The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2
I said in my review of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1 that I would defend the entire film series as being not as bad as everyone thinks they are. And believe me, I have heard some very bad things about them. Well, TMBF always (has a tendency to, on occasion, be known to) keeps his promises, so here it is: seriously, they're not all that bad. They're not all that good either, but they're a lot better than the books. Now, granted, I have not actually read Stephenie Meyer's books, but I read plenty of online commentary on them - which also means I had the entire storyline spoiled for me - long before I started watching the movies. And on my objectivity as an amateur film critic, I will attest that the Twilight movies - the movies, not the books - have been muchly unfairly maligned.
And it's certainly easier to attest as such when the last movie happens to be as not bad as it is.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has become what she has always wanted to be - a vampire. She is also mother to the newborn Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), her child with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and a vampire/human hybrid who matures at an accelerated rate. And Renesmee has a guardian in Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has "imprinted" on the child and is bound to her for life. Even as Bella adjusts to her new existence - learning the ropes of being a vampire, raising her daughter, easing the worries of her long-suffering father Charlie (Billy Burke) - trouble brews. The Volturi, led by Aro (Michael Sheen), believe that Renesmee's existence is a violation of vampire law, and are coming to Forks to exact deadly retribution. The Cullens seek help from other vampire covens from around the world, but even though their band is joined by the Quileute werewolves, the Volturi will not be deterred - threatening a bloody battle that many may not survive.
The sole and only reason I am giving this movie a 3-½-star rating is that climactic battle scene. Wouldn't you know, turns out Twilight is at its best when it gives us proper action scenes that acknowledge the awesomeness of vampires vs. werewolves vs. vampires. (I say "acknowledge", because the rest of the time, they sparkle.) That is one big, long and epic battle scene, bigger and longer and epic-er than the last time the Cullens and the Quileutes joined forces against Victoria's army of newborns. That is also a battle scene that does not happen in the original book - and the fact that the plot built up to it only to chicken out at the last minute is one of the biggest complaints against the book. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg find a way to show us the battle and yet stay true to Meyer's ending. Some may think it a cheat, but I thought it was pretty clever and cool.
Which is exactly what Condon and Rosenberg should have done in adapting the book; and which is exactly what Rosenberg has been doing for five movies now. And these five movies, while never really very good, have been leaps and bounds better than their source material. There's none of Meyer's widely reviled prose; Bella Swan is much more tolerable, even sympathetic, when she's played by a human actor than when she's a first-person narrative stream of incessant self-pity and self-absorption. Kristen Stewart is even quite good in this, displaying more life and energy in her performance than ever before; perhaps Bella is right about the fact that she was born to be a vampire. As a matter of fact, I've never had any problems with Stewart's acting in these movies, and I think there's something sexist and ugly in all the hate she's been getting. Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner sure don't get as much vitriol (and I personally think Lautner is the weakest actor among the three).
And I am certain that Rosenberg and every director on the franchise is fully aware of all the WTFery in Meyer's storyline, and has been doing their best to mitigate it. As much as Meyer's Bella is a spineless, feckless wet rag of a heroine, movie-Bella actually has moments of strength and courage. In Breaking Dawn part 1, Bella insists on keeping the baby that is slowly and gruesomely killing her - and Americans in particular went nuts arguing this is a metaphor for the pro-life side of the abortion debate, because America goes insane over the abortion issue like few other countries do. But Stewart and Rosenberg made it the choice of a young girl that is understandable and consistent with her character, even emphasising her strength of will in holding to that choice despite overwhelming objection from Edward and the Cullens. And then there's the part when Jacob imprinted on the newborn Renesmee - an astonishingly tone-deaf plot development that is unavoidably paedophiliac. But Condon stages the scene as a moment of divine grace, in which Jacob falls to his knees, humbled by the higher power that has transformed his murderous hate into love.
Okay, there's only so much a good screenwriter and director can mitigate that, since they're still hobbled by the need to stay faithful to the books. (If they weren't, I'm sure they'd cut out the whole grown-man-falls-in-love-with-a-baby-and-waits-till-she-conveniently-grows-to-adulthood-super-fast-to-marry-her thing.) In fact, their efforts to make palatable this, the single most insanely stupid thing Meyer has ever written, don't entirely succeed this time. Bella rages at Jacob once she learns of the imprinting, but the scene is played for laughs - and includes the line "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?!" that I don't know whether to laugh at or not. It's also very cagy about showing the relationship between Jacob and Renesmee - which, on one hand, is a relief - but on the other, it also means this hybrid human-vampire child, on which the entire plot revolves, is never more than a blank. She has no personality whatsoever; we're only told that everyone loves her, but we're never given any reason why we should.
It doesn't help that when she's a baby, she's this hideous inhuman CGI creation that is the movie's single biggest misstep. Was it too hard to find a real baby?? Whose idea was it to overlay an unnaturally wide-eyed, creepily smiling, computer-generated thing onto a goddamn baby?? Yes, there are things about this movie that that climactic fight scene can't make up for. The small army of sympathetic vampires that join the Cullens include several characters that look interesting, but don't get nearly enough screentime. (Maybe if Rosenberg had cut out that useless fan-pandering scene of Bella and Edward exploring their oh-so-pretty new house...) For all that Stewart tries to play Bella as a stronger-willed person this time round, she still isn't; when Edward credits her for bringing their small army together, it rings hollow. And truth be told, as cool as that fight scene is - made even cooler with the deaths of many long-time characters, and some of those deaths are pretty damn satisfying - there's a distinct sense that it was filmed by a director with little experience making action films.
Still, I pronounce Breaking Dawn part 2 an actually not-bad movie, and I feel no shame in doing so. I still feel the best of the series is Eclipse (no uncanny-valley-plunging CGI baby there, for one thing), but this one's a close second. And I feel no shame in saying the whole series is far from the trainwreck the books are. The first two are definitely the weakest, but the rest does offer some satisfaction for fans of supernatural thrillers, especially of the vampires 'n werewolves variety. (Maybe if you liked the Underworld franchise, but you wanted more Selene/Michael and Sonja/Lucian romance.) In any case, the saga is over; it ends with a credit sequence showing every actor who played every character throughout all five movies, which is pretty cool and a nice ode to fans. I'm not one, and you may never be one either - but give it a try, and you may just find yourself not hating them any more.
NEXT REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Expectations: can't miss a movie like this when it makes it to our screens