Saturday, December 1, 2012

Breaking Dawn Part 2: Twi-hard with a Whimper

Oh Breaking Dawn Part 2, how desperately I wanted to psychotically love you. I hoped you could be the Citizen Kane of second parts of fourth parts of vampire romance sahhhhgaaahhhs (pace Alisa). But, and it hurts me to admit this, especially considering New Moon exists, even thought I was totally into it and will buy the DVD the second it comes out, this is probably my least favorite of the Twilight Pentalogy. Mainly because, I think, the shortcomings that sparkly vampires and teen angst distracted me from in the earlier films are pretty much all I noticed this time. Since Alisa aptly covered the plot of the film, along with what makes this movie work in her review (which I agree with), allow me a little character-specific kvetching.

Part of me always felt Twilight lacked the courage of its convictions, particularly when it came to Bella. In a lot of ways, the series lives and dies (literally) with her character. She's our narrator, our human emissary into the vampire mythology Stephenie Meyer created, and, for a large percentage of the fan base, our avatar in multiple Edward make-out sessions. Almost in spite of herself (or her creator), Bella is refreshingly sex-positive in the novels. She initiates almost all physical contact with Edward, argues (convincingly and successfully) for the importance of physical intimacy in their relationship, and insists on experiencing sex before being turned into a vampire because she recognizes it is an essential aspect of the experience of being human. (Sort of like how Edward feels about going to college.) This sexual aggressiveness is matched by her character's insistence on pursuing a relationship with Edward despite the obvious risks and problems. She's annoying, but she's got a goal and she follows through on it.

At least all this is true before she becomes a vampire. In both the novel and the film, after Bella vamps out (with the notable exception of a couple of steamy chapters in the book and a satisfyingly sexy scene in the film, complete with vampgasm visual effects) she loses almost all of the self-assurance and agency that marked her actions, stupid though they usually were, in the previous books and films. The Bella of Breaking Dawn 2 is utterly consumed with her Maguffin, er, daughter Renesmee. You know: the kid with the Ted Nugent hair and American Girl (TM) face. The problem posed by Renesmee, a half-human, half-vampire hybrid, makes the plot go (very briefly, the vampire ruling clan of the Volturi think she's an illegal immortal child and set out to eliminate her and the Cullens), but it seems to make everyone else stand still, especially Bella. Rather than enhance her physicality, Bella's vampire superpower is remarkably passive--a "shielding" capability that involves her standing still and furrowing her brow a lot. I never thought I'd say this, but I sort of miss the Kristen Stewart who would fidget and squint and jut out her jaw a lot. At least she was doing something.

This tendency of the story to flirt with subversion and then send it home with a fake number is also evident in the film's "twist" that you've probably heard about. I won't reveal the Shyamalan moment here, but let me say I loved the twist so much that I ended up loving the movie less. That will make sense, should you ever see it. It's endemic of the film's desire to have its vein and eat it too.

However, there are two very good reasons to see Breaking Dawn Part 2, and they are (unsurprisingly) Michael Sheen as Aro, and (surprisingly) Robert Pattinson as the no-longer-long-suffering Edward. R-Patz seems to have caught the joke that Sheen was in on from the beginning: This is kind of a stupid premise for five movies, and it's taking itself super seriously, so let's camp it up, shall we? Sheen minces and smirks his way through a deliciously sadistic performance, highlighted by a shrill vibrato vamp laugh that must be heard to be believed. Pattinson, despite numerous extreme close-ups and a montage that only proves what I've long suspected--as he ages, his face is beginning to look like it took a trip down the Large Hadron Collider--is a pleasure to watch because he actually looks like he's having fun with this one. All the other characters don't have nearly enough to do. I enjoy Jacob's snark, and Alice's exasperation, and even Jasper's look of perpetual nausea. And only giving Billy Burke's Charlie approximately five minutes of total screen time is the real crime the Volturi should be investigating.

I think this film is the first (but probably not the last; looking at you Hobbit) of the season to suffer from too-many-sequels syndrome. I think a one-film Breaking Dawn could have combined all the Grand Guignol grossness of the first part with the nostalgia drenched wrap-up of the second. As is, it was a little too bloodless for my taste. (Sorry for all the puns--this is my last Twilight review, and I couldn't resist.)

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