There’s a scene midway through the first in the two-part Twilight finale where our heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is forced to drink human blood in order to satiate the hybrid vampire child which with which she has become impregnated. When her new vampire husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) had vicious sex with her on the first night of their honeymoon – an act that their werewolf friend Jake (Taylor Lautner) specifically warned against because of the possibility that it could kill Bella outright – the couple had no idea it was even possible for a demon to take up residence in the girl’s womb, let alone that it would suck its mother’s life away unless she feeds it the warm, red liquid it really wants. The other characters sit with bated breath as Bella slowly slurps Type O out of a styrofoam cup.
This is the kind of absurdity that only those who are firmly embedded in the Twilight sensation can really appreciate. What was once a simple allegory about the virtue of chastity has transformed into an amorphous blob reaching in all directions at once. From the sentimental build-up to the wedding ceremony, to the third of the movie spent on an island in Rio de Janeiro where vampires never sparkle no matter how sunny it gets, to a strange final leg that pits the werewolves against the vampires in an obligatory and totally meaningful battle, the movie seems unsure of itself or what it wants to be.
But Breaking Dawn is at its best when it allows the natural tension to take over entirely. The local werewolf clan has become restless with the news of the hybrid child, their certainty of its villainous ways a signal that murder is the answer (when is it not, amirite?). They stalk the woods silently while Bella lies helpless inside the Cullen family’s window-laden modern house. There’s the sense that violence could be breaking in at any moment. When the pacing and waiting finally does come to a head, the action scene is a blur of flesh and fur, the camera jostling around in all directions. In most other films, this way of staging an action sequence might feel lazy – critics tend to lambast Michael Bay’s films, for instance, because their action sequences are sometimes incomprehensible swirls of colorful CGI clanging on the screen. But this is the movie that follows Twilight: Eclipse, and that film had a vampire/werewolf fight sequence that was staged so clumsily as to remove any interest the audience might have had. The vampire Jasper warns that newborn vampires are unpredictable and deadly, but the fight (in broad daylight, I might add) is a weak back-and-forth where none of the central characters receive so much as a bruise. In Breaking Dawn, these supernatural creatures fight like supernatural creatures: with intense speed, immense strength, and such ferocity. You don’t often get to use this word when talking about a Twilight movie, but it’s thrilling. And how about the awkward way that Bella and Edward move closer to one another when they arrive at their honeymoon hideout, the tentative steps of chaste newlyweds unsure how to proceed even though they (and the snickering audience) know what must happen next. That’s a level of genuine emotion that these films have rarely, if ever, reached previously.
But then you see the groan-inducing shot of the couple’s trashed bedroom, complete with broken bedframe. Then you remember the scene where Jake has an epiphany about how to keep his brethren at bay, approaches them with steely determination, and then does little more than whimper out an inconsequential bluff. You remember how the werewolves change size dramatically between shots – from being the size of a typical wolf to the size of a bus without any apology for the inconsistency. You remember that a third of the movie is just Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson playing chess in a tropical paradise while she begs him to potentially kill her once again. The movie fails to explain what it is that Edward does in the sack that could possibly be so deadly, which I think is a major oversight, but I guess it offsets that by not really taking the murder thing seriously.
But then again, there’s an incredible sequence where Jake transforms into his wolf persona and speeds through the woods, unbridled rage his only guide. We see the scene from his perspective, a red glare around the edges of the screen and trees rushing by at full-speed. And then there’s the very final moments of the film, an awesome hook to drag the viewer along to the self-professed epic conclusion. It’s stuff like that which reminds me why I immediately went onto the social networking sites once I left the theater in order to proclaim, “I don’t know whether Breaking Dawn is the best ‘Twilight’ movie or the worst; it’s definitely one of those.” It may not actually be either of those. After all, how do you quantify something like worst Twilight movie? But the assertion was driven by the fact that the movie reaches such soul-crushing lows as, well, pretty much the entirety of Jake’s subplot, at the same time that it can amaze with its singular visual flair (that’s “singular” within the confines of the Twilight series, mind you). Fellow critic Caleb Chadwick notes the film’s “ability to completely catch us off guard” – if that is the sole goal of the film, I’d call it a success.
But this isn’t Paranormal Activity. We are supposed to be caught up in the drama of the three primary characters, not caught off guard by the bizarre twists the third act brings. We’re supposed to understand the way that they feel, commiserate with their sorrows, relish their victories. At this point, the Twilight series is less a moving story of a young
couple trio in love, and more the template for an excellent episode of “Jerry Springer”.
Maybe in the next one, we’ll find out who the real father is.