Ah, THE TWILIGHT SAGA. Never before has a film franchise experienced such a wide chasm between its fans and non-fans. It seems that many people, if they are not fans of the series, go out of their way to scream for its head. There are the people who take to TWILIGHT as their own personal STAR WARS (calm down, nerds), adorning every facet of their lives with its memorabilia. And to those who don’t care for the series, they don’t just seem to dislike it. They seem to actively want to hunt everyone involved down and burn them alive. They go out of their way to publicly prove just how anti-TWILIGHT they are.
Everyone just needs to calm the hell down.
We’ve now come to the final chapter in THE TWILIGHT SAGA. If you are unfamiliar with any of the other entries in the series, especially BREAKING DAWN PART 1, you are going to be completely lost. Because while the series began as an adolescent fantasy melodrama about two star-crossed lovers, things are much crazier by the close.
BREAKING DAWN PART 2 starts, down to the second, where PART 1 left off. Bella (Kristen Stewart, in case you’ve been living under a rock) has awoken as a vampire. Right away she sees things differently and the film does a decent job of showing how different supernatural perceptions are to mortal ones. Whether running or standing still, she can see details down to a single blade of grass.
The only thing exciting Bella more than her new immortal status is her newborn daughter. Her husband Edward (Robert Pattinson, how comfy is that rock anyway?) brings her a child who has aged months in mere days. The daughter Renesme is a very gifted child. In addition to being a human/vampire hybrid which has never been heard of before, she also has the ability to show others her thoughts and memories.
Complications arise as it turns out Jacob (Taylor Lautner, seriously do you get Wi-fi under that rock?) has been imprinted on Renesme. At first, Bella is furious which amuses Edward to no end. Once Jacob explains that there is no romantic attachment yet (because, ew), that it is merely an uncontrollable need to protect her, she chills out a little over time.
As Renesme continues to grow, the Volturi learn of her existence. Believing that Renesme is a mortal child that has been turned, a big no-no in vampire circles, they make their way to Forks to confront the Cullens and the wolfpack. Anticipating their arrival, the Cullens call on every friend that they have to serve as witnesses before the Volturi arrive (that they are able to travel the world before the Volturi bother to leave Italy is one of those plot holes for which this series has become known). They don’t anticipate a fight, but they are ready for one.
My exposure to TWILIGHT came after the original came out. I did not see it in the theatre, but I bought the novel for one simple reason. I was going into teaching and I didn’t want to be one of those teachers who didn’t know or care what their class was interested in. Hence, I read the TWILIGHT books, a VAMPIRE DIARIES, THE 39 CLUES, the INKHEART series, CITY OF AMBER, heck I even perused a couple of DIARY OF A WIMPY KIDs. They helped me relate to the class as I was planning my lessons.
It didn’t take me long to see what Stephanie Meyer was going for in the book. I rolled my eyes and shook my head. The book wasn’t for me, but it was such a blatant Rorschach test for adolescent girls that I was amazed that no one had bothered to write it down before. She took horror fantasy elements, just as Anne Rice did before her and moved it to a young adult audience. Moreover, she gave girls a clumsy, naive, uncertain girl to relate to and a mopey, shy, cultured, handsome boy to fantasize about, one who pushes the girl away because he just might not be able to control himself. Then in the sequels, she presented a rival who was muscular, humorous, athletic and angry yet completely devoted to the girl, even when she doesn’t reciprocate his affections. It’s as if there was a psychological profile where Stephanie Meyer was matching up every part of a typical teen girl’s psyche in a column that either read “Edward” or “Jacob.” I’m not saying that the gender roles presented in the TWILIGHT series are healthy. They aren’t, not at all, and it’s the most troubling thing about the series. But they are powerful and influential enough so that when people ask how TWILIGHT could be such a huge success, I ask “How could it not?”
And here is where we get to the heart of the matter, the one people can’t seem to let go. Am I a die-hard fan of this series? No, but there’s a good reason for that and I can’t state it clearly enough. These movies weren’t made for me. Chances are they weren’t made for you either. I am not now, nor have I ever been the target demographic for this franchise. This was made for girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen, the age when they start noticing the opposite sex but still have that love of fantasy that kept them drawing unicorns in their notebooks.
