There have been some very capable actors who have been a part of the TWILIGHT films over the last five years, and I include lead actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Of course, there are also some actors in these films who make make it their life's mission to suck the breath and soul out of every scene they're in (I'm looking squarely into your eyes, Taylor Lautner and Ashley Greene). Having made this five-film journey with these characters and this saga that could have easily been told in a tightly edited three-film stretch, I feel I've been more than fair to these movies. I loathed Twilight, and felt that the next two films got progressively better, only to have the first part of BREAKING DAWN simply collapse in a heap on screen that no amount of vigorous, bed-breaking pretend sex could help.
The overall issues I've had with the series have little to do with how author Stephenie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have essentially changed all the rules about what vampires and werewolves are. I love a good overhaul, especially in dealing with supernatural creatures that have been done to death. No, my real problem with THE TWILIGHT SAGA is that the love triangle that plays out between the chronically indecisive Bella (Stewart), the pussified vampire Edward (Pattinson), and the pouty wolf boy Jacob (Lautner) never felt real.
These actors are going through the motions of people in love, but the never inhabit the necessary emotions or even have the look of love behind their glassy eyes. There are no intimate conversations between any of these characters. They only talk about two things: being in love and anything that keeps the plot moving forward. I love a good love story, I do. But if you're going to tell one, you have to allow your characters to actually inhabit the same space long enough to convince us they can spend forever together. This is a criticism of the entire franchise, not just BREAKING DAWN. What's fascinating about this particular film is that, for the first time by my estimation, Bella and Edward show signs of a connection. They have actually found something to bond over—their daughter Renesmee (played for most of the film by Mackenzie Foy and for the rest of the film by a freakishly expressive fake-looking CGI infant).
BREAKING DAWN, PART 2 might actually be the best film in series, and not just because of the bloodless violence orgy that makes up the film's epic final sequence (seriously, heads are snapped off left and right, and not always cleanly at the neck). Somehow, having a common purpose outside of being totally into each other gives the couple and this film some much-needed breathing room. Even Lautner seems human in this movie, despite the fact that his wolf side has imprinted on Renesmee, which manifests itself as a combination of falling in love with a child and simply wanting to play bodyguard. No matter how you manipulate this plot point to make it seem less creepy, it just gets creepier. But I digress...
This might be the best of the series (which is by no means a ringing endorsement) because it has focus. It doesn't get lost in its dozens of side characters (more than a little ironic, because there are so many new characters introduced in this film that the end credits are something like 15 minutes long) or feel like it has to cram a half-dozen subplots into its framework. There is one story here: protect Renesmee from the Volturi who suspect that she is an "immortal child," who are apparently pre-pubescent vampires who can't control their bloodlust and have wiped out entire villages in the past. In fact, young Renesmee is a half-human/half-vampire mutt, born of a human and aging rapidly (no one knows whether she will age until she dies or stop at some point).
While the Volturi are gathering their forces to wipe out the Cullens, thinking they have turned a child into a vampire, the Cullens are gathering "witnesses"—people they have convinced of their innocence who will speak on their behalf when the Volturi arrive. About the first half of BREAKING DAWN, PART 2 is pretty standard-issue TWILIGHT nonsense, but once the Cullens start bringing in new vampire allies from around the world, things get interesting. Of course, having the Volturi come back in full force is the film's greatest gift. The elder vampire statesmen—including the likes of Michael Sheen as the leader, Aro, and Dakota Fanning as the sadistic Jane—have been my favorite TWILIGHT characters since they first appeared in NEW MOON. Sheen in particular knows he's in a ridiculous movie, and he camps things up with a maniacal giggle and a peacock strut that is all about wielding all the power. If you think he's overdoing it, you're right...and he's all kinds of genius for it.
As mentioned, director Bill Condon has saved the best sequence of his two films for the end. The big clash is spectacular, and while I'm fully aware that Rosenberg and Condon have changed the ending of the film from the book, I think it's an alteration for the better. And the fans in the screening I attended lost their minds when they realized the extend of the change. It's kind of stunning who lives and dies, and that's all you're getting out of me. But it's a head-popping good action sequence by any movie's standards.
The TWILIGHT films have been easy targets for sure. The capable actors I mentioned in the first paragraph couldn't save or even improve the woefully underwritten material, and the bad actors simply had their lack of talent underscored sevenfold. But I've always been rooting for something about these films to work because I'm hoping that a handful of the younger fans use these movies as a gateway to better movies about monsters in our midst and get enthusiastic about horror films in general. And Bill Condon and his team have pieced together an exit strategy that might do just that. There's about half of a fairly solid movie in BREAKING DAWN, PART 2, and for this series, that's an absolute miracle.