Vampires have laws?
—Bella (Kristen Stewart)
When Bella (Kristen Stewart) wakes for the first time in The Twilight Saga: New Moon—the first of many times—she’s horrified by the nightmare she’s just had. That is, as she looks out on a flowery field, she sees her future, as Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) beloved and as an old woman. It’s a little creepy that the latter part of the fantasy has her looking at, looking like, and then somehow also being her grandmother, but aside from this tic, the horror is that she is aging. After all, she remembers as she jolts awake, it’s her 18th birthday already.
This tragedy is compounded when her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) arrives in her bedroom with gifts—a camera and photo album so she can keep memories, you know, like aging people do. Worse, he jokes that he’s spotted a gray hair amid her glorious thick brown tresses. Well, it’s just too much. Ever prone to take herself too seriously, she rushes to the mirror to assure herself she’s not, in fact, old.
It’s no surprise that she turns this bit of angst into her recurring desire, that Edward turn her, i.e., have vampirish sex with her. Neither is it surprising that when Bella broaches the topic with him that he refuses (he’s all about the abstinence, about keeping his human girl virginal and ignorant of the unending agony of carnal knowledge, or, in his words, in possession of her immortal soul) or even that he reminds her that her worry is technically silly: he is, after all, 109 years old, a very old, knowledgeable, and disturbing predator, in literal and metaphorical senses. All the gold-glittery and slow-motiony apotheosizing in the world won’t erase that fundamental imbalance in their relationship. (See also: The Time-Traveler’s Wife.)
Not that it matters. As everyone knows by now, Bella and Edward are all about delaying gratification. They pant and touch foreheads and sometimes kiss. But the extension of the relationship beyond a single film means they need a few more problems. Just so, Edward comes to an apparently sudden realization that Bella “just doesn’t belong in my world.” He and his family (who make a cursory group appearance, as if to ensure everyone still gets paid) are leaving her, he says. He doesn’t want her, and in addition, he asserts while she loses her breath at the mere thought of his absence, “You’re not good for me.” Given that their dire mutual love defines them, his declaration is plainly nonsense. But she believes it, he leaves, and the movie spirals into its very, very long second act.
Edward is not precisely “gone,” of course. Instead, he appears, rather frequently, in fact, as a ghosty image warning Bella not to be “reckless,” which she is anyway, again and again, hoping just to glimpse that ghosty admonisher. After long months of moping (marked by a seasonal change glimpsed through Bella’s bedroom window), Bella finally decides to visit with Jacob (Taylor Lautner). When he removes his shirt, Bella—like everyone else in the audience—gasps. He’s been working out since the last movie. He’s been working out a lot. “You’re sort of beautiful!” she gulps. Maybe that wifty bloodsucker isn’t Bella’s only option.
There’s a complication, of course. Even as Bella presses up against Jake’s adamantine abs, he reveals that he’s a werewolf. More precisely, he’s a Quileute tribe werewolf, which means he hangs out with other hardbodies who throw each other off cliffs and maul each other’s wolf-forms for fun (sadly, said forms are rendered in distractingly unconvincing digital imagery). Like Edward’s family, Jake’s lupine brotherhood is judgmental and exclusive. Unlike the pasty, well-heeled vampires, though, the werewolf boys are explicitly working class, brown-skinned, and homosocial, with a cultish devotion to group activities and corporeal excellence. (As if to underline the raced dimension of the werewolf-bloodsucker difference, the token black vampire, Laurent [Edi Gathegi], hangs with wicked Victoria [Rachelle Lefevre], and makes it his business to threaten Bella.)
As she ponders her future, Bella is less aware than you are that she has very similar effects on the monster boy rivals for her affection (glowing eyes, rising tempers, pronounced teeth, ungodly strength, usually demonstrated on others of their ilk or furniture). The crucial similarity between the wolves and the vampires—the one that apparently makes them so attractive to Bella—is their capacity to hurt the human girls they love. Edward’s capacity is what drives him away, or so he says. Jacob’s is made visible when Bella sees the brutally scarred face of one werewolf’s girlfriend (“Sam lost it for a second, Emily was too close, he’ll never be able to take that back”). True to form, Bella is less worried about this than Jacob, insisting that she trusts him to behave. After all, she’s been considering being damned to hell—as Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) has explained vampirism—as an acceptable cost of romance.
And yet… all this drama leads exactly nowhere. You don’t need to have read Stephenie Meyers’ books to know that Bella actually has no option, that Edward—sensitive, neurasthenic, and determined not to not have sex with her—is “always the one.” What’s not so clear is why she’s “the one.” New Moon broaches this question in a big-bashy finale that’s both ludicrous and boring. During a meeting of the Volturi vampire coven, Aro (Michael Sheen), Edward and Bella learn they may have to be killed for breaking vampire laws (specifically, Edward has exposed his vampireness to a human). Before that, though, the Volturi take a collective deep breath on discovering Bella’s special gift, namely, that cocky vampire mind readers can’t read her mind. It’s unclear whether her opacity indicates that she is really special in some way or really has as little on her mind as she appears to have. (The movie’s feeble dialogue and hacksaw editing only obscure finer points of character.)
The primary disappointment here is the scant use of Jane (Dakota Fanning, whose much-advertised addition to the cast amounts to mere minutes on screen). Famous among the Volturi for her extra-remarkable power to make a victim believe she is feeling pain—a power enacted by looking very intently at said victim—Jane is set up to be something of a problem for Bella. Maybe. To find out precisely what that problem is, the extent of Bella’s specialness, and how the introduction of genuinely capable actors like Fanning and Sheen will change the franchise’s energy or focus, you apparently need to see the next installment. It’s one more non-surprise in a storyline premised on postponement.