Final 'Twilight' rewards fans, baffles the rest of us
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The romantic epic of Edward and Bella, known as "The Twilight Saga," ends with this movie, the second part of an adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's massively popular novel "Breaking Dawn," itself the final book in what one might call a literary cycle. While watching the climax -- a lengthy battle on a frozen lake between two phalanxes of bizarrely costumed supernatural creatures, each individual within them fiercely emoting as he or she demonstrates one baroque supernatural power or another -- it's hard to remember that "The Twilight Saga" began as a relatively simple high school romance with a supernatural twist. That supernatural twist served as a metaphor for the otherness and sense of alienation that some teens go through.
People who've spent a lot of time with the vampire subgenre of literary and/or cinematic horror have little trouble getting with the idea of the morally tortured ambivalent vampire. Where "The Twilight Saga" goes for a bit of a stretch is in the conception of Edward. This vampire who, for the space of three and a half novels, loves Bella in a moon-eyed, pure, abstinence-education vein is an out-and-out romantic hero. And around this have-it-both-ways idea Meyer has been obliged to construct an entire mythology, in which werewolves also figure, particularly with respect to building a love triangle.
Watching the elaborate tribal maneuverings between supernatural factions that leads to the climax of this movie, I was reminded of a line from the recent film "The Master," about the inchoate religion offered by one of its protagonists: "He's making it up as he goes along." To wit: In "Breaking Dawn -- Part 1," superhuman Edward and mortal Bella do what had heretofore been considered impossible and conceive a child. This child is born, after being "imprinted" by werewolf Jacob, with whom Bella had been somewhat infatuated before settling for the brooding vampire. But Bella is ill-equipped for birthing vampire babies and hence has to be "turned" by Edward in order to save her life, which also makes her immortal. You with me so far?
All seems moderately well in this vampire-werewolf group that must somehow form a family until a misunderstanding soon occurs. A member of the extended vampire family spies Bella and Edward's child, Renesmee (like so much in this saga, the name is a long story), from a mountaintop and assumes that the kid is an "immortal child," that is, a vampire who was changed from mortal to undead in his or her formative years (think the Kirsten Dunst character in "Interview With a Vampire"). Now, "immortal children" are strict no-nos according to the rule of the Volturi, the coven of vampires who made trouble for Edward and Bella since finding out about the vampire-human love affair in the second novel/movie "New Moon." The Volturi, who dispatch the fellow vampires of whom they disapprove by popping off their heads like they're giant plastic dolls, march on over from Tuscany to instigate the battle royal described above.
In reviews of the prior "Twilight" pictures, and of other movies the principal players therein have appeared, critics have made disparaging remarks about the acting abilities of Robert Pattinson, who plays sulky vampire Edward; Taylor Lautner, who plays ripped wolf-boy Jacob; and, to a lesser extent Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella. The issue in this particular installment of the "Twilight Saga" is not so much whether they can act, but how they manage to keep a straight face throughout the proceedings.
The characterizations, the costumes, the CGI wolves, the dialogue ("You nicknamed our daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?"), every aspect of this picture, directed with what eventually becomes a disturbing brio by Bill Condon, ripens to a level of what can only be termed You Must Be High Camp. And yet Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner soldier on with valiant earnestness, like very committed community theater players digging into "A Streetcar Named Desire." Not feeling any such compunction is Certified Thespian Michael Sheen, who, as head Volturi Aro, looks like a Buggle gone death metal and comports himself as if he's really disappointed that he never got to work with Ken Russell. (His hysterical cackle upon being hoisted on a petard I will not spoil is a genuine highlight.)
For people who are thoroughly invested in the material, this will prove a rousing finale. The crowd I saw it with was laughing and cheering all at once. Unlike the movie series made in recent years from the works of J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkein (those would be the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" movies, respectively), the "Twilight Saga" has no upmarket aspirations. Seeking neither critical applause nor peer-review awards, these movies, like those of Tyler Perry, seek only to provide unabashed satisfaction to those who believe in their characters. Many from the outside looking in may only be able to gasp in some form of disbelief. But those people matter to the "Twilight" cadre as much as the human world matters to the vampires who inhabit this now-completed saga.