The final installment of Stephenie Meyers‘ ‘Twilight Saga‘ has hit the screen with an audible, if Italian-accented “Squee!” here in its packed hormonal World Premiere at the Rome Film Festival. Destined to make a jillion dollars in its first six minutes of release, the film is already such a juggernaut that voicing an opinion on whether it’s any good is a little like examining the fenderwork on the 20-wheeler that’s bearing down on you at 100mph: it doesn’t matter, because either way, you’re going to be flattened. But hardy fools that we Playlisters are, we’re going to damn well tell you what we think anyway: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is as thrilling, scary and swooningly romantic as this series gets. But it’s still dire.
Considered within the warped microcosmic universe of the Twilight films, (imagine no other films had been made, ever), ‘Breaking Dawn – Part 2’ has lots to recommend it, mainly that it ends this blight on our culture, if only temporarily. Haha no, seriously. Also in the plus column, here Bella (a positively glowy Kristen Stewart, who has genuinely given the series something of a meta-arc by simply growing more beautiful with each episode) finally gets to do something aside from be adored, and even participates in a fight or two (in defense of her family and child, of course, but still, where Ms. Swan is concerned we’ll take what empowerment we can get). In that regard it continues the incremental upward trajectory of Bella’s character from blank, self-pitying nonentity to, you know, a person of somewhat independent thought, and this can only be a good thing. It’s just a shame that her power, when it is revealed (because here vamps mostly get a kind of X-Men-style power in addition to their regular ol’ vampire powers), is one that requires her to pretty much stand stock still and look really hard at something while death-battles are going around her. In this arena Stewart simply hasn’t had as much practice as Dakota “terrible eye make up” Fanning, and so gets a little upstaged.
Teen mother Bella Swan got vampire-ized at the very end of the last film, the wedding video known as ‘Breaking Dawn – Part 1.’ So now that she’s an immortal, she gets to run really fast, break rocks with her fists and suppress her desire for human blood, because she’s a good vampire, who won’t even kill a deer to feed, she’ll kill the nasty beast that’s about to kill the deer instead. She also gets to have proper vamp sex with hubby Edward (Robert Pattinson), which they apparently enjoy. But freaky uncanny valley CG baby Renesmee is growing up super quick, which has two main side effects: it turns Jacob (Taylor Lautner) from being a creepy weirdo in love with a baby into being a creepy weirdo in love with a toddler really quickly, and it makes them all assume that the lil’ moppet is not long for this world. The Volturi get wind of Renesmee’s existence, assume she’s a child vampire which is against their law, and decide to wipe the pesky Cullens off the map for good. And so the Cullens flit to the four corners of the earth to bring friends back to bear witness that Renesmee is not an immortal, she’s just a regular kid with a werewolf boyfriend and the ability to project her memories through cheek-touching. Most of the friends have natty X-Men powers too.There would appear to be a battle coming.
So let’s leave aside the silliness of the plot, which has the kind of holes that the aforementioned 20-wheeler could drive through (a lot of them involving Alice and the ever-problematic seeing-into-the-future power). There’s still enough terribleness here that we presume is not even carried-over terribleness from the book, from the ugly CG (the wolves are better this time out, but the fast-running vampires still just look wrong, and the baby’s face is all kinds of unintentional weird), to the way the majority of the film is written and edited so that scenes often bear no relation to the ones that immediately precede, to the hilarious stereotyping of the far-flung friends (the Irish couple are dumpy and have red hair! The ladies from the Amazon are Amazons!). Lee Pace gets to have a tiny amount of fun as a vampire who actually still kills people, but there’s not enough of him. Michael Sheen, too, gives it the whole ham as the head Volturi, even giving a girlish scream at one point that eerily echoed those that sounded out when Jacob (inevitably) took off his shirt.
But what of the principals? Well, Stewart and Pattinson seemed fractionally more at ease here, and after a series of affirmations of Bella and Edward’s unprecedented love for each other, the spotlight is somewhat shifted off them in the second half anyway. Perhaps we were imagining it, but we’d swear their red eyes were lit with relief at the franchise’s approaching end, possibly because they are both promising young actors who have been grossly underserved by these films. Lautner, not so much, but he really does get the mother of all shit jobs here: in love with a baby, getting naked in front of Billy Burke, beaten up by the paramour who rejected him and will at some point presumably become his mother-in-law — there’s no humiliation this poor character doesn’t suffer.
The climactic battle, when it comes, however, is surprisingly well done, and might have even served to nudge the film up half a grade if our eyes hadn’t fallen out of our heads with rolling at a thing that happens at the end. It’s pretty nasty too, lots of cracking spines and jaws ripped apart and stuff — you know, the kind of things vampires did back when I was kid, before they became all sparkly and looked like they walked out of an Evanescence video. It might make the PG-13 rating look a bit suspect, but it’s put together with more zip and life than anything else in the series, perhaps, and Bill Condon deserves some credit. It’s just a shame it’s so severely undercut by the ending.
Let’s just acknowledge that reviewing ‘Breaking Dawn – Part 2’ for this site is a no-win situation: regular Indiewire readers don’t believe we should even cover it, while the fans who anxiously scour the net for early reviews rarely are those who are willing to hear a single bad word said about it, and will vehemently go three or four times no matter what is written here, or anywhere. But we did kind of love the idea of surprising everyone and suddenly saying “You know what? This is terrific!” and went in with optimism and contrarian bravado. But it’s not. ‘Breaking Dawn – Part 2’ ends a bad series with a bad film, but in relative terms: it’s better than ‘New Moon‘ and ‘Breaking Dawn – Part 1,’ maybe as good as ‘Eclipse,’ and worse than ‘Twilight,’ and that’s about all we can say for it. [C-]