"Twilight" Finale Earns A Trash Heap Of Praise

I last left the “Twilight” series four years ago, right after the first film was released. I certainly wasn’t among the series’ first adopters (I haven’t read any of the books, nor will I ever), but I was curious to see what I was missing. The answer? Not much. That first film was dour, oversexed (especially for its audience), and laughably self-serious. It wasn’t the trainwreck I thought it would be, but its trashy romance-lite bent failed to capture my imagination in the slightest. In the years since, it’s been impossible to avoid the deluge of all things “Twilight,” from its ubiquitous merchandising to an unusually devoted fan base to celebrity gossip in the most unwelcome of places. Even if you haven’t seen the films, you’ve been affected by the series in one way or another. And, at least on a subconscious level, you’re probably aware of the general storyline. Don’t fight it. Your “Team Edward” tattoo says otherwise.

In preparation for “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” I brushed up on the “Twilight” universe via Wikipedia. Within fifteen minutes, I had a pretty firm grasp on the material. What I couldn’t know is how much the presentation had changed. What happened? Four directors later, the series has become everything it should have been from the beginning – full-on camp. Author Stephenie Meyer’s dull musings on vampiric bloodlust and its parallels to adolescence have been fashioned into something much more… sentient. “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is the silliest movie I’ve seen in a while, and veteran director Bill Condon (who also helmed “Part 1”) is the likely culprit for this wild transformation. From Taylor Lautner’s obligatory shirt removal to Michael Sheen’s villainous cackling, nearly everything is played for laughs. The film comes incredibly close to making fun of its audience, but that’s why it’s so entertaining.

If “Twilight” fans can take the joke (and box office receipts indicate that they can), the series’ legacy will be strengthened and its fans might not feel quite as maligned. If anyone should feel marginalized by the picture’s ridiculousness, it’s Stephanie Meyer. “Part 2” and its successes are apparently a major departure from its source material, conjuring an image of Meyer wearing a Derek Zoolander-style “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt. Kristen Stewart (as vampire convert, Bella) is as bad here as she’s ever been, but with lines like “You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?” the role practically demands a cosmically bad performance. She’s up to the task. Robert Pattison gives off a similar vibe as Edward (Bella’s vampire groom) and the aforementioned Taylor Lautner is good for a few laughs.

The rest of cast is made up of various supporting characters, but none makes as much of an impression as Michael Sheen. He’s a good actor that doesn’t belong in this series, but he’s clearly having a ball. And when his character, apropos of nothing, unleashes an inimitably weird chortle near the climax of the film, waves of laughter will roll through the audience. It’s been said that a film is only as good as its villain, and Sheen’s Aro (the leader of the most militant wing of vampires) more than makes up for picture’s flat narrative. The film is full of small, often irreverent moments that make a big impression, and if Stephenie Meyer can’t come to grips with the inherent goofiness of her novels, she’ll just have to wipe her tears with $100 bills. This movie is funny.

However, “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is still very much not for younger audiences. Vampire heads are popped off en masse (think Lego figures) and the sexual subject matter of the first film remains intact. Bella drinks the blood of a cougar (let’s not overanalyze that) and several of the other vampires feed on humans. But the creepiest thing in the film might be the CGI used to bring Bella’s daughter to “life.” It’s entirely distracting for the first couple acts, and then it’s unceremoniously dropped, as if the filmmakers realized what a disaster it was. On the positive side, it further enhances the movie’s “camp” factor. In relation to the last three “Twilight” films, I can’t say how this one compares. But the series has come a long way since the first entry by dropping its unearned earnestness in favor of the stupidity that birthed it. “Twilight” was built on a hackneyed, unoriginal concept, but this time around, the cast and crew had the sense to embrace the material for what it is. And that’s good enough for me.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: November 16, 2012
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Rami Malek, Maggie Grace, Mackenzie Foy, Tracey Heggins, Judi Shekoni, Omar Metwally, Andrea Gabriel, Rami Malek, Angela Sarafyan, Marlane Barnes, Lisa Howard, Patrick Brennan, Noel Fisher, Guri Weinberg, Lee Pace, Toni Trucks, Bill Tangradi, Erik Odom, Valorie Curry, Joe Anderson, Masami Kosaka, Wendell Pierce, Dakota Fanning
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity)