Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Twilight Saga: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (2012)

My old friend Wendigo gave up on the vampire movie reviewing project some time ago, as longtime readers must have noticed, but it's his copy of the final film of the Twilight series that I watched last night. His enthusiasms have changed -- he's more a superhero guy right now -- but he's also a completist, so he had to have this last disc. I decided I might as well see it through as well. As a reminder, I agree with Wendigo's basic position that, whatever you think of the books as literature or the films as films, there's nothing wrong with the basic Twilight concept of benign vampires falling in love with mortal teenagers. Folklore is always evolving and pop culture's embrace of the noble vampire is just part of that evolution -- not necessarily progress, but change. But having said that, I found that Breaking Dawn Part 2, Bill Condon's conclusion of the series felt even less like a vampire film than all the others. As Wendigo may appreciate, it seemed more like a superhero movie, spending much of its time introducing new characters, some of whom have superpowers to show off. The bad thing about it all is that Part 2 is in such a hurry that it never really lets any of these new characters justify the buildup they get along the way. You get the sense that we got the buildup scenes because the object was to film every part of the book (or what was left of it after Part 1) that could be rendered with special effects on film. Little else seemed to matter.

Bella Cullen and Friends

In its determination to let nearly every available character take another bow, and in its cringeworthy banter, Part 2 seems like its own fanfiction. The writing is on that level ("You nicknamed my baby after the Loch Ness Monster !?!") It's more purely fantastical in its emphasis on gathering vampires from around the world -- it's still introducing new characters almost to the very end -- and its resolution of the Cullen clan's feud with the Volturii than any previous film. Whatever was attractive in the series's balancing act between Bella's world and Edward's is gone once Bella's marriage to Edward is truly consummated by her becoming a vampire. Could Part 2's power fantasy of Bella as more powerful than everyone else -- she can cast force fields and is really, really strong -- really have come from the same writer, or appealed to the same audience? In effect, the Cullens are stand-ins for the real world, for us, in their wishfully passive resistance to the mean old Volturii. These antagonists let the books and movies eat their cake and have it too, giving us the sort of prancing, pompous personalities most people identify with classic movie vampires. You can tell they're the bad guys because they parade about in capes and robes, while the good vampires are more casual or look more cool. Never mind whether vampires belong in Bella's mortal world; the Volturii don't belong in the same world as Bella's vampires and werewolves. They may be the single silliest element in the whole series, and that becomes a problem when we're expected to take them seriously as a threat to everyone we presumably care for. Whenever Michael Sheen as the head Volturii opens his mouth, you wonder whether to laugh or pity the man.

Despite that, even at its worst Part 2 is a better wrap-up to an overextended movie series than the final Harry Potter films. Despite everything, Condon manages to nurse some genuine tension out of the long confrontation in the snow between the Volturii and the Cullens et al. And when the negotiations appear to collapse, the fighting is at least more interesting to watch than people waving wands at one another. Part 2 also deserves credit for the single funniest scene (intentional category) of the entire series, the moment when guileless Jacob Black tries to introduce Bella's dad to her new reality by changing into a wolf before his eyes -- though not before stripping down in a manner that was probably more alarming to the old man than the eventual transformation. Taylor Lautner is one of cinema's good sports, exposing himself to the contempt of all the cool moviegoers yet making the most here out of a character for whom supernatural wonders are too often cause for embarrassment. As for his equally-despised co-star, Robert Pattinson is definitely more natural, comfortable, loose and likable here than he was in Cosmopolis. If anything, alas, Kristen Stewart has devolved during the series, but at least she conveys convincingly that something about Bella is dead. Conventional standards of acting never really mattered to these films, of course; the actors' overall lack of affect probably made them easier for their audiences to identify with. In the end, I can't be too hard on these movies because, as I've understood all along, they're not meant for me. They've never been very good movies, but they're not the crimes against culture that some seem to think they are. Leave them alone, I say, and in a few years it'll all be forgotten -- at least until a nostalgia wave hits sometime in the 2030s. I don't need to have vampire superpowers to see that coming.

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