Breaking Dawn part 2: Actually pretty tolerable until the end

SPOILERS. I can’t discuss this without getting into a major plot point from the ending.

The thing about reviewing a Twilight movie is that, at this point, it’s grading on a curve. Are the Twilight movies “good” by any objective rubric of filmmaking? No. Are they capable of being good within their own internal environment of Twilight movie filmmaking? Yes. And on that sliding scale, Breaking Dawn part 2: When Vampires Attack is the best entry into the franchise. 2008’s Twilight was a ludicrously bad movie, but it was fun and campy like B movies of the fifties and sixties when a hardy teen couple faced down giant irradiated ants or similar monster of the week. Weirdly, though, as the technical quality of filmmaking went up with the ensuing installments in the franchise, that sense of fun was drained away. Breaking Dawn part 2, though, is the most technically proficient entry yet (which means it’s barely tolerable by any other standard), and it also gets back a lot of that sense of fun and adventure that’s been lost along the way.

Let’s start with the positives, because any kind of net gain with Twilight is reason to celebrate. First, the pacing is excellent. The films had gotten quite dour, but director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) infused a horror movie vibe into Part One and in Part Two he’s working a “race against time” action movie feel that keeps the narrative clipping along at an acceptable pace. Feeding into that is Condon’s big climactic battle at the end, which is easily the best choreographed and filmed action sequence of any of these movies. Condon revels in the carnage, getting away with a phenomenal number of decapitations that begs the question—is this really less offensive than a few swear words, or a boob grope? Because there is a lot of violence in the final thirty minutes and this is a PG-13 movie. We’ll come back to this scene later.

Other stuff that worked: Bella discovering and enjoying her new vampire powers provided some levity, the effect used to represent Bella’s mental “shield” was actually quite good (way better than the one used to show Alec’s “numbing power”). It’s great to see Bella develop some personality traits beyond “doormat”, and Kristen Stewart seems innervated by the chance to show actual growth in her character. And though the obligatory sex scene between Edward and Bella is ridiculous, Stewart and Robert Pattinson make fairly convincing parents. (The sex scene is borderline hilarious. Between a very deliberate shot of their wedding rings as they pull each other’s hair, reminding us that Teenage Marriage/Pregnancy > Uncommitted Sex, and a part where THERE ARE ACTUAL SPARKLES FLOATING IN THE AIR, it’s an unintentional comedy masterpiece.)

There’s a nice opening title and final “curtain call” closing credit sequence that serves as a fond bookend for the last movie in the franchise. Newcomers Rami Malek (The Master, Night at the Museum) and Lee Pace (Lincoln, The Hobbit) pep up the proceedings considerably; Pace’s nomadic Garrett, especially, adds some needed verve to the vampire gathering at La Casa de Cullen. Pace stomps through his scenes like a rockstar, chewing scenery with an abandon matched only by Michael Sheen’s outrageously hammy work as lead bad guy Aro.

Now for some things that didn’t work. The CGI wolves and fast-moving vampire effect are still the worst things you’ve ever seen, topped only by the spectacularly creepy, borderline horrifying baby Renesmee, a nightmare child birthed not of this land, but of some hellish realm of the uncanny valley. It’s a challenge to stare into the empty eyes of Baby Renesmee and not shudder. Baby Renesmee might be here to eat our souls. Less frightening but more annoying is the influx of unnamed vampires from around the world. Most of these characters never speak and the majority doesn’t have names.

It’s been a problem for Twilight all along—these movies are not accessible to people who haven’t read the books. Scenes meant to have emotional impact lose some luster for those who don’t have annotated copies of the books at home, like the fellow sitting next to me at the screening who kept having to ask his wife, “Wait, who was that again?” And where Lee Pace had fun with his role as a chintzy vampire, Joe Anderson (The Grey, The Crazies) looked like he wanted to die every second he was on screen as moody vampire Alistair. Also, his character had zero context. At the point that he leaves it’s like, Yeah okay, you’re weren’t contributing anything meaningful anyway. Which might be precisely why Anderson looked so miserable in the role. He knew he was superfluous.

