Review: 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2'

Breaking Dawn Part 2

What would you give to live in a world where death has no dominion -- where you and your loved ones remain forever frozen at the peak of your physical powers, free of sickness, infirmity, and the ravages of time?

That's the question at the heart of The Twilight Saga, and it's really a rather interesting (as well as wonderfully romantic) one; unfortunately, in the film franchise's first four installments, it's been crushed beneath a quivering mass of soggy melodrama and turgid supernatural warfare. With all that dawdling exposition out of the way, does the (supposedly) concluding chapter, Breaking Dawn - Part 2, finally get around to resolving the conflicts and narrative conundrums posed way back in the first Twilight? Yes, mostly. But not in a way that will satisfy anyone who isn't already a fan.

You have to give Breaking Dawn - Part 2 this much: It puts all its cards on the table right away, not only by picking up right where Part 1 left off, but by immediately signaling that the next two hours will jumble together mad bursts of action, cheesy special effects, hammy acting, and tons of the sitting around waiting that has taken up so much of the earlier films. It does move faster than the first four Twilights, and it does bring the story to a conclusion that should satisfy anyone who enjoyed them, but it also serves as a final reminder of the flaws that have doomed the franchise to the critical graveyard.

To begin with, the tone and pacing are all over the place. These movies have futzed around for so long that Breaking Dawn - Part 2 has to compensate with torrential bursts of information, but they're still interspersed between maddeningly slow stretches, loads of eye-rolling slo-mo, and some of the most overbearing musical cues in a series that was already full of them. It's a clumsy, clumsy mishmash of humor, horror, action, and drama, and as much as these movies have strained for true "saga" status, they've never built enough narrative strength to support the weight.

All that said, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is probably the best of the Twilight movies, due largely to the fact that it doesn't take itself quite as seriously as the others -- a number of lines are honestly, intentionally funny. It also really benefits from the increased screen time afforded to Michael Sheen, who plays the saga's chief antagonist with an irresistible, madly winking panache, as well as the undeniable pleasure of finally seeing certain villains finally get their just desserts -- and finding out what's going to happen to our young heroes.

The setup, in a brief nutshell (not that you probably need it): Seemingly ordinary Washington teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is at the center of a love triangle between vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and teen werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) -- one which grew further complicated in Breaking Dawn - Part 1, which saw Edward and Bella get married and have a baby that seemed destined to kill her on its way out of the womb. Spoiler alert: It didn't, and now the once-mousy Bella is a "newborn" vampire, with all the superhuman abilities that go along with joining the ranks of the undead (as well as one or two that are all her own). Meanwhile, the baby, named Renesmee (played by the adorable Mackenzie Foy), is a human/vampire hybrid who grows at an accelerated rate -- and has the world's weirdest boyfriend in Jacob, who endured the movies' skeeviest plot wrinkle by "imprinting" on Renesmee as soon as she was born.

The happy family's peace is shattered by the Volturi, a ruling clan of vampires that enforces the laws of the species through terror and pain. Alerted to Renesmee's presence and mistakenly believing she's an "immortal child" -- a human turned into a vampire before reaching maturity -- they decide to kill her, thus setting motion the movie's driving conflict. The fact that it all hinges on a stupid misunderstanding is fairly lame, of course, but that's par for the course with these stories; they're thoroughly plot-driven, populated by characters who exist only to serve the story's whims, and we just need to be thankful that in Breaking Dawn - Part 2, they're actually given one or two things to do.

Alas, none of those things really bother to get at the heart of that interesting question we posed at the beginning of this review. The Twilight Saga has made a habit of refusing to acknowledge the relationships that really matter in its stories -- like the one between Bella and her father, who has been consigned to the periphery while his daughter decided to become a vampire. The movies have sort of teased around the edges of why she'd do something like this, and what it would mean for their relationship (to say nothing of the relationship between him and his granddaughter), but only enough to remind you that no real attention is being paid. There's a fascinating family drama in here, but it's always been ignored in favor of vampire/werewolf warfare and silly teenage mooning around.

All of which is frustrating, but given that the Twilight movies have always been an exercise in dramatic frustration (and a narrative ode to frustration of the sexual variety), it's only fitting. And really, the only thing that really matters at this point is whether Breaking Dawn - Part 2 arrives at a conclusion that will satisfy the fans -- and judging from the whoops, cheers, and applause coming from my packed screening, it delivers on that front. Taken on its own merits, it's a woefully uneven mess; if you've never understood the appeal of The Twilight Saga, nothing you see here will change your mind, but you probably weren't going to see it anyway.

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Jeff is an entertainment writer and editor whose work currently appears at a variety of sites, including Rotten Tomatoes, Paste, American Songwriter, Popdose, Dadnabbit, Diffuser, and Ultimate Classic Rock.

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