by Richard von Busack
Actors, especially actors who are clearly going the distance, know enough to josh the roles that are their annuities: it’s a matter of professionalism and survival. Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart, coping with the typically atrocious Stephenie Meyer plot in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse keep things looser than usual. Even the stoked up audiences of teens, revved to cheer for Team Edward or Team Jacob were laughing up their sleeves a little bit. Taylor Lautner’s muscly physique, for instance: that’s funny. One of the best lines is Edward griping “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” The movie even gets a bit sublime for a few minutes: the three are trapped in a tent during a snowstorm, and only snuggling for warmth will save Bella’s life. At least the werewolf has body heat.
As if all the muscles in the world would make up for the glum-doggie devotion Lautner emotes. Jacob gives the male audience something to take home. That is, an object lesson of how not to court a woman by following her around, telling her repeatedly that you love her and she just hasn’t discovered it yet. This creepy pesky kid-brother action is not helped by Jacob hanging around with a pack of identically dressed werewolves who are more like chipmunks. Were the filmmakers worried that it would be a slur on Native Americans if they made the wolf-pack a little sexy and sinister? Why do they have to conduct themselves like a Y Indian Guides meeting?
Lautner is so noble you have to guffaw, and you can predict how it’ll go for him. No one ever rebukes Bella Swan for playing both ends against the middle; the one woman who susses Bella out as a manipulator only says something in passing, changes into a werewolf and runs away.
One supposes Bella could pass for an anti-heroine in a dim light, and certainly the light in Washington state is dim enough. She should be getting smarter. She’s finally out of high school. The same series that gave you vegan vamps and werewolves eating muffins now gives you Edward Cullen in a golden robe and mortarboard. The valedictorian is Anna Kendrick, playing Bella’s best pal; Kendrick’s eyes are clearly on the exit sign in both scenes. The date of Bella coming vampirical transformation is nigh, but it can be delayed (you know Meyer) until Edward has, and I quote, “the extraordinary honor” of marrying Bella. The “extraordinary” in that sentence sticks out like a call-bank operator’s “how can I provide you with exceptional service?” However, there is an argument against Bella taking the vamp’s path.
Newborns. The kids aren’t all right. We learn that the newly changed vampire has super strength and a raging appetite. And the vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard plays her this time) is turning loads of Seattleites into newby bloodsuckers: starting with a kid from Forks, Wa. who is attacked in a mediocre pre-title grabber.
Victoria’s mission is to attack the peaceful boring Cullen clan, a barely differentiated bag of wigs and contact lenses, led as always by kindly old doctor Carlisle (the accidentally uproarious Peter Facinelli, who I’m positive is Eugene Levy in disguise). As Bella is unaccountably beloved by both Edward and Jacob, the vamps and lycanthropes form an uneasy pact. The treaty is sealed in a scene that has all the tension of a group of business partners signing a medium-sized deal.
David Slade proves that the mark of a former music video director is that the movie will be sustainable for three or four minutes at a time. The colors are well mixed, especially by the standards of this wonkily-hued franchise; he really worked the palette in the agoraphobic Hard Candy. The early 1970s-album-cover look of the flowery fields behind Bella and Edward seems like a right choice for such brooders. Stewart is well photographed during her most plausible scene: a bit at the end where she explains that she’s been the supernatural kind all her life, even before she met Edward.
The punched up violence helps also: aren’t these supposed to be vampire movies, for God’s sake? (“You girls ruin everything!”—Bart Simpson.) Still the climactic battle of good ‘n’ evil looks like a petting zoo version of the funny-animal Gotterdammerung in Chronicles of Narnia: a semi-animated scrimmage of super-fast vamps and donkey-sized werewolves. It looks like a pick-up football game in which the players are suddenly devoured by the mascots.
As always Edward, “The `True Love Waits’ Vampire”™ delays consummation. Or does he? One scene he puts a ring on Bella’s finger. The next time we see this finger in closeup, it’s bleeding: symbolic badge of the transfixed hymen? Does this mean she overcane his concern for what he tells Bella is “your virtue…your soul.” Are we really hearing someone implying Bella will lose her soul if she has premarital sex?
No matter what heat the actors bring to it, they can’t boil the Mormon starch out of Meyer’s work. Meyer is devious, switching the genders on the traditional should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-do-it argument, with Bella Swan wanting to go, and Edward slamming the brakes. He has a speech about his old-fashionedness, about going down on one knee and asking her father that’ll make you lament the possibility of human progress. An unfathomable Indian legend about a chief’s third wife who took one for the team, underscores Meyers’ urgings that a lady’s part is to observe and suffer. And the back story of one of the Cullen gang, Rosalie (Nikki Hale) has a real howler in it. In her human life in the 1920s, Rosalie was sexually humiliated by her drunken fiancé in front of a bunch of his friends. Proudly she snaps “I’ll see you tomorrow. Sober!” (Telling him to go away forever never crossed her mind.) That she gets turned into a vamp, and avenges herself doesn’t count: she even apologizes for her wrath when she tells the tale: “I was a little theatrical back then.”
These vamp movies could use a little theater…and a little more female wrath than Bella injuring her tiny fist on Jacob’s studly jaw. There is a slight betterness this time around because of the humor and action (instead of the endless mope of the emo undead); the stars carry it along, readying themselves for the next one. Still, Meyer’s channeling of the golden age of the Gothic novel gives one the depressing feeling of passing by a housing tract named “Wuthering Heights”. The film is basically a cheat: the two prettiest people in it don’t kiss.