It would be a gross understatement to say I haven’t been an ardent supporter of the Twilight franchise. But I have tried to take each film on its own merits. Nothing can change the fact that it has a despicable core message of how young women should relate to men, but there was always the potential for change. Bella Swan could become a proactive character. Edward Cullen and Jacob Black could be more than just brooding, softly smiling eye candy. Somewhere, in the dreamy clouds of wish fulfillment, there may be something real instead of the silliest, most forced conflicts. At the series’ conclusion, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 shows us what the Twilight movies could be at their best, but ultimately reminds us about the true nature of this series.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a new vampire and a new mother. After quickly reigning in her violent “newborn” tendencies and accepting that Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has “imprinted” on baby daughter Renesmee, Bella is content to peacefully spend the rest of eternity with Edward (Robert Pattinson). However, there are a couple of hitches. First, Renesmee is growing way too fast, and appears to be seven when she’s only about six-months old (or as doctors call it, “Jack-itis”). She can also apparently leap about twenty feet in the air, and when this action is spotted by neighboring vampire clan member Irina (Maggie Grace), she mistakenly believes Renesmee is a verboten “immortal child”. Irina alerts the Volturi, and the Cullens are forced to rally other vampire clans to bear “witness” and convince the Volturi that Renesmee is cool.
The film has a surprisingly strong beginning, and director Bill Condon shows he can bring an element that the franchise has sorely lacked: fun. It’s a shocking and welcome sight to see Bella experience joy from her actions rather than simply being in Edward’s awesome presence. Breaking Dawn then skillfully proceeds to deal with Part 1‘s most unintentionally hilarious plot point—Jacob “imprinting” on Renesmee. The movie acknowledges the ridiculousness of a werewolf falling in love with a baby, and so it diffuses the situation as best as it can with humor. It’s a rare moment where a filmmaker realized that in extreme situations, it might be better to satisfy the cynics rather than appease the devoted masses.
From there, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 resorts to the same lackadaisical pace the series has become known for. It worked in the first half of Part 1 because at least we got a nice time in paradise. Part 2 makes a shot at world building by having the Cullens travel the globe for the other vampire clans, but it’s not world building in a tangible sense of how other vampires interact with the world. These clans are defined by their dress (the Amazonian vampires dress like 17th century Native Americans! The Irish vampires wear driving caps!) with a few standout performances from Rami Malek, Joe Anderson, and Lee Pace as the boyish grinning vampires. The most interesting facet of the other clans is to see their collection of superpowers and how they’ll stack up against the Volturi.
I had forgotten that all vampires had super powers; I thought that there were only a special few like Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene) and evil Volturi girl Jane (Dakota Fanning) who had special abilities. It had totally slipped my mind that Edward can read minds because he never uses it. These characters were never meant to be more than Bella’s personal coterie, and to go out of their way for her wellbeing. They played into the cipher on which the audience can project their desire to be loved. It would be great if we could have a dream wedding, get a dream house, and everyone loved us for being vacant and bland.
But what if Bella were interesting? What if she found a way to stand up for herself? Breaking Dawn – Part 2 gives us a fascinating glimpse into a Bella Swan whose worldview extends past Edward’s abs and bashful grin. “I was born to be a vampire,” Bella says, and it feels like a wake-up call to the superfluous nature of New Moon and Eclipse. New Moon only reveals Jacob is a werewolf and that the Volturi are a nefarious vampire government. Eclipse gives back-stories to the Cullens, and says vampires and werewolves can work together to defeat an army comprised of 15 people. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 gives us something more by allowing us to meet a better Bella who is finally the protector instead of the protected.
Sadly, Twilight can never quite escape its wheel-spinning and lack of narrative momentum. Our wait for the big battle between the good clans and the Volturi isn’t one of anticipation but impatience. For the most part, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 feels like Eclipse if Eclipse was leading up to a worthwhile fight. There’s still the training montages, learning to work together, bonds formed, and at the center is Bella and Edward reminding us how they love each other in a way that consists solely of warm smiles and now being able to have sex without smashing apart Bella’s pelvis.
When we reach the final battle, Condon almost delivers except he’s hamstrung by a few poor shot choices and a story point that undoes the entire picture. From a directing perspective, Condon did the best job of anyone in the franchise. He and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro made the world of Twilight finally feel dynamic and complimentary to characters who had the potential to change and develop. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is a terrifically shot film, and his lead-up to the Volturi fight is impeccable as he lets them fill the bottom of the screen, coming forth like a true threat until he goes for a long shot and makes both sides look fairly small. What should feel like the biggest moment in the series’ history is suddenly rendered insignificant.
But this one shot is no match for the atrocious plot point that follows. Without spoiling anything, there is a moment in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 that kills the series’ best scene. It negates any reason to watch most of the movie ever again, and yet it is the clearest, most definitive moment of what this series has truly been about. They’re not movies about sacrifice or change or true danger. These movies aren’t meant to be thrill; they’re meant to comfort. The only moment of true discomfort in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is when we’re forced to look at CGI baby Renesmee. Apparently, we now live in a Children of Men world where real babies no longer exist.
What’s most frustrating about this moment-I-can’t-divulge is that up until the movie hit it, I discovered something surprising about myself. I’ve seen everyone one of these movies, and I’ve seen them all when they were released theatrically. I’ve seen every Comic-Con presentation. I’ve seen this franchise develop, and even though I never liked it, I had inadvertently become invested. I knew Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) as the kindly patriarch and Alice as Bella’s surrogate big sister. I knew Charlie (Billy Burke) was the best part of any of the movies.
And for the briefest of moments in the final film, I cared. I didn’t “Battle of Hogwarts”-care, but I genuinely wanted to see what would happen next. I didn’t hate these characters; I just hated the subtext Stephanie Meyer created. The Volturi were threatening bad guys, and I enjoyed watching the lead villain Aro (Michael Sheen) chew the scenery to the point where it looked like he could ejaculate at any moment. Yeah, Jacob was still kind of a scumbag, but he was the least scumbag-y he had ever been. Bella actually had power, both literal and figurative. It all came together in a spectacular climatic battle that had me engrossed. I was engrossed in a Twilight movie, and I didn’t think that was possible.
Then it stopped. In a single, crummy moment, Twilight reminded us what it would never be and what it always was. It was never for me, and I accepted that long ago. I didn’t think it should really be for anyone, but I also accepted that I shouldn’t make it my job to crush the joy out of people since there really isn’t enough joy in the world anyway (although I would encourage them to try and find happiness in better stories). I accept that I can’t really get inside the heads of Twilight fans and understand why they don’t laugh when the werewolf falls in love with the baby. We’re from two different worlds when it comes to this franchise, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 perfectly sums up that reality in a single moment. And in my world, the best Twilight can be is what this movie has to offer: a serious conflict, some knowing humor, and a protagonist who finally came into her own by developing superpowers.