Werewolves Give 'New Moon' Some Bite
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" demonstrates that werewolves, while also belonging to the dangerous-when-biting class, are a lot more fun than vampires. They favor knee-length shorts, sneakers and seem most comfortable when shirtless, probably because their abs are so hot they require constant airing out. Instead of lamenting the eternal state of their being, they romp in the forest or go cliff diving. They maintain a core temperature of 108, enjoy snacks of muffins the size of small cats, and have decent senses of humor.
Ultimately, this makes Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), despite the furriness, far more suitable boyfriend material for any teenage girl than vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), although don't bother telling Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) that. The heroine of the "Twilight Saga" turns 18 on the day our story begins, but she still doesn't listen to reason. That's not her thing, as we learned in "Twilight," Catherine Hardwicke's dark and emotionally stormy introduction to the cinematic versions of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling four-part series, in which Bella fell in love with Edward, a noble vampire who sparkles like diamonds (rather than ignites, as is traditional in the vampire mythology) in sunlight and can only kiss her for a few seconds before his animal instincts are awakened. Paging Vampire Bill, who has figured out how to satisfy himself and his woman.
Bella, never exactly a ball of sunshine, is very depressed in "New Moon" because Edward has left her. His "brother" Jasper, still a new convert to the vampire life, gets a hankering for Bella after a paper cut, an incident that would be easier to take seriously if Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) didn't look like Harpo Marx in pancake makeup and a bad wig. Deciding he's putting her at too much risk, Edward makes the sacrifice of leaving town. "You're not good for me," Edward tells her, by way of goodbye, and she immediately interprets this as "I'm not good enough for you" and shuts herself up in her room for a few months.
She never really emerges from her Edward-less funk, but she does discover that when she puts herself in jeopardy, a vision of Edward appears to nag her. "I told you not to take risks!" he scolds as she climbs on the back of some creep's motorcycle. The similarity to a parental lecture, not to mention Edward's priestly attitude toward sex, seems like a turn-off, but not for Bella. Unlike the many fans who were wowed by Lautner's recent evolution from the skinny you-can't-take-him-seriously boy of "Twilight" to the underwear model of "New Moon," Bella never really joins Team Jacob.
That's not to say she doesn't notice his transformation. "Hello biceps," she says when she gets a load of Jacob styling new arms. And she almost kisses him about a half dozen times. (There are people who think that Meyer's message of necessary virtue is a good, instructional thing. It's seems more a lesson in the demoralizing frustration and rejection associated with unwanted chastity.)
I did join Team Jacob, although not so much because of Lautner's muscles (they sort of look as if they're hurting him, particularly the perturbing band of them around his neck, which functions as a sort of muscle cowl), but rather out of gratitude. He and his kind make considerable patches of Chris Weitz's movie less tedious and moody than "Twilight" was. Not only are his pack mates amusing in human form, but the wolves, great big snarling, spooky beasts twice the size of normal wolves and capable of outrunning vampires, are impressive. Their jerky computer-generated movements leave something to be desired, but they are good doggies.
"New Moon" is also a less pretentious movie than its predecessor. Writer Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplay for "Twilight" as well, has loosened up a bit; the movie has the good sense to make fun of itself a bit, and there are some moments of actual wit (particularly whenever Anna Kendrick, as Bella's friend Jessica, opens her mouth). There are a few genuinely spooky moments, early on, as when Bella, in a dream, meets her aged self in a meadow and thinks she's looking at her own grandmother.
But there is still a load of dreadful dialogue to stomach: I'll never hurt you. I'd never let that happen to you. I'd die before I'd hurt you. No, I'd die before I'd hurt you. Never has a young man looked more mortified by being shot in slow motion than Robert Pattinson. He's too good for this trifle, and so, of course, is Kristen Stewart. And as soon as the vampires come back into the picture, the plotting falls apart and the pace quickens to the point of absurdity. There's a mad dash to Italy, where we are briefly introduced to the Volturi, the Italian clan of super vamps who still suck human blood (Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning acquit themselves as well as anyone with red eyes can). And then it's back to Forks for a series of codas that never seem to stop. None of these criticisms matters to the fans, of course, who will eat it up; it's been well established that the "Twilight Saga" is unstoppable, no matter what its weaknesses are.Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/HarperCollins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.