The Twilight Saga, as it has named itself, is now over and the final film remains a victim of an undue opprobrium while other, much worse franchises (there are called cash cows when critics are being sniffy, franchises when they are not) receive much less flak, if not wholly unjustified adulation in the case of the lazy and meaningless The Dark Knight Rises (incidentally, now the final film in a trilogy, despite never having been planned that way). The hatred may stem more from male viewers having little time for films decidedly not aimed at them, a failure of insight and understanding on their part. And while it remains true that the thinking man’s (or woman's) franchise would be no franchise at all, the Twilight pentalogy remains a rare female-centric series that has ideas to burn.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part Two, to give it it’s full double-colon name, begins with Bella (Kristen Stewart) waking up as a newborn vampire and finds herself very well adjusted to her new found superpowers. A plot involving the Volturi is soon to kick in, but the less explained the better. Plot, as in some of the best art cinema, is not necessarily something that the Twilight films paid all that much attention to – something that has always been grist to the critical mill even as they lauded the latest Godard or, yes, Paul Thomas Anderson.
Part Two is not the best of the series (Eclipse is), but the Bill Condon diptych comes a close second. Like Eclipse-director David Slade, Condon is not afraid to do both the softly lit slightly overdone romance sequences and the 12A boundary-stretching carnage, here with a full-on battle sequence full of head-ripping. And like Slade, he gets the balance right, tipping the scales to the favour of the romantic scenes, which are, after all, what distinguishes Twilight from all the male-centred dehumanised action spectacles. The plot is addressed often and a comically large number of new characters are introduced but the film is all too aware that it is the three leads that hold attention. In one sequence, some exposition involving traitor vampire Irina (Maggie Grace) is swiftly handled and the camera focuses in on Edward and his daughter Renesmee (played mostly by Mackenzie Foy following some dodgy CGI) playing piano. Here it is clear that Condon is aware that what Twilight does best is a kind of unpretentious romanticism unhindered by embarrassment or a need to please or, even, the knowing tongue-in-cheek sensibility through which much romance in Hollywood cinema is dealt with. This sequence also nicely recalls the moment in the first Twilight in which everything slows down to allow Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ to take an evocative and unexpected precedence. Yes, it is corny, but one of the best things about the Twilight films is that they are not afraid to be corny. You may cringe initially, but they always manage to bring you in.
That said, there is as much to laugh at in Part Two as there is to be touched by, and the film is extremely funny and wantonly bizarre – there are few, if any, less conventional franchises/cash cows at the moment. The Jacob/Renesmee stuff is awkward but can raise a few laughs. Regrettably, Taylor Lautner has little to do in this film other than a very funny scene early on between him and Charlie (Billy Burke, also underused despite often being one of the best things about the series) and the battle sequence concludes with a very good surprise/joke. As always, the film does have its dodgy moments, the line about the Loch Ness monster being a step too far into silliness. And, as with the rest of the films, Part Two suffers from what is presumably a high degree of loyalty to the books, no doubt at the demand of the fans, which gives the film quite a few obstacles to overcome. However, part of the fun of the films is that they are far from perfect but they are always risk-taking, surprising and always strike a good balance between being ridiculous and funny and moving and romantic.
As for the message, this has always be the most misunderstood part of the films and this one will no doubt be no different. Bella has always been the strongest character in the films and in this one she is able to match the other characters physically. She takes to her newfound abilities without any problems and, as always, is remarkably adept. Eclipse ended brilliantly with a speech from Bella in which she addresses what the films have been about so far – her choice and her pursuit of self-definition – a scene, which also acts as the series’ rebuttal to its many critics. Part Two has a similar scene, this time coming from Edward, in which he apologizes to Bella for constantly underestimating her. The films have all centred on the idea of Bella’s single-mindedness and the fact that she knows better than anyone what is best for her and the fact that in every film and in every situation that the narrative throws at her, other characters tell her what to do – usually using the words “Stop” or “Don’t.” However, Bella is never dissuaded and always succeeds. When Edward apologizes to Bella for misunderstanding her, it is almost as if Edward is here embodying the film’s critics who often sanctimoniously complain about the film in terms of feminism and abstinence and of being a bad influence to legions of young women (a recent article by Periwinkle Jones is equally harsh and nonsensical). Many people have misunderstood Bella and the message that the films have been making about self-determination and self-expression. If not a feminist icon, Bella is at least a good influence and there aren't very many of them for young women in mainstream cinema. And, incidentally, Bella, and the film in general, are far from asexual.
Twilight, as a whole, and Part Two is no different, is thoroughly entertaining, unpretentious and bravely romantic. The performances are all good, with Michael Sheen great fun again and the three leads still playing it with the right degree of seriousness and honesty. Far from flawless, the films are all very touching tributes to young love in all its hopes and naiveté. But the films are also committed to speaking to young women, something that no other franchise really does.