Though the Twilight series, which culminates in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the fifth and final segment in the franchise, has been a major boon to the film industry and to all involved onscreen, including three directors, stars Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, and Kristen Stewart, original author Stephenie Meyer and a host of character actors and technicians, its blueprints come straight from television.
For instance, savvy viewers, as well as readers, will note that the central triangle of young/undead sexual awakening comes straight out of the Ben/Felicity/Noel love triangle in J.J. Abrams’ seminal WB series Felicity. This is not a glib statement but an entomological one – Meyer and the films’ adaptor, Melissa Rosenberg, knowingly tapped into what the teen market wants.
And what the teen market got is a shoddily-developed, semi-cloaked metaphor for sex and loss of innocence. Over the course of the first four Twilight movies, Bella, new to the Pacific Northwest town of Forks, Wash., fell in love with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), learned that he and his family were vampires and belonged to and did battle with an extended historical network of good and bad guys, warded off the laughably unisexual advances of schoolmate Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner, always the weakest link here), himself able to shift into a werewolf at will, and married Edward. Only after losing her virginity as a bride did Bella become pregnant, and, in violently, painfully, giving birth to a half mortal daughter, Renesmée, then faced certain death.
Let’s think about this for a minute, eh? That is a rough message to send to impressionable audiences about the danger of falling for men and for giving it up to them. Viewers of another vampire saga, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Joss Whedon’s WB neighbor to Felicity – learned this lesson early on; as Breaking, Part 2 shows, so did Rosenberg. As did Whedon, Rosenberg finally decides to lighten up the material.
Director Bill Condon and Rosenberg have split Breaking, Meyer’s fourth Twilight book, into two parts, a continuing trend that has nothing to do with narrative and everything to do with revenue. All of the final book could have squeezed into one movie, and this second half contains plenty of filler. Breaking, Part 2 opens just as Bella has been turned into a vampire herself. The only way to keep her from dying is to make her undead. After a few early sequences in which Bella adapts to bloodsucker life, learning to control cravings and walk normally once more, Rosenberg throws out one of two other important plot points.
The first is a geometry lesson. That triangle between Bella, Jacob and Edward no longer exists, but has become an odd kind of quadrangle, or trapezoid; Jacob has “imprinted” on the rapidly growing Renesmée, causing them to be fated together as a couple once she reaches a suitable age. Even in a world of vampires and werewolves, this move was beyond ludicrous. But this scene, as directed by Condon, has a twinge of humor to it, a sign that what in early films was just derisively laughable (a glowing Edward making longing glances at Bella in class, for example), is not intentional. Breaking, Part 2 asking audiences to laugh with it, not at it.
Well, usually. Some scenes still bear the stench of unintended camp and convolution. Bella, it turns out, has to make some important decisions after the film’s second big piece of information. The Volturi, a sort of vampiric coven and tribunal for the world, has learned of the presence of Renesmée, and mistakenly believes her to be immortal. Immortal children, feared to be uncontrollable and therefore have the potential to reveal to the world the presence of vampires, are illegal, so Volturi leader Aro (Michael Sheen, having an absolute blast) leads his entourage across the globe for a (seemingly easily avoidable) final battle.
Here again, Breaking, Part 2 cannot help but evoke Buffy, as Bella, Edward and his family join forces with Jacob, his shifter pals and a host of other undead characters to prepare for battle, just the way Buffy and her mini-slayers trained and waited to fight the First Evil. Yes, a long portion of the movie is uneventful and redundant. And this gives the audience time to reflect on the movie’s obvious flaws, including the still-limited skills of its three stars (mercifully, Lautner is unseen through much of the movie, as Jacob takes CGI form) and the fact that the entire plot hinges on a quick clarification. Stewart has come a long way as a screen presence, and while she still gives less than she should in some of her scenes, she demonstrates a welcome sense of fortitude in other ones, including an impressive self-awareness in one scene opposite Wendell Pierce. This is truly a “Bella” movie, and Pattinson, who came closest to expressing the films’ innate B-movie sensibilities in Edward’s day-glo skin, has relatively little to do, and what he does often feels phoned in.
Breaking, Part 2 will never be great cinema, but it works as a valentine to its legion of fans. And it is important to point out that beyond the film’s insipid ongoing story, the five films boast great work from Sheen, Billy Burke (as Bella’s father), Ashley Greene as Edward’s adoptive sister Alice, and Guillermo Navarro’s gorgeous Pacific Northwest cinematography has always been unimpeachable. It will never be for everybody, but this last installment should satisfy those who had a stake in the series.