Many people, males mostly, seem threatened by this and I urge you all to let it go. I’m not saying you have to like it. You can hate the series for its own faults. But when you stomp your feet and shout out to the world how this is the one of the worst things ever, you kind of make a spectacle of yourself. This is the hatred that goes beyond criticism and exists in those who somehow seem threatened by THE TWILIGHT SAGA. Adolescent boys have half a dozen new fantasy franchises geared towards them every year. Adolescent women had virtually none, making do wth romantic comedies or films about traveling pants. This is their thing and that’s okay.
And to those of you who think that the series has tarnished vampires forever, I say look at your history. True, the TWILIGHT vampires, particularly the Cullens, can be pretty darn wimpy (a perception BREAKING DAWN PART 2 tries to remedy). But vampires have existed in folklore for hundreds of years. They have survived superstition, crusades, censorship and even Joel Schumacher. They won’t be destroyed by some Mormon with a word processor.
For myself, I judge all films on two basic tenets.
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes, despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The TWILIGHT series are romantic melodramas with fantasy elements, aimed at young, impressionable, adolescent girls. They meet their goals adequately. It’s far from classic. There are numerous plot holes in the films. The dialogue can get hokey enough that it can make even decent actors seem like hams at times (also a problem in some of our most iconic sci-fi and fantasy franchises). Nevertheless, they hit all the key marks and you can’t say that this material has been presented like this before. On the second point, the films are entertaining enough. Each one tends to drag a bit, but nothing that would make me regret watching them. So, here is my radical statement about the TWILIGHT films – While I don’t love them, I don’t loathe them either and somehow this makes some of you think differently of me. Strange, isn’t it?
It’s strange that this half-hearted defense is saved for a review of the last film. Because as I get ready to critique BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (Finally!), I must note that it is easily the most flawed and uneven film in the series. As I mentioned earlier, this is very different from earlier films in the series. The BREAKING DAWN novel was different too, different enough to make it completely understandable that Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, DREAMGIRLS) would want to tackle the material.
Much of the early parts of the film are spent with Bella assimilating to life as a vampire and dealing with the effect this has on her relationship with the Cullens, Jacob and her father Charlie. This leads to some awkward moments which felt forced this time around. It also leads to the most overt humor in the series. The TWILIGHT movies needed some humor, it’s true. Condon seems to acknowledge how silly some of the material is without slipping into parody. This should be refreshing, but it winds up being inconsistent not only with the rest of the film, but with the rest of the series as well.
Towards the end, the film makes the remarkable decision to make a radical departure from the novel, only to wind up being faithful to the narrative. There’s no way to say exactly how without giving the climax away. Suffice to say that you’ll know it when you see it. It rubbed me raw when it happened and I’m unsure about if I would feel less or more angered by it if I ever wind up seeing BREAKING DAWN PART 2 again.
What the film does right is it gives us a pretty original storyline. The dynamic this time out is completely different and the whole thing has an epic quality, even when it’s just people in a room talking. The Cullens assemble dozens of players. Their parts aren’t large, but I felt more in tune with their characters than Austin did (And while we’re at it, Austin – Watch your mouth, young man. You were not raised in a barn.).
There is a huge battle at the end, not present in the novel. The biggest surprise isn’t even the presence of the sequence itself, but how incredibly gory it is. True, it’s CGI gore, so we’re not talking CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST here. However, I guarantee it’s more graphic violence than you’d ever expect to see in a PG-13 film, especially a major tentpole aimed at young women.
Speaking of which, the biggest problem in the series thus far has been the fact that Bella seemed so passive. Not anymore. Bella now stands on her own two feet and the film goes out of its way to explain that she is the strongest among them (though I’m guessing the guy who can shoot fireballs out of his fingers might have something to say about that). Gone is the girl who ran away or waited to be rescued. In this film, Bella actually takes initiative to fight back against her enemies and protect those she loves. A refreshing change, a little late maybe, but still welcome.
And so we say goodbye to Bella, Edward, Jacob and all the other people you either loved or hated. Things end bigger but not necessarily better. It’s hard to know how this will stack up when compared to other entries. It may not be a great blockbuster, but it sure is a strange one. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for graphic CGI violence, sexual situations and partial nudity (I may have seen a Bella boob, a “Boola” if you will. But don’t quote me on that)
– Running Time: 1hr 55mins.