'Twilight: Breaking Dawn' Doesn't Bite
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
I came into the screening of "Breaking Dawn: Part One" a TwiVirgin. Yes, believe it or not, over the past few years I've somehow managed to avoid, both professionally and socially, any prolonged exposure to the wildly popular films based on the wildly popular novels by Stephenie Meyer. And I've been glad of it, frankly, because as someone who fell in love with movies largely on account of the horror genre, I have to own up that what I knew of the way Meyer was messing with the supernatural metaphors that captured the imagination of my admittedly imaginatively twisted childhood gave me something of an intensive pain.
Vampires and werewolves, once metaphors for guilty but decadent consumption and untrammeled but hate-yourself-in-the-morning id, respectively, were now being pedaled in abstinence parables. Whole thing sounded like "Dark Shadows" crossed with an Afterschool Special. Ugh. And then I learned that in "Breaking Dawn, Part One," the first film in the epic conclusion to the "saga," sensitive vampire Edward and sultry but nice girl Bella get hitched and conceive a child who gives Bella all kinds of belly trouble. Oh, great, I thought. After messing up Dracula and the Wolfman, now they're gonna ruin "It's Alive!"
So imagine my surprise when I emerged from this movie not in pain but actually having rather enjoyed it, at least in part. "Twilight Saga" fans, let me ask you two questions: Has Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, been doing this implied impersonation of Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront" for the entirety of the film series? Because if so, my hat is off to him. Also: in the whole wolf gang versus vampire gang thing, who are the Sharks and who are the Jets? I'm guessing the vampires are the Jets, am I right?
The director for this installment of the series is Bill Condon, who, way before he helmed such distinguished dramatic fare as "Kinsey," had a hand in crafting a couple of pretty subversive teen-based horror and sci-fi movies, "Strange Behavior" and "Strange Invaders." Here he doesn't do anything to subvert the highly teen-inflaming material itself -- Condon is both highly professional and not an idiot -- but he does attack it with genuine wit and a real affection for and knowledge of the genres that the saga, um, branches off from. The first ten minutes alone contain a juicy clip from the original "Bride of Frankenstein" (Condon also, not coincidentally, made the sensitive and moving "Gods and Monsters," a biopic of "Bride"'s director James Whale) and a ravishing dream sequence whose visual scheme is directly inspired by "Blood and Roses," an early '60s French vampire film by Roger Vadim. The teens at whom this film is squarely aimed won't spot the reference, Condon is resourceful enough to insert it in such a way that it doesn't necessarily stick out as such; in any event, it's a good fit.
Of course there are some things here that Condon cannot do a whole hell of a lot about, too. One of them being that, abs or no abs, Taylor Lautner, who plays the cranky boy-wolf Jacob, is almost as bad an actor as Tommy Wiseau, without the excuse even of English being his second or third or fourth language. But of course the biggest problem is that the whole storyline is based around some of the dopiest premises ever conceived by any human ever.
The filmmaking is for the most part witty and intelligent and fleet enough to make you forget that a lot of the time, but every now and then -- say, during an earnest shot of Edward's vampire "family" in which everyone looks like they're taking a break from a shoot for a music video that's paying homage to "Carnival of Souls" -- one does get this "Oh my God, what am I watching?" feeling. But then it goes away, and one instead notices that these films would appear to be the only occasions for which female star Kristen Stewart can actually be compelled to, like, stand up straight, and one is grateful. One is also grateful for the film's finale -- its last five minutes or so, leading up to a final shot that's actually as awesome as it is predictable -- which is genuinely brilliant. There, I said it.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.