Thursday, November 15, 2012
Review: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2"
The first half of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2" is much like the rest of the vampires-as-dreamboats franchise: tedious, sappy and filled with dialogue so gut-bustingly absurd that even George Lucas and James Cameron could be heard to mutter, "Maybe you should bring in another writer to fix this up."
But surprisingly, the fifth and last film builds to a finale that's filled with cool action scenes and meaningful emotional exchanges. It's a satisfying -- and fitting -- end to a storyline that's been epic in scope but often felt amateurish in execution.
The audience at the preview screening I attended screamed and clapped during the big battle on a frozen lake between the "bad vampires," aka the Volturi, and the good blood-suckers: Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), his newly-transformed wife Bella (Kristen Stewart) and their brood. As werewolves -- once Cullen foes, now allies -- snapped their jaws over Volturi faces and the Cullens and their crew beheaded their black-cloaked oppressors, the filmgoers cheered each gruesome decapitation.
(Well, gruesome-ish ... like the rest of the "Twilight" series, "Part 2" is kept at a reasonably safe PG-13 level of violence and sexuality, so as not to turn off their target demo or, more accurately, their parents.)
Michael Sheen as Aro, the Volturi chief, positively slithers with reptilian charm and danger. He's worried that Edward and Bella's daughter Renesmee is a violation of the vampire laws against turning children into nosferatu. She's actually something else entirely -- the product of the coupling of Edward and the as-yet human Bella. But Aro and his lieutenants are on a rampage, looking to behead now and ask questions never.
"Part I" tediously covered the subject of the duo's nuptials and impregnation, and at first "Part 2" feels like more of the same endless exposition. The narrative table is set, and we're just waiting for director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (based on Stephenie Meyer's books) to move all the pieces into place.
This involves recruiting vampire allies to stand against the Volturi, which means introducing a whole slew of new characters just as the franchise is approaching its 11th hour culmination. Some of them make an impression, like a pair of Amazon vampiresses who have the power to blind others, while others like the Irish contingent barely register a presence.
There's one new vampire named Alistair who's constantly turning up to spout dolorous ruminations on their impending fate, but as near as I can figure he never actually does anything.
Now that the love triangle of Edward, Bella and Jacob has been resolved -- with the lycanthropic Jacob (Taylor Lautner) coming up with the short straw -- the early going loses the sexual spark that had buoyed the series for much of the way. Of course, Jacob is now "imprinted" on Renesmee -- "It's a wolf thing," he helpfully explains -- which means he will one day become her lover, I think, which is transcendently creepy, but for now he plays the role of stoic protector.
Bella doesn't take it well when they first explain the whole imprinting thing to her, especially when Jacob refers to Renesmee as "Nessie," resulting in perhaps the most cringe-inducing line of all the "Twilight" flicks (and that's saying something): "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster!?!"
A few notes on powers. As a newly-turned vampire, Bella is the physically strongest of her kind, even out arm-wrestling Edward's lumbering adoptive brother Emmett (Kellan Lutz). She also learns that her special "gift" -- every vampire has one -- is to act as a "shield," i.e. she can negate the powers of other vampires. This will come in handy.
As for Renesmee. She grows at an astonishing rate, reaching the size and mental cognizance of a kindergartner after just a few weeks of life. She has her own power, too, which involves telepathic communicate by cupping someone's cheek. (It's unclear if an elbow would've sufficed, but this is supposed to be more endearing.) Mackenzie Foy plays Renesmee at every stage, with CGI effects placing her face and mannerisms on a babe and subsequent toddler.
There's a big twist at the end having to do with that massive battle, which will come as no surprise to fans of Meyer's books -- which I would conservatively estimate as 96% of my fellow audience members -- but certainly caught me off guard. It's kind of a cliched storytelling trick, but Condon and Rosenberg employ it skillfully.
Thus the "Twilight" saga is ended, with millions of adolescent feminine hearts touched and tweaked, and many a middle-aged mother's libido plucked by frequent shirtless scenes of an underage Taylor Lautner. I can't say as I've always enjoyed the long ride, but then it wasn't built with people like me in mind.
Still, I had a few fond memories along the way, and the last hour or so of "Part 2" lives up to the excitement so long promised by these movies. Condon & Co. wrap things up on a classy note, giving every actor with a significant role in the series a little face time during the credits -- even ones like Anna Kendrick who don't appear in this movie. Now that doesn't suck at all.
2.5 stars out of four