson and never stooped to caricature. We know Anthony Mackie, of course, from the Avenger movies, in which he played Falcon and later Captain America.
There was a real Joshua Speed, an old friend of Lincoln, and his brother was Attorney General. Lincoln won 300 Greco-Roman wrestling bouts and lost one. Benjamin Walker trained seriously with the axe and read the Gettysburg Address to the Director and producer. He was married to Meryl Streep’s daughter. I’m almost ready to believe that Honest Abe was a vampire slayer. It makes more sense than a California cheerleader, though a bit of Buffy humor might have helped. The premise is, of course, absurd, but that’s true of most vampire movies. As in Interview with the Vampire, the undead fit nicely into the Antebellum South. The fact is, humor or no, I enjoyed it a lot—the clever tropes and twists on history and Vampire lore, the balletic fights and the powerful climax aboard a train crossing a blazing trestle—and I didn’t miss the humor that much. I think the decision to steer as far away from camp as possible was a good one.