Whew! That was close: something almost happened there for a minute.
As the wretched Twilight saga drags itself for a long overdue conclusion, it finally drops the pretense of being anything but a cash grab. It’s a two-hour approximation of a twenty-minute sequence: a bloated wheel-spinner too busy gazing at itself in the mirror to advance anything even remotely resembling a story. They could have wrapped this all up last year without a fuss, but – with an envious eye on the Harry Potter franchise, which really did need two parts for its final chapter – Twilight just couldn’t pass up the chance to wring another round of tickets from us. Whatever my issues with this franchise (and believe me, there are plenty), its fan base shouldn’t have to endure such a fleecing.
And rarely has such a motionless motion picture graced our screens. We learn what we need to know in a few short strokes, leaving nothing but dead air to fill in the remainder. Having birthed her human-vampire hybrid baby, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) now lives as a full member of the undead. It’s awesome (she assures us in the vapidly annoying voiceovers that have become the staple of this series) because it lets her throw people around like lawn darts and she doesn’t even have to drink anyone’s blood to do it. But all is not well in her queen bee Shangri-La. Her baby is growing inhumanly fast, suggesting that it may die in just a few years. Also, her jilted werewolf lover Jacob (Tayler Lautner) has apparently imprinted on the child, meaning that he basically gets to eye-fuck a six-year-old for the whole film while painfully explaining to us why it isn’t creepy. Then there’s the Volturi, the vampire mafia who have a strict ban against turning children into the undead and who mistake Bela’s precious little angel for one of these verboten kinder. They’re coming en masse to clean her clock, forcing Bella’s new relatives in the Cullen clan to gather allies.
That’s basically the gist of it: there’s a big fight coming and we gotta get ready for it. Of course, Breaking Dawn Part 2 needs to kill 90 minutes of screen time first, and Bella’s odious moping only covers about 30. We spend the rest of the movie assembling a staggering list of walk-on vampires, then watching them demonstrate their various supernatural abilities. Imagine an X-Men movie where everyone hangs out in the mansion and talks about how cool their powers are, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how it plays out. When the head-popping showdown finally arrives, it comes with a surprising-for-all-the-wrong-reasons twist that genuinely makes you wonder if you’re being punk’d.
All of that assumes there’s even something worthwhile here to begin with. There isn’t. Now that Bella has finally become the monster on the outside that she always was on the inside, Breaking Dawn Part 2 plunges headlong into her masturbatory power fantasies. Once again, everyone coos and fusses over her, compounded by her keen new powers that show no visible downsides and that she has neither earned nor deserves. The consequence-free fantasyland speaks to the fan base’s most self-indulgent qualities, unruffled by the barest hints of genuine drama or conflict.
The undercurrent, as always, remains actively toxic. Besides the script’s callous disregard for anything resembling a moral compass (one of the vampire “heroes” kills a man for singing off-key), it appears ignorant to the truly disturbing messages it sends. It keeps insisting that Jacob’s consolation-prize obsession with baby Swann is parental and nurturing instead of overtly pedophilic, while lauding the vampire clan’s protective instincts as the swarm ominously around the child. This is the stuff of nightmares, and any competent horror story could do wonders with it. Here, the very things we should fear and revile somehow become the stuff of swooning romance, and even undeniable acts of evil are skimmed over as if they were slightly distasteful habits.
The few bright lights actually come from the perceived villains: Michael Sheen who eagerly grasps the movie’s unspoken campiness and Dakota Fanning who steals every scene she’s in without uttering a word. It’s hard not to root for them against the soulless protagonists shrieking for our attention. Add a thick helping of misogyny and an unspoken cruelty towards any character not in the Super Awesome Vampire Club, and you have… well, everything we’ve come to expect from this franchise over the last four years.
And let’s not pretend that the Twilight saga has done anything positive for either vampires or horror movies in general. Defenders insist that a whole new generation of fans will graduate from its child-like crudeness in favor of some real vampire movies. Since the first Twilight opened in 2008, we’ve seen a glut of them – including Let Me In, Priest, Cirque du Freak, Daybreakers, Stake Land and the Fright Night remake – and with one or two exceptions, they’ve all crashed and burned. The fan base doesn’t want vampires: they want wish fulfillment, and Twilight has delivered. Its reprehensible fundaments passe without comment and its hateful heroine pedals an outlook that most of us outgrow by the time we’re twelve. Breaking Dawn Part 2 sticks to the program to the bitter end, and should reap handsome rewards in the process. We can at least take comfort in the knowledge that this truly is the end… and that its success will eventually fade into a perverse curiosity at best. Good riddance.