My relationship with Twilight has long been antagonistic, but I found, odd as it may sound, a surprising level of enjoyment in much of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. There are more entertaining elements on display here than I ever thought possible for the series, and I fully expect fans will embrace this as the franchise’s best installment, which it absolutely is.
But I am still ultimately sour on the entire experience, due in large part to an absolutely wretched ‘twist’ in the film’s third act that just reinforces how little Stephenie Meyer’s source material has to offer. Director Bill Condon tries his best, from start to finish, to improve on an unimpressive story, but there are limits to his power, and as much as Breaking Dawn Part 2 builds viewers up with the hope of something better, something marginally insightful and valuable, it ultimately careens down the same obnoxious, feather-light path as its predecessors.
As strange a choice for the Twilight saga as Condon seemed when his hiring was first announced, Breaking Dawn Part 2 makes it clear from the start exactly what he brings to the table. More than just an impressive, artistic visual sheen, Condon seems keenly aware that much of Twilight’s appeal comes from its guilty-pleasure elements, and handles tone with aplomb. It is impossible, for instance, to take the notion of shirtless werewolf Jacob falling in love with a baby seriously, so instead of needlessly pretending the idea has any dramatic merit, Condon stages Jacob’s explanation of ‘imprinting’ as comedy, with Kristen Stewart’s Bella acting as incredulous and exasperated audience proxy.
It, along with a surprisingly large handful of other moments – including Stewart fistfighting a CGI mountain lion, the introduction of a vampire from the Revolutionary War, or any scene where characters demonstrate superhuman speed courtesy some of the most hilariously awful special effects this side of 1995 – actually works, oddly enough, for there is real life and vitality, however goofy, to these and other moments, an energy sorely missing from prior installments.
Condon even pushes the cast towards series-best work, waking Robert Pattinson up from his four-film slumber, encouraging Stewart to have palpable fun with her physically expanded role, and giving the extended ensemble opportunities to play around with their loose, effective chemistry. I may have little interest in the characters they play, but everyone turns in very solid work here, and they can, at times, be amusing to watch.
These merits alone give Breaking Dawn Part 2 greater worth than other installments. Even more importantly, though, the film features a story that, miraculously, seems to address the single most pressing creative issue across all of Twilight: The total and utter lack of stakes.
Bella Swan has never had to work for anything in this series, with no major obstacles to overcome and no significant cares in the world apart from being with Edward. Love – or, more accurately, sex, since these characters never display anything deeper than basic animal lust for one another in literary or cinematic form – is her only driving motivation, and there is next to nothing standing in her way from beginning to end. Edward’s sporadic attitude problems or the occasional rogue vampire aside, by the time Breaking Dawn Part 2 opens – with Bella gifted immortality, superpowers, a loving husband and beautiful daughter, and a gorgeous home in the woods free of charge – Bella has done literally nothing to earn her comfortable place in the world. It is a little like the Cinderella story, but without the preceding years of sweat and toil.
And Breaking Dawn does, as I indicated, set itself up to finally test Bella’s fortitude in meaningful ways. The Volturi – a mischievous and powerful sect of vampire ‘royalty’ – mistakenly believes Bella and Edward’s half-breed daughter is a wicked, dangerous creature of legend, and has set out to murder the child. Thus, Bella and the Cullens must gather their allies to make one final stand, giving this final chapter a level of thrust and momentum missing from the rest of the series, one Condon and the cast and crew can play with to decent effect. Genuine danger is created, the kind that could, conceivably, bring out new shadings or dimensions to these characters and their story. And for a time, it really does seem like the film is heading in a satisfying direction, one even a longtime Twilight grouch like myself can be on board with.
For a time.
Because I, unlike Twilight, am a good and decent being uninterested in ruining another person’s enjoyment, I will not spoil exactly how Breaking Dawn Part 2 completely undermines its own dramatic thrust, betrays the audience, and ultimately reinforces what a total and utter lack of peril, stakes, or vulnerability Bella and company faced across the series. I shall only say that Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg make a change to Meyer’s original story in the third act, one that serves as a miraculously massive improvement, and then double back on that momentary boldness with all the grace and dignity of a middle school bully shouting “na na na na na.”
The original text, it probably goes without saying, is uninterested in testing Bella, creating any amount or dramatic tension, or exploring basic concepts like personal sacrifice; so despite Condon’s best efforts, the series ultimately ends on the same lazy, substance free notes with which it began, and I return to my base reaction of hatred and despair. This franchise has caused me nothing but grief, so I suppose it is only fitting the series kick me in the groin once more on the way out.
Perhaps it is my fault for thinking Twilight can transcend its own limitations. I do not like this series, and Breaking Dawn Part 2 does nothing to change my personal opinion, but it is a very well made film, and I believe fans shall react quite positively to it. I do not begrudge anyone their enjoyment, and hope Twilight aficionados find more to enjoy here than I did. In a time when so much divides us, perhaps the real worth of Twilight is that it brings people together, en masse, to share in communal enjoyment. As much as I may find said enjoyment inexplicable, I cannot argue with results. Twilight does what it does, and whatever that is, it does so effectively.