For all the bluster and gossip that surrounds the release of the final instalment of The Twilight Saga, only two things can be said about it for sure: it’s all over and it ends on a pretty decent high note by series standards. It gives fans more than enough of what they want and casual viewers can just sit back and enjoy it more handily than any other film in the franchise.
Picking up after the events of Breaking Dawn – Part One (and after dividing Stephenie Meyer’s final novel into parts), Bella (Kristen Stewart) has now become a full blooded vampire after a life saving effort from her beau Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her from giving birth to their child. The secret, ancient vampire police The Volturi now seek to kill the child as they believe it to be a rapidly aging and uncontrollable immortal that can wreak havoc and murder everything in sight. Knowing this isn’t the case, Edward, creepy friend and former love interest Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and their families amass a band of witnesses to tell the truth about the tyke or possibly throw down and go to war if necessary.
Sure, things are still as romantically cheeseball as ever. There’s slow motion sequences, montages of love, grandiose proclamations of said love, talk of love conquering all, and from there you get the idea. In that respect, director Bill Condon (back from the previous instalment) stays true to form, but this entry stands apart in two very different ways from its predecessors. It’s the only film to have an actual payoff since it’s nothing BUT payoff from the last four films, and it also comes with a healthy dose of intentional humour that buys the whole premise a lot of good will.
Condon firmly knows how to make a good film out of this material, straddling three fine tightropes between camp, fan service, and genuine sincerity towards the core story and themes. To his almost immeasurable credit, Condon knows his material is somewhat ridiculous and he allows his cast – all of whom know their characters by this point – to simply relax and use their instincts. It’s natural rather than forced. It’s the rare case of people just doing what feels right for the story instead of conforming to a forced ideal.
Pattinson and Lautner don’t really have too much to do in this entry, although the latter arguably gets the biggest intentional laughs of the film in a sequence where he attempts to explain to Bella’s father what exactly happened to his daughter. Both get a chance to play around with people’s preconceived notions of them without betraying a character they could play in their sleep by now. It’s refreshing even if they aren’t more than background fodder this time out.
The focus here comes more in the form of looking at the familial aspect of the Cullens with family patriarch Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) getting almost as much screen time as his son does as they assemble a sort of “model UN of vampires” from around the world to help their cause against the evil hooded hordes. In almost X-Men like fashion, all of these vampires have special powers and abilities that will serve them all well later on in the film, but that doesn’t really add or take away from anything. It’s just kind of there to move things along.
The only member of the supporting cast who really gets a chance to shine among an overstuffed batch of minor characters is the returning Michael Sheen as the leader of the Voltari. Easily becoming the go to actor for this sort of role following Tron: Legacy and the only (almost) passable Underworld movie, Sheen doesn’t so much chew the scenery as much as he beats it into submission, rips it to shreds with his bare hands, and then sets it on fire before biting into any of it. It’s a gleefully unhinged bit of villainy that enriches the gloriously violent climax of the film, which I’m told deviates wildly from the book (and actually emulates the ending of my most hated film this year without annoying me like that one did) before getting back to the actual task at hand. The climactic showdown might be a bloodless PG-13, but there are still plenty of decapitations and dismemberments to go around.
The movie ultimately belongs to Stewart who for once attacks her role with aplomb and a smile instead of having to sulk and be dour all the time. She’s having a blast climbing up cliff faces, breaking boulders with her bare hands, and tackling giant running cougars to feast on their blood. And yet, she also has to do the fair share of the film’s dramatic heavy lifting as Bella has to struggle with her new life, cutting ties to her old life, and questioning how good of a mother she can possibly be while her feet still remain in two separate worlds. If the finale is a great payoff for fans of the franchise, it’s almost a better payoff for her.
If it sounds like I’m praising it too much, it’s probably because I never expected it to be this good. Sure, there are some problems. It’s mostly just set up for one action sequence. There’s an incredibly unconvincing looking face of Bella’s kid as a rapidly aging baby straight from the uncanny valley that’s creepy in all the wrong ways. A lot of the serious minded dialogue is still pretty risible, and the scene that follows the finale feels like someone tacked on a fan made YouTube tribute to the series at the end. But overall, aside from going over the complaints from the previous entries concerning a lack of depth to everything, there’s nothing new to be said in the minus column, and the positives barely outweigh the overall negatives here. At least for once Bella and Edward have a functional and healthy relationship instead of one with controlling and psychologically damaging undertones. The same can’t be said about Jacob’s creepy linking to Bella’s kid, which is thankfully not dwelled on too heavily here.
It’s interesting to see what fan reaction to this one will be like, and I have little doubt that it will be the most successful yet. It seems like a thank you to those who stuck around through several mediocre or bad entries to get to something that goes all out. It’s a pretty classy way to take a bow for one of the most successful franchises of this new century. And for those who hated the rest of them, you’ll probably hate being dragged to this one by friends less than any of the other films. Also, no one said you had to watch it sober in a theatre. There’s always that option. At least it’s fun enough that maybe drinking after the film and joking about it with friends will be a lot more stimulating.