How does one even begin to discuss any of the TWILIGHT films without sounding like an outsider looking in? Up until the latest installment, the first of the two-part conclusion of BREAKING DAWN, I'd seen these films getting slightly better with each new film. Part of the reason for this was that the choice of directors was improving with each new movie, and I thought that would be the case when I heard Bill Condon (GODS & MONSTERS; DREAMGIRLS) was on board for the climax of this story of young love, supernatural creatures, and shirtless men. But BREAKING DAWN, perhaps in an effort to drag this story out to roughly four hours across two films, feels like its moving in slow motion.
I refuse to believe that whatever is left of this story couldn't have been compressed into one 2.5-hour conclusion. How many times do we need to see Jacob (Taylor Lautner), one of the few characters given anything resembling a story arc in this movie, confront his fellow werewolves to tell them that he will or won't deal with the "Bella problem" of marrying a vampire, presumably to become one herself, which would count as a vampire killing a human, which the wolves are sworn to keep from happening. I feel like we got about a half-dozen scenes like this, when two probably would have gotten the job done.
Every scene—from the opening wedding spectacle to the honeymoon in Brazil to Bella's extended, life-threatening pregnancy—seems three times longer than it needs to be. But what makes BREAKING DAWN seem interminable is that almost no one in the film seems to want to be there. I will go to my grave knowing that Kristen Stewart is a solid actress, but if all you know her from is the TWILIGHT films, you'd never know it. Make all the jokes you want about her tugging at her hair and having no neck control, but check her out in THE RUNAWAYS or ADVENTURELAND or even the little seen WELCOME TO THE RILEYS (to name three recent examples), and you'll see a confident, impressive actor who doesn't stammer. And for the record, I can't wait to see her do the action-warrior thing in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN next year.
I think the issue as far as Stewart's drab performances in the TWILIGHT films is that she doesn't feel challenged by the work, which isn't surprising considering what I'm told is the severely underwritten source material, adapted once again by Melissa Rosenberg, who has written some of the best episodes of "Dexter," so I know she can write better than these movies would lead you to believe. Stewart's reading is so flat and unconvincing that it's kind of shocking. The only times she seems to be inspired by the material is during the back half of the film when Bella is dying due to a rapidly accelerated pregnancy that is literally draining her of life. Perhaps the prospect of being killed off and not having to continue being in this movie motivated Stewart.
BREAKING DAWN also suffers severely from a case of "tell not show." The exposition here is exhausting, and people seem to pile on new legends and rules about vampires and werewolves just to explain away behavior that wouldn't make sense without these last-minute adds. And while we're talking about unmotivated behavior, why do the werewolves hates the Cullen vampires so much? Clearly these are the nicest, most hippie-ish vampires ever to exist and wouldn't hurt a fly; so why can't the local wolves just give them a pass? This unsubstantiated hostility makes the werewolves look like hairy assholes... so to speak.
And much like the previous film, ECLIPSE, Bella still seems to get off on teasing Jacob, even after she gets married to Robert Pattinson's Edward (I mean literally right after the wedding, she's hugging and dancing with Jacob, possibly dry humping his leg). I never accepted these two as friends, since it seems Jacob always was in love with her, and she always knew it and chose to ignore it. It's not surprising that when Jacob gets the wedding invitation, he rips his shirt off and disappears for weeks into the woods. How can a guy be expected to keep his shirt on in the face of such heartbreak?
There is a certain insane joy, I suppose, in the final act of BREAKING DAWN, if only because the stakes actually seem high since Bella's life is at risk and there's blood and a lot of people want to kill Bella's possible demon baby. So little of this actually pays off, but the possibility makes for a level of fun roughly equivalent to bouncing two balloons into each other. Low stakes are actually a huge part of the problem I have with the TWILIGHT movies in general. What happens to these creatures and humans in the upper reaches of the Washington sticks never really mattered to me. I don't necessarily need the fate of the world in the balance with every vampire vs. werewolf movie I see (this isn't an Underworld film, for heaven's sake), but give me something I can sink my teeth into.
This is probably why NEW MOON has always been my favorite of this franchise, since the inclusion of the Volturi adds that worldview and gravitas that are so desperately missing from the other installments. I'm excited that apparently Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning will be back in force with BREAKING DAWN, PART 2, but the fact that we have to wait a whole year to wrap this up is ludicrous.
That said, this first part of the final TWILIGHT story is one of the more painful and painfully paced. Plus, many of the actors (I'm looking at you Anna Kendrick, Billy Burke and Peter Facinelli) look like they'd rather be anywhere but in this movie, and that isn't easy to watch. It's almost like those actors who know they'll have careers after this series want so desperately for this work to be over that they can't even fake enthusiasm for the material. I understand.
With any luck, the TWILIGHT Saga will mark the birth and death of a certain type of horror movie—one that features next to no horror, tension, fear, blood or characters developed beyond gazing/glaring at each other in an approximation of emotion. These films haven't always felt like an endurance test, but BREAKING DAWN, PART 1 sure did. Hell, even the honeymoon sex scenes here missed sexy by about a mile; there was more eroticism in Jacob's "imprinting" scene, which is just gross. Here's hoping the last part of this tale ends with something resembling a bang rather than a whimper.