21 November 2012

TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING

Our long national nightmare is over: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 has come out, and brought an end to the beloved teen paranormal love triangle franchise that began four achingly long years ago with Twilight, in which an insipid young woman falls in love with a shiny vampire who embodies all of the unhealthiest fantasies about male/female relationships that could be dreamed into being by one frustrated Mormon housewife. And it is both a happy and sad moment, for whatever problems one could argue against the movies - and there is a virtually unlimited quantity of such problems, on narrative, aesthetic, and thematic grounds - it has been an awful lot of fun mocking them. But from here on, we won't have Bella Cullen née Swan (K-Stew)) to kick around any more.

Not that Bella is as much fun to kick around, anyway, for following upon the events of Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (like, just following, by maybe a few hours at most) has finally fulfilled her lifelong dream of being turned into a vampire, in the aftermath of very nearly dying after her half-human, half-vampire daughter gnawed right out of her uterus, saved only by a last-minute vamping by her unspeakably beautiful and sexy and wonderful in every possible way new husband Edward (R-Patz). In the meantime, Native American werewolf Jacob Black (T... Lau? Does Taylor Lautner have a disgustingly cutesy media nickname?) has discovered that he wasn't in love with Bella all along, but that he'd imprinted on one of her ovaries, or whatever, and is now desperately in love with the couple's newborn daughter Renesmee, and because of werewolf magic he'll stop aging until she's old enough that it's not creepy. All of this is stuff that you're meant to know going into the movie, which hits the ground running - or, at least, the Twilight Saga analogue to running, so let's instead say that it hits the ground shuffling aimlessly and glowering - and does not spend even a second on useless exposition. Which is actually a perfectly fair creative choice to make, because if you have a fandom as passionate as Twilight has, you might as well make use of the fact that everybody going to see your movie already knows exactly what's going to happen by cutting corners on the boring bits. And while cutting the boring bits would leave us with a four-volume Twilight Saga consisting of nothing but little Renesmee's gore-soaked birthing scene, there is even here a continuum in which some bits are more boring than others.

So that, anyway, is the situation which serves as the movie's background: and the problem here is that this situation manages to steal away almost everything that made the movies worth watching, for by turning inordinately dull, accident-prone Bella into a pretty, happy, sexually insatiable vampire lady who is strong and wonderful and sparkly, the story manages to make her even more fucking uninteresting, because at least before she was vaguely like human beings we can recognise; and because the change in the character's fortunes finally gives Stewart anything else to play besides an ambivalent, sad teenager, I can't even make use of all the variants on "lithium-soaked" that I've been storing up. And by removing the hugely unconvincing love triangle from the equation, the film also removes anything that even tertiarily resembles character drama, though this latter point at least was predictable from having read the novel; for it was already the case in the joyless slog that is Stephenie Meyer's series-closing book that Renesmee's birth was basically the end of any narrative drive, and the thing coasted in for the remaining 300+ pages on the strength of the author not having yet run out of synonyms for "perfect".

And that is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst thing about Breaking Dawn 2: even for a franchise that is horribly light on drama, nothing at all happens here, though at least at a whimsical, even pixieish 115 minutes, this is the shortest film in the series. So even though there is no plot and no stakes to speak of, they're absent for for less than two full two hours. During which time, we see a lot of people standing and looking pretty and having tastefully vigorous PG-13 sex, and there's a little bit of talk about the Bad Vampires who might come to fight Our Vampires because they think that Renesmee - who is growing at a huge rate, and after just a few months resembles a ten-year-old - is a human child turned by the Cullens, and this is a terrible crime in Meyer's arbitrary vampire mythology. So the second half of the movie at least has momentum, even if it doesn't exactly possess what your screenwriting teacher would willingly call "conflict", leading up to a final sequence that I shall not give away, though it is extravagantly gratifying that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, writing her fifth of the five Twilights and thus finally putting this stage of her career behind her, had the good sense to realise that the anti-climax of the novel would be profoundly unacceptable onscreen, and manages to have her cake and eat it in terms of both honoring Meyer's story and finding a way to ferret in some actual action, even reasonably well-staged and invigorating action, much of it so ridiculously violent that the MPAA ratings system really does need to pack it up and go away.

In amongst all of this unstorytelling, there are no surprises to speak of, except that Stewart seems vaguely aware of her surroundings for the first time in the franchise, and reminds us that she is, in fact, a competent actor, the only member of the Holy Trinity who has anything at all to be proud of on her CV. And for their parts, Pattinson and Lautner both crap out terribly: it's hard to say that Lautner is any worse than he's ever been - as always, his squishy face and hilariously middle-school drama club attempts at Deep Emoting put one in mind of a pug puppy doing Shakespeare in the Park - though Pattinson is unbelievably awful, maybe because there is nothing he's given to do besides be a warm, happy father, something that he can do about as convincingly as I could play running back for the Vikings.

