I might be ready to admit it—I like the Twilight movies. Oh, not for any cinematic reason; they are universally dull, confusing and unimaginative, but I’m tickled and bemused that things so weird are so insanely popular. These are weird movies and they are released by big studios. I find that interesting.
Let me take you back just 15 years ago when Titanic (1997) was breaking all kinds of records. What if I told you that just a decade or so later one of the most sought-after properties in Hollywood would be a story about a war between vampires and shape-shifting man-wolves in which a vampire impregnates a human and the fetus, being half-vampire mind you, tries to chew its way through the poor girl’s womb? What if I further went on to reveal that in an attempt to save the dying mother, the vampire bit her and turned her into an immortal vampire herself, and that the successfully delivered baby was subject to a process in which both she, all of 10 minutes old mind you a second time, and the leader of the wolf-people fell deeply and irrevocably in love with each other? Would you believe me?
I can hardly believe it now and I’ve seen five of these movies, all of which seem to get progressively more bizarre as they inch toward The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–Part 2 (2012), in which the tale, mercifully, ends. I say mercifully, and make no bones about it I was pleased when it was over, but a part of me experienced a twang of longing, a quiet sadness that this whole self-important, overcomplicated, utterly inconsequential but truly odd ride had drawn to a close. It may be some time before we see something so strange compete for the box-office crown again.
It’s time to return to Forks, Washington, where everyone’s favorite lip-biting, eye-darting, line-mumbling teen Bella Cullen (Kristen Stewart), née Swan, wakes up from the traumatic birth of her daughter. She’s a vampire now, bitten by hubby Edward (Robert Pattinson), to the chagrin of the one-time rival for her affection, the wolfman Jacob (Taylor Launter), who is now in love with the baby. But this is no ordinary baby; in fact, by the time she’s three days old, she’s already a toddler. I’m a little fuzzy on the science, but because she has Edward’s vampiric genes, she ages at an accelerated rate. I’m not entirely sure why DNA from vampires, who don’t age at all, would cause a baby to grow up 10 times faster than a human infant, but there it is. Apparently, she’ll race to a certain age and then stop forever. One of the joys of the earlier movies was watching Edward try to convince the then-human Bella that becoming a vampire was this horrible curse and that he loved her too much to bite her and give it to her. Yes, vampires never age, or have to eat or sleep; they have powerful abilities and are preternaturally good–looking forever, but stay away, Bella—it’s a nightmare! In Nosferatu (1922), that man had a disease, but in Twilight vampirism sounds amazing. Sex is better, we learn. Mountain lions no longer present a threat. Even child-rearing is easier; the Cullens’ little girl gets through her terrible twos in about a week.
Soon, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) is not a baby but a girl of about 10, which grabs the attention of the Volturi, the vampire government that leaves its poorly lit Italian caverns to administer vampire justice. Their leader is Aro (Michael Sheen) and his deputies are the powerful Jane (Dakota Fanning) and Alec (Cameron Bright). The Volturi wrongly assume that Edward and Bella have bitten Renesmee, which is a vampire no-no. The Cullens haven’t bitten Renesmee; they’ve just given her a terrible name. Just the same, Aro puts together a posse and comes after them, which leads Edward and Bella to assemble their own team to take them on.
The plot certainly lends itself to high-brow sniffing and perhaps I’m recounting it to you with my nose firmly in the air, but the plot isn’t the problem (Star Wars , for example, is no more far-fetched [though I must point out that there isn’t a single adult in love with a baby in Star Wars]). The problem is the tone, which treats the hammy story with the reverence of gospel. Every revelation is momentous, every development is load-bearing, every line is crucial, but none of them make much sense. This is a fantasy after all; a light touch would go a long way. We’re never allowed to be deeply invested in the characters because for the most part, especially in Breaking Dawn—Part 2, they’re all, by definition, foreign weirdos. Starting with the title character in Dracula (1931), Hollywood vampires have become progressively more devilishly charming, campy and attractive. The Twilight vamps have the looks but there’s not an ounce of camp in the entire series, where Edward and his ilk are super-serious, ultra-dour and incessantly boring. When he and Bella try to round up an army of area bloodsuckers, they all take the news of the upcoming Volturi war with exaggerated glances and dramatic expressions. This seems to be replicated throughout the whole species. Isn’t there a sense of humor among these stiffs? What do these people do for fun? Look at each other pensively?
So the Cullens and company and the Volturi decide to meet on the playground after school to have it out, the immediate prelude to which is a symphony of furtive glances and furrowed brows. Cherish Michael Sheen here, who has the good fortune of being written a part in which he can string together more than a few words, and he makes the most of them, giving us the flamboyant, over-the-top vampire we want and deserve after 90 minutes of crabbed, joyless ones. Right before the cartoonish violence begins, there’s a montage of close-ups trained on faces that Bergman might have created if he were directing a Mexican soap opera. When the carnage gets going, we have heads snapping off like grapes and even some being ripped in half. I found this passage distasteful not because of its realism (it has none) but because of the brutality and mercilessness of our heroes. Having just seen Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012), in which a boy saves the life of a tiger that would never offer him the same courtesy simply out of compassion, I was a little put off when the people we are supposed to like seemed to relish so much in cruel and unusual means of vampire disposal. I must admit, however, that this disapproval was short–lived thanks to a twist that would feel like a cop–out if it weren’t so satisfying, however, it does rob a movie that is piteously short on plot of the one thing of interest that actually happens in the movie.
And so ends The Twilight Saga, which, like all teenage love, truly is a saga, one that has brought millions into the theaters to witness this strange romance and divided the nation among those on Team Edward and those on Team Jacob. I, for one, would like to declare myself firmly on Team Charlie (Billy Burke), for I identify most with Bella’s poor, put-upon father, who spends most of the movies looking confused, with a face that seems to ask, “Why is this so important to everyone?”