[16 November 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It is destined to go down in history as one of those cultural question marks that no one can seem to find an answer for. All passable popularity aside, scholars and thinkers will be racking their brains for eons trying to figure out how a ham-fisted writer with all the grace of a Golem managed to tap into enough dormant female angst to turn a whisper thin literary premise (lonely girl falls for androgynous vampire) into a multibillion dollar media empire. Surely the cinematic interpretations of the Twilight tomes won’t help the cause. While each entry has been as faithful to the source as possible, they still play like elongated Lifetime movies bereft of their sleaze and cheese. Now comes the wholly unnecessary second half of the final “novel,” Breaking Dawn, Part 2 and aside from a singular moment of creative invention, it’s as lax and lousy as its predecessors.
Basically, the books have shown the overall progression of Bella Swan’s (Kristen Stewart) relationship with natty neckbiter Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The original Twilight focused on their courtship. New Moon emphasized her growing closeness to childhood friend - and secret shape-shifting werewolf - Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Eclipse showed Bella choosing to spend her life with Edward, and Breaking Dawn followed their marriage, the birth of their child Renesmee, and the problems that causes with the ruling vampire clan known as the Volturi.
Since Part 1 already showed us the wedding, honeymoon, and perplexing pregnancy of our human heroine, what’s left for Part 2? Well, something called “an immortal child.” Apparently, it is a crime to create one of these murderous pre-adolescents, and the Volturi leader, Aro (Michael Sheen) wants Renesmee destroyed. So he gathers up his minions and heads to the Pacific Northwest to kill the Cullens. Hoping to clear their name, the clan gathers various vampire groups from around the globe to support their cause. Even Jacob and the wolves vow to fight this injustice.
And fight they do. Those in love with Meyer’s muddled prose may take issue with the last act of Breaking Dawn, Part 2, since it expands the whole Cullen vs. Volturi showdown into epic, monster mano-y-mano madness. It’s Battle Royale for the undead, a kill or be killed slice of action that this otherwise lifeless franchise desperately needs and needed. Since the entire premise of this second installment focuses on Bella learning how to control her vampire skill set, it makes perfect sense to see it put to use later on. In fact, the entire Cullen crew, including cousins and related well-wishers, become a kind of X-men for the spinster set. Suddenly, one can control the elements. Another can cloud minds. We even get one who can shoot electricity out of her hands and another who conquers up fire at will. Talk about the advantages of incisors to vein immortality.
Up until then, Breaking Dawn Part 2 is a talky, tired trial that only the converted will enjoy. It’s like bringing everybody back for a curtain call before we’re ready to really sign off. Bella’s dad (Billy Burke) gets his moment, as do members of Jacob’s canine company. All that’s missing are our heroine’s high school friends (Remember them? Of course you don’t) and we’d have a regular homecoming. Yet once we learn that Renesmee is the target of a false accusation, things gear up a bit. In fact, one of the best sequences shows why “immortal” children are so despised. We even get a bit of baby immolation for good measure. Still, it’s not enough to save the movie proper. As with all installments in the tepid Twilight Saga, there is decency spread out amongst the crap.
As for the acting, well, there’s not much change. Stewart finally gets to come out of her glum gal shell to make Bella more proactive. Yet she’s still making mannered cow eyes at her bloodsucking beau, but when confronted with a threat to Renesmee, she really puts up her dukes. Similarly, Mr. Lautner gets his shirtless moment (it’s a funny bit involving Bella’s dad), but for the most part, he is in protective mode…and very good at it. Pattinson is still a shapeless mess, a combination of smashed face femininity and flawless Eraserhead hair. He’s neither effective as a romantic lead or bracing as an action man. Instead, he walks that fine line between threat and treat, and barely manages either. As for everyone else? They get their hero minute, and then slink off to the side to let the name cast cavort.
Another plus appears to be the hiring of Bill Condon. While he didn’t do the first part of this story much good, his eye for finery and detail make for a gorgeous backdrop to all the goofiness…and there is a lot of it here. Apparently, the director decided to let everyone go out with an over the top bang. Thus we get Sheen giggling like a helium-huffing asylum patient upon meeting Renesemee, as well as lines of dialogue so dopey they appear to be written by love-struck zygotes. There’s even a pair of 1500 year old pissed off Eurotrash Draculas who desperately want to take down the Volturi. Every time they speak, it’s like listening to a broadcast from a different planet. They just don’t seem to fit, and yet Breaking Dawn makes them poster boys for the upcoming fright fisticuffs. These guys don’t want to back down, even when the situation calls for same.
All of this adds up to a movie of limited pleasures and lengthy miseries…and when combined with Part 1, it’s an endurance test that few outside the faithful could even pass. In fact, the main problem with all the Twilight films is their complete and utter lack of real entertainment value. If you are a fan, seeing your favorite characters ‘come alive’ onscreen is more than enough. But for the uninitiated or the uncaring, such simplicity of purpose is pointless. We want to get involved, to identify with the participants and their particular problems…and no, the ability to sparkle like a diamond in the sun is not a huge concern/compliment. Maybe the eventual reboot will recognize the source’s limitations and up the action/genre ante. Until then, Breaking Dawn, Part 2 marks the end of this particularly pungent phenomenon. It’s now up to future generations to make sense of it all…and to them we say, good luck. You’ll need it.