And now let’s talk about the ending. Just a reminder, here be SPOILERS.

The final battle is kind of awesome. It’s an out-and-out melee that is actually fun to watch, with a number of people pulling some pretty cool moves. And there are stakes! People are dying! Beloved characters meet horrible ends! It feels urgent and desperate and the Twihards in the audience were shrieking with each assault launched against a Cullen or a Quileute. (No one else really matters because we don’t know who they are.) For once there are consequences for this life, people are fighting for their very survival.

And then it all just goes away. None of it was real. All that emotional investment was for nothing. None of it mattered anyway. The audience had a palpably annoyed reaction to this, because even the hardiest Twihard knows base manipulation when she sees it. No one likes “it was all just a dream” as a plot device. It’s cheap and meaningless and renders the end of the movie complete bullshit. You’ll probably say I shouldn’t expect better from Twilight, but Breaking Dawn part 2 was actually giving me better until they threw it away on a bullshit narrative ploy.

Fans of Twilight will undoubtedly be thrilled with the franchise’s victory lap, just as the uninitiated will be confused from start to finish. Breaking Dawn part 2 is the closest to outright enjoyable a Twilight movie has ever come, but the bullshit ending leaves a bad taste behind.

15 thoughts on “Breaking Dawn part 2: Actually pretty tolerable until the end

  1. Shannon

    I was wondering what you were talking about re: the big battle. I’ve read the books, and Breaking Dawn is just a huge buildup to nothing. In the end, they settle the issue without ever fighting, no consequences are suffered, and everyone lives happily ever after. It’s the lamest resolution to a series I’ve ever read.

    I guess the filmmakers agreed, and decided to try to have it both ways. Too bad they decided long ago that the movies were just going to pander to book readers. If they’d made some changes to the shit story along the way, there may have been something salvageable here.

  2. s

    To be fair Stephanie Meyer DID not want the ending changed so there was only so much Bill Condon do. Also how can it be utter bullshit when if you read the book its played out exactly how you described when you saw the movie?

    1. Because the “it was all just a dream” mechanic is always bullshit. It’s a cheap way of half-assing plot. Either commit to the thing that is the “dream” (in this case, the battle), and the consequences thereof, or don’t do it all. But doing it and then making it not matter is just bullshit writing. And I know Condon was constrained by Meyer’s intent, but that’s exactly why 99% of the time, filmmakers shouldn’t listen to authors.

      1. Emster

        I’m going to be honest. I was so scared the battle was going to be Bella snapping out of some sort of fever dream that I was not looking forward to it at all. However, the ploy gave the opportunity for one of the best Michael Sheen looks ever, when he snapped out of the vision, so I was okay with it. It was a cheap way to ratchet up the action, for sure, and it totally deflated the rest of the film, and the audience gave a big collective groan. But it could’ve been a lot worse.

  3. Wow, that ending is TERRIBLE. I am so glad I read this review. I actually really enjoyed the first two books, but hated Breaking Dawn mostly because of the fact that it went absolutely nowhere and nothing happened, just puttered out. I was excited that they changed it, but I should have known it was going to be a cop out like this. Bah.

  4. >>It’s great to see Bella develop some personality traits beyond “doormat”, and Kristen Stewart seems enervated by the chance to show actual growth in her character.<<

    Do you mean energized? Enervate means to sap someone of energy/vitality.

  5. s

    Stephanie is a producer of this film, she was watching the filming of the movie like a hawk AS IF Bill Condon could change the ending drastically without the involvement of 100 other people. Blame stephenie for giving her books a shitty ending i.e dream sequence. She should never been given the role of a producer. She should have stayed well away from the films like J K Rowling but for some reason she thought she knows more about filming than the professionals.

  6. Sunny

    I have to disagree with you about the ending. When Summit announced that Breaking Dawn was going to be two movies, I was honestly angry — after Bella has the baby, everything that happens after is pretty much pointless, except to show how Bella is the best-vampire-who-ever-lived and in order to stage the greatest-battle-that-never-even-happens-and-that-is-resolved-when-civilized-people-rightly-decide-to-talk. This does not a whole movie make, and I was frightened, even up to stepping into the theater, that it was going to be the most boring of the five, by far. It was entirely the opposite – it had a sense of movement and, like you rightly said, it was finally FUN again. Has Robert Pattinson ever been allowed to smile (so fetchingly) this much in Twi-movie?

