Since the first time I saw the poster for the first Twilight movie way back in 2008, I thought this was going to be a soap opera featuring teen vampires and werewolves. We got the books and ran through them lickety split, just in time for the release of the final novel, “Breaking Dawn”. In the whole time, my opinion on these has not wavered, it is melodrama, disguised as horror, with pretty people play acting earth shattering love. None of what I have just written should be construed as a slap at the series. I just want to point out that judging it by any other standard seems to be a little silly. As a soap opera featuring teens playing monsters, it is the emotional ride that the readers and viewers want. If it is not what you wanted to see, then there was no point in watching it, and certainly very little point in bitching about it. The final novel in the series, which has been broken up into two parts for the films, is just over the top crazy with emotional payoffs for the faithful. There is a wedding, a wedding night, a monster baby and birth, followed by animal imprinting in a way that resolves the big emotional conflict in the whole series. Once that is done, there was not much more to say, but since your story needs to have some conflict, let’s toss in a vampire war and a bunch of random characters to try to make it interesting. Viola’, instant melodrama satisfaction. If this is up your alley, then “Breaking Dawn Part 2” is up your alley.
The story is told in a pretty efficient manner. I thought this movie was a lot more economical and time sensitive than Part 1 was. The characters never really develop after the first movie or book. They have the same emotions just jacked up on a bigger scale with each subsequent episode. Bella loves Edward, Jacob loves Bella, Edward loves Bella but is conflicted about doing so. When the magic non-immortal, but probably not dying anytime soon Renesme comes along, Jacob’s romantic story is finished. He has bonded with Edward and Bella through their child and it is now one big creepy weird family dynamic. These are really issues with the book and not with the movie. The film does a credible job of trying to make all this hyper ridiculous material believable on film. If you have been all in for four movies, there is not any reason to not tag along now and finish it off. The accelerated growth of the baby is accepted by everyone, including one of the least likely characters to let all this pass, Bella’s Dad Charlie. From the beginning of the series, Charlie has been the most realistic character and the one actor who gives a performance that is not simply mouthing words that sound portentous. Billy Burke grounded this character in the part of the stories that could actually be true, an estranged father and daughter coming to realize how much they really do need each other. After four films playing it straight, he has to make a switch and play the fantasy element along with everyone else. There is a scene where Jacob tries to make this easier for him to take, and it gets a big laugh, but for the first time Charlie is the butt of the joke. Still, Burke manages to pull it off with some dignity and the story plays out with minimal reference to the real world again.
Anyone who remembers the book probably knows what a big build up to nothing it was. It was all tease about a big vampire war but when the end came, not much happened. The biggest success of this film is to overcome that weakness of the novel. The big battle does basically take place, and although it too is a bit of a cheat, at least the audience gets some of the visual treats that a movie ought to be providing. Michael Sheen shows up again playing the unctuous leader of the vampire royalty the “Voltari”. He hams it up pretty well and compensates for the amateurish line readings by all the other “evil”vampires in the movie. After the horrible performance she turned in as Jane in the “Eclipse” episode, Dakota Fanning is reduced to basically no line readings in this movie, she utters one word twice, and is silent for the rest of the big confrontation. Still, when the character’s storyline is played out on screen, it got a big reaction from the fans in the audience. The fighting here is even less realistic or horrifying than the kung fu in “The Man with the Iron Fists”, but it is nicely choreographed with lots of flying, spinning and kicking. One of the reasons this never works as a horror film is that all the horror elements are CGI effects and basically makes most of the action look like a big cartoon. I enjoyed the cartoon nature of the action scenes, but it is hard to ever feel too invested in the outcome.
The Cullens are aided in fighting the false charges against them, and in the fight at the end, by a motley crew of other non-Voltari vampire types. We get a little back story on some of them, but others just show up, mutter a couple of lines and then fade into the background. Joe Anderson, an actor we have sort of taken a liking to, appears as a nomadic vampire that everyone seems to expect great things out of, but he vanishes from the movie without doing anything other than serving the fan desire to see as many of the characters from the book visualized as possible. There are a couple of Eastern European vampires, that actually act and sound a bit more like traditional vampires, who show up and enliven the time while we are waiting for the big battle. They leave the story unhappy but if there are ever more sequels, expect them to play a part. Bella’s big gift, that she actually has had since the start of the series, is that she is a shield to the powers of all the other characters. Of course this makes no sense since Jasper and Alice have been manipulating her feelings and seeing her future from the first story. That’s OK, because the vampires also only sparkle in the sun when the story calls for it. I don’t have any excuse for sloppy storytelling, except that it just doesn’t matter in a story like this. These movies are teenage angst, lived out like a big role playing game. There are some tuneful songs in the background and some characters that you might like if you buy into any of it, or you will hate if you are a hater. I just can’t develop enough reason to hate this stuff and it gives so many other people pleasure, that I am happy to go along for the ride.
I’ve read all the books once, and seen each of the movies at least once. From that I can say that the film stays true to the book and manages to make at least one thing about the book better. The end of the film had a coda that was unnecessary, with the umpteenth pledge of undying love between Bella and Edward. Whatever it is that the “Twihards” are projecting on to these characters, continues to escape me. The love story of these two appears to have been replaced by the characters in a “Twilight” based fan fiction that has become extremely popular this last year. I look forward to seeing “Fifty Shades of Grey” and all it’s sado-masochistic sex being played out on the big screen in a hard “R” rated film. I think it would be most appropriate for Pattinson and Stewart to play the leads there as well. Maybe we will get some real characters having real sex and we can leave the mystical sparkling vampires to their own place in cinema history.