Bill Condon, returning to direct after Breaking Dawn 1, continues to stage this like it's an actual movie with a cinematic vocabulary and everything, which means at list that the deliriously funny anti-artistry of the earlier movie, New Moon especially, is nowhere to be seen; and he has the incredibly good sense to play up the dippy humor, presumably recognising that there is no hope for redeeming this material except by rendering it as pure camp, in which battle he is helped only by the inherent stupidity of the material, and Billy Burke as Bella's confused dad, for the actor seems to have realised how exceptionally poorly he and his character are being treated by the script, and is fighting against it by trying to ruin everyone of his scenes with theatrical eye-rolling and line deliveries don't merely fail to hide, but indeed celebrate his contempt for the things he's saying.

What this campy approach, and Condon's relative ability to make something cinematically literate out of a Twilight movie, cannot save is the sheer pointlessness of Breaking Dawn 2's story, which does after all function almost totally as an epilogue, if not an appendix; after everything interesting happened, here's the wrap-up of loose threads that we had to unravel just for the purpose of ginning up enough incident for one last go-round. And thus it spangles out in a mire of camera shots that assure us, dammit, that these two character staring rather blankly offscreen are smoldering for each other, and that being an eternal 18-year-old with your officious, stalkery vampire boyfriend is the best fate of all time; of banal, instantly-forgotten mope-rock; of a panoply of utterly wasted guest stars (Michael Sheen turns the ham-o-meter up to 11, including a cackle of delight that sounds like a kitten in a waffle iron; Dakota Fanning gets to speak literally one word in her entire performance); of the most humiliatingly fake-looking CGI in any serious release in all of 2012; of an opening credits sequence that is, honestly quite beautiful and well done, so props for that. I do enjoy a good credits sequence.

Dreary as it all is, it's certainly no worse as cinema than the books are as literature, and that, supremely backhanded praise or not, has been the one constant bright spot throughout all of these ghastly, dull, flatly-made films: they're still not nearly the worst iteration of the Twilight Saga that exists. Hoo-fucking-rah for the magic of movies.

4/10

12 comments:

The.Watcher said...

Hoo-fucking-rah, indeed.
One thing kinda bothers me, though... how you know so much about the final book in the series? Knowledge of the first one is understandable cos, you know, curiosity is a bitch and all, but to keep reading until the end?

I do not envy the kind of blackmail some nasty, evil person must hold over you to force you to waste so much of your life on something like tw*Y*light.

PS- The Bill Condon part had me cracking up.

The.Watcher said...

Also, Tim, please promise me I will never read "K-Stew" or "R-Patz" on this blog ever again. Reading it made my soul cry and having to write it out is somehow even worse.

Damian Oakes said...

Michael Shannon? Don't you mean Michael Sheen?

Damian Oakes said...

In any case, the presence of Michael Sheen in the Twilight films only reminds me of how much more I enjoyed the Underworld series. Those films, bad though they were, at least had the goddamn decency to be enjoyably so.

Rick said...

50 years ago, the hit film based on a popular best-seller was To Kill a Mockingbird. Today, it's Twilight.

Think on that, my children, and mourn for Western Civilization.

Tim said...

The.Watcher- made a pact with a dear friend of mine, and sheer cussedness got us through. Also the joy of having someone to complain to.

We are currently in negotiations to start Fifty Shades of Grey.

Also, as long as they never make another Twilight picture, you will never see those nicknames show up here again.

Damian- I mean exactly that, and thanks for pointing it out. I'm afraid that I cannot follow you to calling Underworld enjoyably bad - parts of the first, lots of the second, and some of the third, but the parts that are only bad-bad are so terrible...

Rick- Or even 40 years ago, when it was The Godfather, back when they knew how to make outstanding movies from middleweight source material. That's what bothers me most about this franchise: nobody cared enough to try to elevate the material, since they knew the brand name was all it took for even the worst piece of crap to turn a profit.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

When you called him (R-Patz), my immediate assumption was that this was some sort of strange joke about his putative state and party affiliation. I have perhaps been too immersed in politics lately.

M.C. said...

"the most humiliatingly fake-looking CGI in any serious release in all of 2012"

Just out of curiosity, are you counting Ayn Rand Was a Terrible Person: Part II as a serious release?

Andrew Testerman said...

"R-Patz" sounds like a senator designation.

Gavin said...

Sweet hairy balls of fury Tim, I believe your review may have made my entire week. Of course not having to watch any of this myself to enjoy it's roasting, I felt you probably needed props for your sacrifice. Watching 5 minutes of this on the tele last week (as it was everywhere it needed to be for free in the big run up to the finale)left a scar on my soul I'm not even sure the birth of my first child will erase. So I'll just leave it at "I heart you" and with a Thanksgiving/Christmas wish that you don't miss noble Edgar, long suffering Buddha, and that Taylor Laudanum fellow too much in the long dark night that the closure of the series has left us all to deal with, each in their own small way.

Gavin said...

I will also note for the future that in regards to your automated comment posting system, and keeping your page more towards the side of pg-13, not to lead off further tirades with lines like "sweet hairy balls of fury". Most assuredly my bad.

Mila said...

This review kind of almost made it worth watching that atrocious film.

Agree with everything except that "K-Stew" was in any way better than the two other sock-monkeys. Unless, that is, if direction told her to play Bella at all times a little nauseated and confused. In that case she should be put forth for an academy award!