As someone who’s somehow resisted the pull of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books but has seen all five films, I feel confident saying the first three movies (Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse) exist on a sliding scale of awfulness. They’re bland, lacking in anything resembling emotion or humanity, poorly acted, terribly written and insulting to the concepts of free will, family, gender equality, canine care, individuality and love itself.
Breaking Dawn Part 1 changed some of that for the better. The themes were still offensive to rational people who prefer a uterus be connected to a functioning and free-spirited brain, but director Bill Condon managed to inject a degree of humor and zaniness to the proceedings that embraced the entertainment value inherent in the story but missing from the earlier films. Basically, he made it fun. And thankfully, he returned to helm part 2.
To recap part 1, Bella (Kristen Stewart) the human and Edward (Robert Pattinson) the vampire have married, fornicated and given birth to a baby they felt it necessary to name Renesmee. While still a fetus the little scamp had sucked the life from its mother leading to Bella’s death shortly after Edward decided to perform an emergency Cesarean with his teeth. He acts quickly and bites her again, this time in an attempt to save her life by turning her into a bloodsucker, and it works. She opens her inhuman, crimson eyes, and the credits roll.
Oh, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) the werewolf pees on Bella’s newborn daughter to claim her in some kind of weird, Native American marriage arrangement ceremony.
Which brings us to Breaking Dawn Part 2…
We pick up minutes later as Bella is getting used to her new strength, abilities and needs. Her and Edward head out to the woods for a short (but visually fun) sequence showing her vamp-vision to full effect. The tiniest details and slightest motions become visible to her even as she runs Wile E. Coyote-fast between the trees. Thirsty for blood, she sets her eyes on a nearby deer before deciding to aim one notch higher on the food chain and tackling a mountain lion instead. Satiated, she heads back to spend time with baby Renesmee (CGI), but they quickly notice something unusual and amazing.
Their little girl is growing at an exponential rate. Within days she’s a toddler, within weeks she’s ready for kindergarten and within a few months she’s ready to be played by an actual little girl (Mackenzie Foy). Bella’s loveable but dim-witted dad (Billy Burke) barely notices.
Good times with the Cullen clan (Ashley Green and several unattractive people) follow, but when Irina (Maggie Grace), still smarting from Jacob turning her boy toy Laurent into puppy chow, sees young Renesmee their idyllic new life threatens to collapse in on itself. It seems many years ago the ruling vamp-clan the Volturi rented and watched Interview with a Vampire, and disgusted with Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of a pre-pubescent vampire they passed a law forbidding immortal children.
This sets in motion the film’s biggest (and only) conflict as the two sides prepare to clash on the same CGI ice field where the Cullens always settle their disputes. This preparation lasts the majority of the film and serves as a reminder that no, the fourth book did in fact not need to be split into two films. (I’m looking at you, The Hobbit…)
You know what to expect with Twilight, and either you’re okay with it or you’re not. It serves no purpose to question why such a successful franchise settles for fourth-rate special effects work, actors clearly in it for the paycheck and mall appearances or hack screenwriting (from the otherwise solid Melissa Rosenberg) because the answer is obvious. Summit knows the audience will come regardless, and while it’s an enviable position for a production studio to be in one wonders what could have been.
Stewart and Pattinson show a bit more life here but neither comes close to stretching their known acting abilities. Supporting cast-wise the film is a minor step up from the pack. We may lose Anna Kendrick, but we gain Lee Pace and Joe Anderson. Their arrival signals the first positive sign, but it’s ultimately for naught (for more than one reason). Like the rest of the cast Pace and Anderson have little to nothing to do here aside from stand around and talk about what might happen. They actually have less than most as one or both of them seemingly disappear right before the big end battle.
Still, their arrival coincides with a slight increase in entertainment value as undead family and friends gather at Casa de Cullen. The visiting vampires arrive dressed, for some unexplained reason, in the most stereotypical costumes possible. While their American cousins have evolved to wear modern-day fashions these folks arrive in loin cloths, tribal hides, Eastern European chic and Irish potato-famine couture. It’s deliriously ridiculous, but you can’t help but give in to a smile.
It’s in the third act where we get not only the best twenty minutes of the film but also the best twenty minutes of the entire film series. Don’t get me wrong, the end battle features uninspired fight choreography, special effects that were outdated in 1990 and a denouement that even Jennifer Lynch would turn her nose at… but it’s also wonderfully nutty fun filled with numerous beheadings and newly single vampires.
It’s the biggest and best sign of vitality since Bella and Edward first locked eyes, the first time real excitement and risk have danced across the screen, the first time anything of true, unpredictable value happens with these characters and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not from Meyer’s book.
Fans will find a lot to love with Breaking Dawn Part 2, both expected and unexpected, and critics will find a non-stop checklist of laughable dialogue, poor acting and sub-par special effects. It continues the trend Condon started with part 1 and features a little bit of some very welcome crazy, but it isn’t nearly enough to salvage the film or the series. If only there was a chance Miss Meyer would capitulate to the fans and write one more Twilight novel…
The Upside: It’s finally over; some welcome zaniness; big end battle is lots of fun (until it isn’t); a few minutes with Lee Pace; Michael Sheen’s laugh
The Downside: Lots of bland interactions; continues the series’ habit of sexist and selfish messages; lack of any consequences for anything at all; CGI Renesmee for 2/3rds of the movie; special effects are mediocre to terrible throughout
On the Side: Stephenie Meyer’s only non-Twilight book, The Host, has been adapted into a movie for release next year.