A Little Strange
When Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt in Breaking Dawn, Part 2. the only person who’s surprised is Charlie (Billy Burke). The rest of us—prepared by five previous Twilight movies—know all too well this moment is coming. To its minor credit, this movie, reportedly the final one in the series, acknowledges and even makes a little joke about our anticipation, by offering Charlie’s completely discomfited reaction.
So, while Charlie cringes and flinches and does his best not to see what he thinks he’s about to see—I don’t know, Something Gay—what he does witness is Jacob’s deeply disturbing werewolfian otherness. “You don’t live in the world you think you do,” Jacob warns, as he removes his shirt, shoes, jeans, and oh dear, his briefs. As Charlie stumbles backwards and raises his arm as if to shield his eyes, Jacob sums up, “This may seem a little strange.” And with that, the teenager whom Charlie thinks he’s known “all his life” reveals what Charlie hasn’t known at all, that Jacob is actually a “large dog.” Ha!
It’s one of those completely self-aware moments that Twilight has occasionally conjured. No matter how corny, awkward, and utterly badly rendered the movies have been—and they have been!—they have usually admitted same, and for that, you may have forgiven its other excesses. It’s a silly tweeny romance, it’s emotionally excessive and visually overblown according to the sensibility of its tweeny consumers, and yes everyone knows that and so it’s okay. That’s not to say that such excesses don’t mostly overwhelm the not-quite-witty self-awareness, illustrated again and again in this please-oh-please-last film. it is to say that someone, somewhere, gets that you—tweeny or not—know what’s going on here, and that even if you pay up and so contribute to the massive consumption machine, you know that’s what you’re doing and you appreciate being appreciated for that.
All that said, once the Something Gay joke is done, Breaking Dawn, Part 2 is plunged pretty much into its reason-for-being, which is to conclude the series by resolving unresolved romances and conflicts. Given that Twilight is pretty much one big hot mess of irresolution, per its tweeny hormonal origins, this is bound to be less than satisfying, for various reasons, for pretty much everyone. And so, the too-many Cullens are briefly identified once again by their gifts and couplings (this was, of course, determined long before “gifts” was itself transformed into the so-overweighted term used by Mitt Romney), Charlie is granted a happy ending with a girlfriend, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have sex and then talk about how awesome their sex is, and their little girl Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) is defined and pursued and feared and adored. And oh yes, the Volturi make yet another dreaded appearance.
This makes for a very plotty plot, delivered to readers of Stephenie Meyers’ too-many books who may or may not have investments in any of the individual characters who are not named Bella, Edward or Jacob. They must exist, those fans who are driven to the films to see what becomes of Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), here again framed as the vampire who can’t take his eyes off Alice (Ashley Greene), but here again, they will have to make due with the usual minimal upshot, the reminder that Jasper loves Alice. Perhaps too, the readers dying to witness what happens to the werewolf Sam (Chaske Spencer) will feel a glimmer of consummation when he throws down with the bad vampires in order to protect Jacob’s good vampire friends.
This throw-down—with Sam or not—is the climax here. And while it’s predictably protracted and tedious and very, very badly CGI-ed (per the franchise’s reputation), it does occasion a gathering of lots of vampires, much-discussed Friends of the Cullens who hail from the Amazon or Ireland or Russia of Brazil (each food-groupish identity designated as such: the women from the Amazon are Amazons, the Indians from Brazil wear loincloths even in the icy tundra, the Russians seek heavily accented vengeance).
The gathering process has Bella driving snowy roads in her Volvo in order to show assorted Friends of the Cullens that Renesmee is a terrific (if rather creepy) kid with warm hands and not a crime, as she’s been mis-termed. Once all are gathered in Forks and the Volturi arrive, you may feel briefly buoyed by the fabulous stylings of Aro (Michael Sheen), whose perversity is perhaps perfectly realized when he yelps with delight on first espying the terrific kid he means to destroy. Jane (Dakota Fanning) fares less well, reduced again (!) to widening her eyes and making everyone uncomfortable. She goes so far as to name her function in her one word of dialogue, “Pain,” when she targets Edward in particular; he duly drops to his knees to indicate her effectiveness, even from across a snowy expanse.
Poor, dear Jane pretty much embodies what’s wrong with the Twilight franchise, its cynicism and arrogance, its occasional self-awareness and its pervasive squandered potential. That is, if you’re going to cast Dakota Fanning, why wouldn’t you make Jane wondrous and weird, at least, as Jacob puts it “a little strange”? The problem with the Twilights is that they never indulge in their profound strangeness, but instead do their best to constrain it, lining up the Cullens one by one or pair by pair for strained, stupid reaction shots that effect at least as much “pain” as Jane might have desired, or slamming the CGI-ed wolves into trees or showing again and again close-ups of Bella’s beautiful eyes, whether golden or contact-lensed.
It’s nice for Bella, you might suppose, that she’s found herself, in her vampire husband and in her vampireness (“I was born to be a vampire,” she sums up unnecessarily). Now she can run fast and leap high and beat up rocks and hunt cougars (instead of the cute snuffly deer the cougar hunts, and instead of the hapless rock climber Edward begs her not to suck). It’s probably less nice for Renesmee that she’s fated to be Jacob’s girlfriend, because this lands her in a pedophilic relationship with her mom’s almost-always-already ex. Maybe when he takes his shirt off, that part won’t matter so much. Then again, maybe it will matter more. Eww.