The 9:00 a.m. matinee of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 was a nice start to my Sunday—but I didn’t realize until watching the movie a second time that the Criterion had started the movie half an hour before I got there. It’s a telling sign of the quality of the film.
The last installment of the Twilight series starts where the last film left off—with Bella Cullen (Kristen Stewart) waking up for the first time as a vampire. Bella’s adjustment to her new form turns out to be surprisingly easy, considering the years of hell we have been told every newborn vampire endures, and it’s not until half an hour into the movie that the problem driving the plot is actually introduced. The Volturi—the one-dimensionally sinister ruling family of the vampire world—are coming to kill Bella’s half-mortal child Renesmee, who they think is a forbidden “immortal child.” Bella and her husband Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) decide their best bet is to gather witnesses to prevent the Volturi from taking on any unnecessary violence against the family.
As stimulated as the Cullens seem, it was hard for me to care. Breaking Dawn, the book, really did not need to be split into two movies. We’re constantly reminded of it—in the drawn out flashbacks to previous films, the closing credits that acknowledge every character from the entire saga with a short film clip, and, most obviously, the painfully stretched out scenes. Almost every scene in the movie would be better off if it were one-third as long. The movie seems more like a deleted scenes reel than a feature-length film.
The second half of the book itself just isn’t that exciting: the plot builds steadily toward a scene that would be described as anticlimactic, if only the lead-up hadn’t already prepared us for this disappointment. Meyer never gives us a reason to believe that the family is actually in danger this time. In a bold move, the movie adds a “twist” in the final clash between Cullens and Vulturi (no spoilers here, see the movie yourself to find out) that fights against that dullness for a brief moment, letting viewers feel the fear and dread that make viewers appreciate the happier and sappier scenes so much more. The slight deviation from the book allows Breaking Dawn some semblance of catharsis at its conclusion, even though it doesn’t actually break Twilight’s golden rule, that nothing bad can ever happen to the good guys, ever.
Outside of this one exciting scene, there’s not that much in Breaking Dawn Part 2 to entertain. Though vastly improved from the first Twilight movie, Stewart’s portrayal of Bella again falls flat, her emotions toward the other characters muddled, confusing, and lacking the endearing doe-eyed quality that saved her in Part 1. Pattinson as Edward finally gets to smile, a sight to see. Aside from a few brief glimpses of acting ability, their performances disappoint—even the sex scene is boring.
The extra time created by splitting the book into two films could have been used for greater purposes, if producers had been willing to pursue bolder moves sacrificing loyalty to the book in exchange for quality of the movie. David Yates showed in the final Harry Potter movies that staying true to a book’s spirit requires changes in the course of adaptation.
The willingness to admit the outlandishness of the series made Breaking Dawn Part 1 the most entertaining of the film franchise. You wanted a mutant vampire baby—well, they certainly gave you one, in a graphic scene few could erase from their brains afterwards. Part 1 portrayed the story more clearly than any of the past movies and grappled with Twilight’s identity with great dexterity. In not taking the book so seriously, director Bill Condon finally seemed to give us a reason to take the movie seriously. As a disillusioned Twilight fan of yonder days, it gave me hope. But Part 2 settled back into the mild triteness of the first three movies of the saga, and with older Renesmee being much less interesting than mutant-fetus Renesmee, there’s not much of interest left.
While some fans will see anything with Robert Pattinson in it, the Twilight franchise has failed to include anything new that might attract newcomers to the series. The Harry Potter series, and more recently, Anna Karenina, managed to bring an audience of people who hadn’t read the books. The Twilight series has decidedly not.
Yet Breaking Dawn Part 2 has held the top box office slot for the two weeks since its release, riding on the coattails of the books. As much as there seems to be a universal hate for the franchise’s fandom, it remains true that before it became shameful to like Twilight, America fell in love with Edward Cullen just as Bella did. It’s too bad that the movies don’t do any justice to a book so hypnotic in its ability to capture readers.