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.