This review contains spoilers for the first four Twilight films, but does not spoil Breaking Dawn Part 2.
Let’s have a think about the last four years. The Twilight saga started out in 2008, as an indie curiosity directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Having become a box-office conquering juggernaut whose entries consistently rank amongst the most successful movies of the year, it all culminates in this much touted ‘epic conclusion that will live forever’.
Breaking Dawn Part 1 went most of the way through Stephenie Meyer’s huge novel, ending with Bella (Kristen Stewart) opening red eyes as a new vampire, as well as having recently become a new mum to Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) risibly named hybrid spawn, Renesmee. Even better, lovelorn Jacob (Taylor Lautner) ‘imprinted’ upon Renesmee, basically meaning that a werewolf fell in love with a baby. Let it never be said that ‘nothing happens’ in these movies.
Part 2 picks up with Bella enjoying familial bliss with Edward, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) and the rest of the Cullens. As the character has never been known for tactfulness towards her less supernatural loved ones, she must now set about explaining the sudden appearance of a rapidly-aging daughter to her long-suffering dad, (Billy Burke) while also coming to terms with the power she wields as a newborn vampire.
Elsewhere, Irina, (Maggie Grace) the heartbroken relative who appeared briefly to whinge at Edward and Bella’s wedding, wrongly assumes that Renesmee is a child who has been turned into a vampire. The creation of an immortal child is prohibited by the Volturi, the vampire royalty led by Aro, (Michael Sheen) who now have an excuse to destroy the Cullens and their allies, threatening the happily-ever-after for which Bella has been striving, all this time.
Having now watched all of the films, I can see the good points as well as the obviously bad, and sometimes I can appreciate both. For instance, the Cronenbergian body horror of the birth scene that closed the previous film was irresistibly bonkers, but the insipid anti-abortion prelude that made up most of Breaking Dawn Part 1 was downright awful. With the finish line in sight, this one is by far the most urgently forward-moving of all the films.
Even the most ardent anti-Twilight crusader has to admit that this one has itself a harder job than the metal-on-metal drudgery of Michael Bay’s Transformers, or the cookie-cutter cynicism of Taken 2. And while few could deny that the final adaptation was cleft in twain to get a bigger box office return out of the saga’s last gasp, few other franchise films give themselves as much to deal with as this, in sustaining the aftermath of the ridiculous events that came immediately before.
The critics who are usually game to bash these movies have attacked this finale with the same fervour as faculty members on the last day of school. Quite right too, because director Bill Condon isn’t content to just whack a DVD on, or play hangman with the audience. The conceit upon which the saga was launched, of a vampire maintaining a relationship with a human, who then becomes part of a love triangle with a werewolf, no longer exists- we’ve finally moved past that.
In a series about abstinence and deferred satisfaction, there’s palpable relief up on screen that the time to have some fun has finally arrived. You don’t have to snark to notice that Kristen Stewart has never been more animated than when she’s been re-animated, and her performance here is easily the best of the series. She wrestles the focus back, sidelining Pattinson and Lautner, and has a blast- it’s almost as if she slummed it in the last four films, just to get to this character development.
Special notice must go to Michael Sheen, who was the sole pleasure in the execrable New Moon, and once again chews the scenery to bits, and revels in getting away with it. His Aro is still far more campy than sinister. That might undercut the main threat, to some extent, but he’s also far more enjoyable than previous adversaries. It also helps that you might fall on his side when it comes to young Renesmee.
For much of the film, she’s a computer-generated character, with the face of 12-year-old Foy digitally projected onto actresses ranging between infancy and around 10. It looks utterly unholy, like her face is levitating somewhere off of where her head is supposed to be, and it’s particularly unnerving when she’s a baby. It’s not too hard to credit the idea that she’s an abomination, but then special effects have never been this series’ strong suit.
It wouldn’t be a Twilight film without some padding in the plot too, and this one reaches the two-hour mark by introducing no less than 18 new vampire characters, from all around the world. There’s a bit of time establishing their names and special abilities, as the Cullens try to gather witnesses to stave off the Volturi, but these newbies are only as distinctive as the Cullens themselves, ie. not very.
The most memorable of the minor characters are two Eastern European vampires who may or may not be Dracula and Renfield, even if they come across a little more like Ensign Chekov and Boris Johnson. It’s a Twilight film, so it’s funny like that. Hell, if the Academy Awards offered an Oscar for best/funniest reaction shots to decapitation, then Condon would be a lock, and I mean that in the best way possible.
In a series of five films by four directors, which still looks and feels uniform, the bar is set low for iconic and memorable moments, but Breaking Dawn Part 2 rises above it, just as fast as fan expectations will allow. In one ingenious deviation from the book, Condon invites everyone in for a surprisingly violent third act, entertaining and infuriating the audience in equal measure.
But on balance, the film is immeasurably improved by the lack of scenes featuring Bella and Edward alone, saying so little by doing even less. It’s not all action, but there’s a marked difference in momentum between its predecessor, and every other film in the series. Does that mean it was worth splitting Breaking Dawn into two films, a la Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows?
Having now seen Part Two, I’m surprised to say that it does. This one serves as both a palate cleanser, following the really objectionable and tedious shit that happens in the earlier parts of the book, and a sequel that is satisfying, both as a B-movie and as a finale. For many detractors, it will be too little, too late, but for us unconverted souls – the non-fans who’ve still soldiered through the Twilight saga to its bittersweet end – it’s likely to be the favourite of the series.