'Twilight' sparkles in finale
FINAL TRIUMPH. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return to finish the saga.
It was a combination of morbid curiosity and obsessive completion-ism that prompted me to see the new Twilight film. Having sat through (sometimes suffering, sometimes begrudgingly enjoying) the past four films, seeing the final installment was as inevitable as picking at a hangnail. And surprisingly, the movie is borderline good.
Truth be told, I've always kind of enjoyed the films. The premise was strangely intriguing-an emo girl drawn to a mysterious stranger who's also a vampire who sparkles in the sun. Bizarre distortion of vampire mythology aside, the unique mythos established by book author Stephenie Meyer featured interesting material-rivalries between vampires and werewolves, a sinister vampire cult called the Volturi that manages other vampires and a female protagonist's impending decision to stay a human or become one of the sparkling blood-suckers.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 finds Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) a vampire at long last. She and hubby Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) now have a daughter, Renesme, and are determined to protect her from the threat of the Volturi, who seek to destroy all undead newborns. Renesme, however, is technically not undead, but the Volturi appear to care little about this. Meanwhile, Bella's one-time love interest, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), has "imprinted" on Renesme (kind of the equivalent of urinating on a tree, if Jacob and the tree were eventually going to have sex). With Jacob's life debt sworn, the Cullen clan prepare for the coming battle with the Volturi.
The movie's plot is far too convoluted, but the story is actually strangely simple-Bella and Edward need to protect their daughter from the Volturi. That's it. Yet the plot feels the need to throw in a variety of monkey wrenches. For example, Bella and Edward track down family members across the world who can vouch for their daughter's mortality. This material could have been contained in a montage, but instead it's stretched out for a good half hour. Meanwhile, the vampires seem to have gained superpowers between movies, with each Cullen now displaying unique traits such as telepathy, force fields and electricity. I don't know when the Twilight vampires became the undead X-Men, and I'm sure it's explained in the book, but the sudden development seems like little more than an excuse to fill up run-time with training sequences.
Of course, there's the usual batch of overly sappy romantic scenes between Edward and Bella, though I'm happy to say they only take up about half the movie this time as opposed to three quarters in the previous installments. The actors have also dialed down the teen-angst overtures to the point where I actually don't regurgitate a little every time they interact.
Once cardboard cut-out stiff, the actors have grown to the point of three-dimensional believability. I particularly enjoyed Lautner's performance. He was always the best of the three, but now that Jacob's done pining over Bella, Lautner gets to do things other than glare at Edward and preach about the dangers of vampires. He takes off his shirt amazingly, but only once. And it's actually in a really funny scene between him and Bella's father Charlie (Billy Burke, the franchise's best actor and character), whose sarcastic comic relief provides an audience-lens into all the madness.
Also of note is actor Michael Sheen, who plays Aro, the leader of the Volturi. Sheen hams it up quite a bit, but to delightful effect. His theatrical cackling and slinky demeanor remind me of an odd crossbreed between Ian McDiarmid's Emperor Palpatine and Andy Serkis' Gollum (he also strikingly resembles the latter). Sheen's antics make for a fun departure from the movie's often too self-serious tone.
On a story level the movie is a mixed bag, but the direction is the movie's saving grace. Director Bill Condon brings in some rare vitality, with improved pacing and a surprisingly suspenseful build toward a climactic battle between the Cullens and the Volturi.
There's also a great twist at the end that manages to simultaneously amaze and disappoint. But regardless of the viewer's reaction, it comes at the heel of an amazing battle sequence. It's a departure from the book, but an essential one. Condon cleverly realized that after four plodding predecessors, the series deserved, nay needed, an epic action send-off. The fight becomes a blood bath featuring werewolf dismemberment and vampires tearing each others' heads off. Twilight may have sapped a certain amount of masculinity from male viewers dragged by their girlfriends, but it's gloriously restored with this scene.
While there isn't quite enough to call Breaking Dawn - Part 2 a great movie, it's at least a fairly good one. Twilight fans will certainly be happy, and non-fans actually have something to root for. All in all, it's a sweet ending to a franchise intended for romantics, and in that light the movie can't be faulted for its melodrama. That doesn't excuse the dragged-out plot and sometimes ridiculous character interactions, but this time it's presented in a package that's worth opening. It even sparkles a little.
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