Much faster than the Harry Potter series, the Twilight franchise is grinding to a close. Stephenie Meyer wrote just four books in her series, and her final tome, like the climactic Potter book, has been split into two movies—better to suck more blood from the box office. This weekend brings us The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part One. Or, to put it more simply, the Beginning of the End. But Stephenie Meyer is no J.K. Rowling, and the narrative in this penultimate movie is so diluted it’s anemic. More like Breaking Down than Breaking Dawn. (If you’re a Twilight fan, you may want to stop reading right now. You already know what happens, and you’re going to see this baby no matter what I, or anyone else, has to say. For the rest of you, who may simply be twi-curious, bear with me.)
In Breaking Dawn: Part 1, the tortured love affair is consummated. The ancient Byronic vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) finally weds Bella (Kristen Stewart), his 18-year old human sweetheart. This Twilight panders to the junior chick-flick fan base so abjectly it makes the last Sex and the City movie look like Mean Streets. That’s clear from the first few seconds of the film: upon receiving the wedding invitation, Edward’s romantic rival, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), draws a collective scream from the audience by ripping off his shirt in rage and flashing his now notorious abs. Edward and Bella have a picture-perfect wedding-in-white, a staged by the Cullen family outside their mountaintop home, then fly down to Rio for the picture-perfect honeymoon. Edward spirits his bride by speedboat to a beachfront villa off the Brazilian coast, where the newlyweds luxuriate in the simple pleasures of paradise: chess on the terrace, moonlit skinny dipping, and vampire-powered plunges down a giant waterfall. The wedding and the honeymoon both seem endless. The scenes are dragged out as sheer Harlequin fantasy, padded with a wall-to-wall soundtrack of piano shmaltz. I suppose there’s an ironic subtext. Who knows? Mix in the real-life romance of Pattinson and Stewart, who appear to be on the verge of engagement (just like their characters, who are forever on the verge of something), and it all gets very meta.
The honeymoon is cut short when Bella stars feeling, uh, unwell. OK, she’s pregnant, and not in a good way. Beyond that, I won’t to spoil the plot for those haven’t read the books. Let’s just say the sunshine-and-lollipops picture of marital bliss turns into something Polanski might have directed on bad acid, though I’d hesitate to dignify it with his name. The Hallmark romance flips into nightmarish consequence as Meyer’s bone-headed equation goes to work. She teaches young teenage girls that sex comes at a grim price, and leads to very bad things. First there will be unalloyed bliss; then there will be blood.
Believe it or not, I’ve have some affection for the Twilight movie franchise, even if it’s wearing thin with each installment. The characters are, for the most part, adorable, and the actors are such a perky, spirited bunch you want to cheer them on, like a high school football team. They seem to appreciate the campy moments while they’re stuck in sentimental detention. By now most of cast look like they’ve lost their love of the game, and would happily break into an SNL parody of their roles at any moment given half a chance.
There’s more poise behind the camera on this film than the others. It’s directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters). But as each Twilight movie burns through another director, they all become stupefied by the formula. Condon’s approach is strictly paint-by-numbers. He draws out the romantic payoff, letting us gorge on Pattinson and Stewart’s soft-core canoodling, marking time so idly we start to wonder if anything will ever happen. The narrative suffers from a real lack of momentum. Finally, after the interminable tease, the action ignites. There’s a big snarling bout of alpha-dog politics among the aboriginal werewolves, which I found hard to follow, then Condon pumps up the melodrama and slathers on the poster-paint layers of blood for the final ER-like scenes of Bella’s life-and-death struggle, goosing the sleepy score to a rousing rock’n’roll finale. From what I gather, it’s all much much tamer than the book; the movies can’t afford to get R-rated right out of their prime teen demographic.
Can’t wait to see the end of this. Part 2 is due next year.
Also reviewed this weekend: Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, starring George Clooney.
Follow Brian D. Johnson on Twitter: @briandjohnson