Rating:2 stars out of 5
It takes genuine talent to fashion something out of nothing, and this rings particularly true for all the big screen adaptations of multimillionaire authoress Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. They basically hire a bunch of decent directors, give them respectable budgets, but in the end there’s essentially nothing they can do to fix the story no matter how much it goes against their artistic integrity. It’s like getting world class chefs, offer them below sub-standard ingredients and expect Michelin-starred dishes.
Our latest directorial victim is Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago, Gods and Monsters), and although he manages to very admirably make this latest addition to the saga actually watchable and quite frankly, gorgeously shot, there’s sadly a limit to even his Academy Award winning abilities with such horrendous source material. Plot-wise, we won’t bore you with an in-depth examination, because you’ve either read the original novels (kudos for getting through those), seen the trailers (our condolences) or have more than two brain cells to rub together (congratulations). The entire first half of the film mainly consists of Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) getting married, making a pointless stop-over at Rio De Janeiro and taking off to a hidden island for some hanky panky.
There is no conflict and definitely no story; at this point it seems like everyone’s simply going through the motions and ticking off the series of events in the book. Yes, nothing is really happening in all these scenes, but they have to be checked off to appease Robert Pattinson (and to a lesser extent, Kirsten Stewart) fans and ardent readers. So our sulky duo’s little romantic getaway/honeymoon includes a lot of hiking, playing chess, getting their freak on (in various locales and positions) and ruining perfectly pretty hotel suites. They don’t appear to have any interests or dreams, and hardly speak to each other except to talk about their drama. Edward doesn’t even (gasp!) sparkle anymore, while Bella suddenly looks less pasty and unwashed – the benefits of a beach holiday. The only time the pair displays more emotion than just lip biting and staring blankly into space is when our newly minted Mrs Cullen discovers she’s preggers.
Subsequently, the unborn vampire-human-hybrid in her tummy causes immense grief to everyone around it; Mummy Bella is transforming into the poster girl for anorexia because it’s apparently “eating her inside”, the werewolves want to destroy it (except Saint Jacob, of course) and the blood-suckers don’t know exactly what to make of it. Though when you think about it rationally in a non-Twihard frame of mind, there really isn’t an issue in the film that couldn’t be solved by five seconds of conversation.
Our Werewolf friends want to annihilate the foetus because they think it will be evilness incarnate. The vampires plan to kill the thing if it ends up being a monster. So uhmm, we’re all on the same page? The problem of course is that they have to fight instead of talk things through because the book says they must, and there’s no way to change this without bringing down the entire structure of the fundamental plot.
And this is when Condon proves himself a real hero in filmmaking - where he turns the worst parts of the story into the most intriguing. He tones down the brutal and disturbing birth scene by keeping all the unnecessary gore to a minimum (there’s a CSI-esque vibe as we see Edward’s ‘venom’ pulsing through Bella’s veins) and does a fantastic job in twisting the bizarre imprinting of Jacob (Taylor Lautner) onto the the infant Renesmee (MacKenzie Foy as an older version) into something rather beautiful and oddly touching on screen.
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Similarly, the whole wedding event could have been just another cheesy, fan-swooning moment, but Condon builds up an interestingly awkward yet sweet atmosphere with Bella’s parents (Billy Burke and Sarah Clarke trying their best to bring depth to their empty characters) and their new vampire family. Somehow, he is also astutely able to soften the weird chauvinistic parts of the couple’s bed scenes and instead channel it towards Edward’s reluctance to hurt his human wife.
If you’ve concluded that it seems like Condon has painted a Monet using a palate of crap, you’re absolutely right. It’s like the guy created a Twilight Miracle, part 1. And for the sake of our sanities, we hope he’ll be able to replicate this process with the next and (thankfully) final installment.