Film Review: Breaking Dawn – Part II (2012)

Bill Condon is a long way from Gods and Monsters and Kinsey – the critically acclaimed, powerfully acted and thematically complicated pair of bio-pics that he made in the beginning of the 2000′s. Following 2006′s Dreamgirls, the agonizingly drawn out stage-musical adaptation, where Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar by magically convincing the world that she could act, Condon bizarrely signed on to the Twilight franchise. He became seduced by Summit’s lustful search for a directorial heavy-hitter who might hopefully raise the critically maligned franchise’s reputation with the film snobs.

However, as everyone probably always suspected, the rampant problems with the Twilight franchise have never really originated from the director’s chair. For instance, Catherine Hardwicke, who is far less regarded than Condon or even New Moon helmer Chris Weitz, was able to deliver what was probably the film franchise’s most successful entry: the original film. Therefore Condon, despite having a more impressive resume fares little better than any of his predecessors. The final entry to the franchise, Breaking Dawn – Part II, despite being effectively paced and containing a handful of scenes that evoke probably the first real moments of emotional depth in the entire series, can not overcome the flabby melodrama inherent in the source material from one Mrs. Stephanie Meyer.

The verbosely titled The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part II consists of essentially what amounts to battle prep. The supernatural Bella and Edward love-child, so agonizingly conceived through the sweaty fumblings of virginal, vampiric love, has been discovered by the all-powerful Vampire coven: The Volturi, a gang of misanthropic creeps who lord themselves over all other bloodsuckers. Bella is now living with new vampire abilities, which she acquired in the previous installment when Edward was forced to turn her in order to prevent her death during child-birth.

All the while, the series premiere beefcake Jacob Black has now become a full-fledged ally of the couple. His once simmering jealousy of Edward’s relationship with Bella conveniently gone due to him becoming fixated on the vampire couple’s child Renesmee (brought about through the horrendously creepy werewolf trait of “imprinting”). This is not the only one of the series’ supernatural attributes that frankly reeks of pedophilia, as nobody seems to want to recognize the fact that Edward himself is mentally over 100 years old when he first meets the pubescent Bella.

Creepy plot points aside, Condon owns the film’s opening sequence. It is marked by explosions of augmented sound effects, extreme, computer enhanced close-ups of innocuous objects (a definite riff on the depiction of the spider-sense in Raimi’s original spider-pic) and amusing interplay between the Bella and her vamp hubby. All of this does a great job indicating the enhanced universe that vampire Bella is now experiencing. Yet, inventive sequences exploring the internal lives of these characters have never been very sustainable for this franchise. Before we know it, Bella is off racing through the impossibly lush Washington mountains, literally frothing at the mouth due to her need for blood.

This blood-hunting scene indicates yet again that its stars are incapable of rising above the franchise’s flaccid content and grotesquely bombastic style. One would think that Stewart, now finally freed from her character’s whimpering, male-dependent, and perpetually love-sick persona, would be able to invest the character with some palpable intensity. However, the opposite seems to have occurred. Bella is now even less interesting to watch, partially because she has now obtained pretty much everything she pined for in the previous installments. The fault belongs to Stewart, who lacks both the presence and the requisite gravitas to imbue her ”protective mother” act with any real authenticity.

More successful this time around is Pattinson, who is given very little to say or do during most of the film. This reduction in dialogue is a huge benefit to both the character and the actor behind him. With his unkempt yet heavily gelled hair and bad posture the actor’s appearance has always been more interesting to observe than his acting.

An early scene in the film where Bella physically assaults Jacob (in response to the repulsive news about his imprinting on her newborn), perfectly encapsulates the Pattinson’s specific appeal in this film. As his wife screams in fury, punching the werewolf against tree-trunks, Edward just shuffles into view, his mouth half-smiling in a way that is inhumanly smug, his eyes glittering with a mixture of amusement and probably boredom. The jury seems to still be out on whether or not Pattinson is an actor of any real skill, but he has certainly grown into this particular role. His alien-like movements, laconic speech-patterns and generally inexpressive face seem perfectly suited to this awkward, gloomy creature.

As noted above, upon becoming alerted to her existence the Volturi decide to make a move upon the Cullen child, which prompts the Cullens to make a last-ditch effort at uniting other vampire clans to stand with them if the Volturi decides to attack. Condon, working with editor Virginia Katz, is able to successfully keep the film in motion during what could have been a potentially unwieldy sequence of the family traversing the globe and acquiring comrades. Still, the film remains fairly uneven throughout its entire running length. Condon’s ability to keep the film moving at a good clip is marred by how each international vampire ally seems to be a walking stereotype of either their ethnicity or their country of origin. Another instance would be how Condon is able to stage a campfire sequence that contains a moment of real touching poignancy (involving Edward and his father-figure Carlisle) yet undercuts the tension of the final battle sequence by having every combatant’s head pop off like a bobble-head doll.

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For the most part competently directed, although still possessing the franchise’s trademark silliness (Bella uses her super-speed even when crossing a room) Breaking Dawn – Part II is nowhere near essential viewing outside of die-hard fan circles.  Condon’s missteps are small however when placed in the context of the material that he had to work with, material devoid of any real thematic through line aside from a conservative fantasy about love, sex, and parenthood. Meyer’s work dissipates the dark tradition of violent sexual anxiety that pervades the mythos of vampire fiction, rendering this film, and the series itself, defanged from the very beginning.

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