In The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, director Bill Condon perfectly embraced the melodramatic lunacy of Stephenie Meyer’s source novels and delivered a great piece of trash that remains the best thing the Twilight series has produced. Little seemed to actually happen during the movie, but four films worth of subtext reached its glorious peak.
Now here’s Breaking Dawn – Part 2, which Condon shot back-to-back with the first, based on the second half of the same novel, and it has precisely the opposite problem: it’s all Sturm und Drang and endless exposition (a great deal of which is narrated to us, out of necessity), and yet nothing is really happening. With the subtext all gone, the material is as drained of life as its lead character.
The Twilight films (and presumably, the books, which I have not read) are all about sex and abstinence and the loss of virginity: Bella (Kristen Stewart) is apprehensive about – but enchanted by the idea of – giving herself up and becoming a vampire, while Edward (Robert Pattinson) fights the animalistic urge to sink his teeth into her neck.
It’s not exactly a subtle metaphor. But Condon played with it beautifully in the first Breaking Dawn, giving us both the sex and the vampirism that the previous three films had all been leading up to, along with some beautifully bloody symbolism. Nothing else happened in that film, mind you, but what did was enough; thematically and subtextually complete, that’s where the series should have ended.
But here’s Part 2, giving us all surface and plot and CGI effects and epic battle scenes, with nothing underneath it all. And here I am, complaining about the lack of depth and subtlety in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Go figure.
Picking up right where Part 1 left off, Part 2 begins with Bella getting used to being a vampire, coping with her strength and superpowers (she can create a mental “shield”) and bloodlust. Motherhood seems to come more naturally to her, as Edward and the Cullen family help her take care of the half-human, half-vampire Renesmee, who is growing at an alarming rate.
There’s a whole ‘nother realm of unexplored themes here between the newborn Renesmee and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who ‘imprinted’ on her at birth, marking her as his soul mate. There’s a world of potential ickiness here, given that Jacob previously lusted after Bella, and Renesmee is, uh, a newborn. But “it’s not what you think,” Jacob helpfully explains, and the issue is never mentioned again, despite the two being next to each other for the rest of the film.
Renesmee is accidentally spotted by Irina (Maggie Grace), who, in typical Three’s Company fashion, mistakes her for a forbidden ‘Immortal Child’ and reports the Cullens to the governing vampire coven Volturi.
As Aro (Michael Sheen) and the rest of the Volturi track the Cullens down, Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and the family travel the world to gather ‘witnesses’, who will tell the Volturi that Renesmee is who they say she is, and not who Irina mistook her for. And if that doesn’t work, maybe fight the Volturi in a completely out-of-place but (oddly) satisfying extended battle sequence.
I have to mention the effects. The previous Twilight films aren’t known for their CGI competency, despite crediting f/x whiz Phil Tippet (Robocop) as visual effects supervisor. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 features the most effects work out of any of these films, the majority of which looks positively ridiculous. The glittering skin is gone, but the wildly inconsistent werewolves change sizes in every shot, and the vampires look preposterous running and bounding everywhere at 10x speed.
Best of all is the bloodletting: the vamps here are killed via the silliest-looking, bloodless (in order to preserve a PG-13 rating) decapitations you’ll ever see, in which one character literally plucks the head off another as if he were removing it from a Barbie doll. It happens at least 10 times throughout the film, and must be seen to be believed.
If Breaking Dawn – Part 1 was glorious trash – a celebration of the melodrama and subtext that made Twilight so appealing to so many people – Part 2 is just the trash: a celebration of all the silly aspects of the story and filmmaking that represent what so many hate about the series.
But it’s still a celebration: Condon knows these films aren’t high art, and again finds the perfect tone to fit the material. I can’t say I wasn’t entertained by Breaking Dawn – Part 2, nor that I’m sad to see the Twilight series finally come to a close.