In the end Twilight has defeated Bill Condon. Not that Condon didn’t put up a hell of a fight; his Breaking Dawn duology isn’t just the best of the films, they’re quite close to being actually good movies. They’re usually gorgeous, and Condon wisely pumps up the emotions to Sirk-ian levels, slipping right into high camp straight from the first frames of the film. Plus he’s created a super brawl for the ages, one that’s as destructive, deadly and badass as any grim n’ gritty ‘Mature Readers’ superhero tussle. Heads get popped off like flowers from stems... again and again and again.
But he cannot, for all his skill and effort, overcome the essentially shit nature of the source material. Stephenie Meyer’s imagination is so fallow, her characters so worthless, that nothing Condon does can escape the gravitational force of Twilight’s immense shittiness. He never stood a chance.
Now that the series is over, I think we can lay the blame for its general badness not at the feet of Meyer, an idiot savant whose pre-literate ramblings somehow sparked a pop culture frenzy, but Melissa Rosenberg, who has written every single one of these movies. She is to Twilight as Steve Kloves was, more or less, to Harry Potter - but where Kloves took liberties with JK Rowlings’ books, Rosenberg has been a slave to the tyranny of Meyer’s talentless scribbling.
Rosenberg never put reasonable lines in the mouths of these characters. She never found a way to indicate any of these vampires had any personality or soul. In Breaking Dawn Part 2 I realized the Cullen family lives their lives like models in a furniture catalog, just standing around smiling around various pieces of home furnishings. There’s no sense of who ANY of these people are, and five films into a franchise that’s incredible. We’ve spent about ten hours with the Cullen family and I couldn’t tell you anything about them except for basics, like Carlisle is a doctor who stands around with a faint smile on his face not unlike a child rapist in a McDonald’s Playplace.
You can lay some of the blame on the actors, but the truth is that most of these people are desperately out of their leagues. The idea that Jackson Rathbone gets up in the morning, dresses himself and arrives on set feels like enough of a triumph that expecting him to actually ACT seems cruel. Most of these actors will never again be in a film that receives national distribution, and that’s okay because most of them are actors only in the sense that they appear in films, not that they know how to act. If they don’t stare into the camera while chewing a bagel from craft services I call their performances a success. Asking them to bring layers or depth to their characters is a waste of time. Besides, that’s what the hairdresser is for.
No, I blame Rosenberg fully. This is the first Twilight film to really deviate from the text (in a fashion; I don’t want to spoil it for those who care, but by the end everything is back to book canon), and that deviation is only the second time in five films when the films feel interesting and engaging. The first time, by the way, was Bella’s pregnancy and birthing, played by Condon as high camp horror in the last movie - a truly transcendent bit of cinema tucked away in ten hours of pain.
The new film picks up directly after the last one. Bella is now a vampire and the movie spends way too long with her hanging around getting used to her powers. Some of it is funny - Bella’s first hunt is so gut-bustingly funny that I don’t even know how the Epic Movie guys plan on parodying it - but like Breaking Dawn Part 1, most of the first half of the movie is a tedious slog.
There’s no drama, for some weird reason. It soon becomes clear that Renesmee, the half-human offspring of Bella and Edward (who is, for reasons unclear, played by a HORRIBLE CGI baby at first), is growing at an accelerated rate. Everybody is worried she might age right up to death very quickly. We know this because we’re told in voice over; the movie saves actual screen time for stuff like Edward and Bella visiting the fairy tale cottage the Cullens have bought for them. The script specifically skips past drama - a mother’s fear for her daughter’s safety - to get to dollhouse bullshit.
It’s storytelling as done by a 7 year old girl and her dollies. “And then they got married. And then they had a baby. And then the mommy killed a cougar. And then they moved into the bestest cottage in the whole world and it had a pretty couch and the baby room was so pretty! And then the baby grew up and fell in love with a werewolf.”
It’s infuriating, and again it’s where I blame Rosenberg. Why is the script structured like this? Why, instead of seeing Bella deal with the uncertainty of Renesmee’s future, are we watching her fucking ARM WRESTLE (not a joke)? Bella’s relationship to her baby is beyond weird, to be fair - she seems to want to have nothing to do with her, opting instead to fuck Edward as much as possible. Props to Condon: he makes sure Bella has an orgasm while fucking Edward, and even marks it with an explosion of sparkly CGI stars around her head.
Everything in this movie is infuriating until the third act rolls around. See, the evil vampire ruling council, the Volturi, have heard about Renesmee. They think that she’s an immortal child, and making a child a vampire is one of the most serious crimes a vamp can commit. The reasons are explained in a hilarious flashback, which is where Twilight shows one of the only interesting ideas in five films: children turned never mature, never get smarter, and so they remain hellraising tykes who happen to have the power to kill dozens at a time. That’s interesting!
Anyway, the Volturi come to Forks to wipe out the Cullen family for making an immortal child. The Cullens travel the world to gather ‘witnesses’ - the idea is that they want vamps to testify that Renesmee is no immortal, but a strange hybrid. I don’t understand the point either, since the Volturi are coming to see for themselves, but at any rate they gather a grade school UN Day-level of multinational vamps. We’re talking an Irish vamp in a fisherman’s cap and scarf, and jungle vamps with teeth on necklaces and face paint. At this point there can be no question that Meyer has the mental development of a nine year old.
This group of witnesses ends up facing off against the Volturi in what is, seriously, the best super-powered mass fight I’ve ever seen on film. We’re talking about a guy opening a rift in the earth down to the planet’s magma and werewolves being hurled into it. We’re talking about a bad guy getting the top of his head above the jaw ripped off. We’re talking about two superbeings flying through the air at each other, landing ten feet apart, stopping like samurais, before the camera reveals one character’s severed head in the other’s hands. Honestly, this is the best fight scene of the year, and characters on both sides get DESTROYED. There’s a scene where a giant werewolf ambles up to a villain while holding another villain’s severed arm in its mouth before proceeding to fucking eat the second villain alive.
But to be honest, this bonkers, gonzo, amazing twenty minutes - during which I involuntarily cheered and clapped as many hated Cullen family members were viciously decapitated - isn’t enough to make me recommend the film in any way. It’s like Part 1 all over again - Condon has found elements to blow out, to make incredible, places where he truly excels as a filmmaker. But these incredible moments are still buried in the shitheap that is Twilight, and while you could argue it makes the diamonds that much more valuable... you still have to comb through shit to get them.
And the film cheats anyway; the series’ unwillingness to swerve from canon undoes everything that was good in the sequence. Cleverly, and in a way that actually makes the stupid end of the book work better, but undoes it nonetheless.
I really hope that Bill Condon comes out of these films with the clout to get great films made (considering how utterly cheap these movies are I can’t imagine he’s coming out with a crazy payday). He’s a great filmmaker who has, for whatever reason, never quite jumped to the next level. And in the unlikely event any fanboys see this movie they’ll be making him their dream Justice League director; I cannot oversell how good that final fight scene is.
I really hope everybody else involved in this film just fades away. There’s almost no talent on screen, and the few real actors - like Michael Sheen - are giving Batman: The TV Series level villain performances, just having a good, silly time. The cast breaks down into two camps: those incapable of putting in the effort and those not bothering. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are borderline contemptuous of the film in every scene, acting like high school seniors at lunch on the last day of class. They just want to get the fuck out of there.
I can’t blame them.