    This just wouldn’t have been the same fun movie without the Alice vision. I didn’t think it was cheap to make the whole scene a vision because it worked within the confines of the Twilight story — playing off Alice’s abilities (and it certainly left a door wide open for future movies). Stephenie Meyer had to have had script approval, and frankly I’m surprised she even allowed the “deaths” of anyone at all, so I was happy to get what we got. A pretty violent and extremely entertaining 15 minutes.

    My theater had a completely different reaction to the twist too – there were a whole bunch of gasps and screams and “damns” and relieved laughter. I got the sense that people really were thrilled by it because it was just so not expected given all the movies before it.

    But I’m totally with you on the creepy CGI baby and the lame wolf and vampire running. There were really odd running moments where Kristen Stewart’s face looked as emaciated as when she was pregnant-dying in BD1.

  7. Erin

    I completely agree with your review. The CGI baby was horrible. And Lee Pace is awesome…but i have always loved him (pushing daisies). What really annoyed me what, although i have never been a fan of twilight, i was excited by the bold move with this final fight scene…i thought finally! Twilight steps up….and does something more excited than a love triangle. To then turn the fight into a vision is such a cop out!!!

  8. sarah

    I have to disagree on the ending too. I really really hated the Breaking Dawn novel and one of the reasons was because of the ending. To me the they talked it out was pure cope out by Meyer and I can say that, like Sunny, my theater’s reaction was more thrilled by the ride and shocked when it was just a vision. There didn’t seem that much disappointment. Also Condon did a good job in dealing with the imprinting crap and moving on. Yup, let’s all happily pretend that doesn’t exist.

    I am really tired of actors who agree to be in series movies then look as if they would prefer to be anywhere else but there. They get paid a decent amount of money to be in these movies but if they don’t want to and won’t put the effort in then DON”T DO THE MOVIE. Joe Anderson I am looking at you. Even though Dakota Fanning really had no lines or much to do I never felt like she was just collecting a pay cheque. Even Micheal Sheen looked like he was having fun eating scenery and we all know he didn’t want to be there. I like Joe Anderson but let’s be honest, this is the biggest movies he’s ever been in and I’m disappointment in his effort. And I like him, Across the Stars is one of my all time favourite movies.

    And, as a side note, can some of Bella’s embracing Vampirism rub off on Elena of Vampire Diaries??? Please!!

    1. Look, I agree the ending was definitely better than the book’s because at least *something* happened, but “it was all a dream” is a horrible, cheap narrative device.

      1. G

        I completely agree about the ending: it was a lot better than the books, but still a huge cop out. In my theater people just started laughing out loud at how ridiculous it was.
        And what in the name of Merlin’s pants were those sparkles during the sex scene??

  9. DConway

    The vision ending is actually in the Breaking Dawn book. Alice has the vision and immediately leaves with Jasper to go find another vampire-human hybrid as she sees one decision is that Aro will begin a fight pretending to be fearful of not knowing anything about hybrids (which the Voltori should have known). Alice’s visions are possibilities based on decisions. Everything she showed Aro could have happened if he decided to kill Renesme. But then he saw his own death would happen if he kept on that path.

    “The battle is exactly what Aro saw,” Stephanie Meyer said during a pre-release interview. “There’s a moment in the novel when he’s staring at Bella and she’s looking back at him and feeling this assessment. And then everything turns. But we can’t see what he’s seeing. But what he’s seeing is, ‘It’s going to be a close fight, a lot of people are going to die and I’m probably going to die. I’m going to die.’ And for him, in my mind, the Volturi win the day. They do. They outnumber you. They would win. But they would be decimated. Their power would be crippled, and he realizes he’s not going to survive it and that’s what changes his mind.” Meyer adds that the only element they changed was adding Alice. “We had Alice get involved so we could visually show it, but it’s all still there.”

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