Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Apart from a few really clever surprises, Twilight is mediocre on every level. This is no Harry Potter finale.

Yes, it's nice to know that The Twilight Saga has finally drawn to a close. Despite its occasional hilarity, its importance in popular culture today is somewhat disturbing to me.

I'll start with the good.

The opening credits in Breaking Dawn Part 2 are really pretty. All those close ups of snow and roses freezing and melting... great stuff.

Plot-wise there are a couple of moments that stand out; when Edward makes a rousing 5 second speech, all the vampires from around the room pledge to join him in the fight. One vampire turns to another and says "That was easy." My thoughts exactly. Billy Burke gets one good scene in which he watches Taylor Lautner strip - It's intentionally very funny. The best jokes in the film are the ones with an air of self-referential mockery about them, and the the film doesn't suffer for them.

What I don't think was intentionally funny was when the Cullen's give Edward and Bella a house as a gift. "It's perfect" says Bella, having barely had time to glance at the thing.

The film is riddled with plot holes, so I'm trying not to get bogged down in them... but I have to wonder why vampire sex doesn't break down the whole house? Didn't he smash the bed last time? Aren't they both now super-human, doesn't she say "You really were holding back last time?". The scene is well shot I suppose, and it's interesting how they represent super-speedy beings in slow motion.

At some point along the line, this Romeo-Juliet mutation became an X-men ripoff. More vampires are introduced in this one, with a whole range of different 'gifts'. With Bella just becoming a vampire, we see the entire plotline of a super-hero story crammed in; she discovers her power, learns to control it, has an awkward family conversation while trying to hide it, starts to train and get better at it, then uses it to defeat the Big Bad. The films action becomes a matter of 'my-power-contradicts-yours', which can be spectacular when it's done well (see most of X-Men franchise), and God-awful when done terribly (see X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Twilight doesn't do it terribly though, so... it's a bit uninteresting.

A large part of the plot involves searching for witnesses; vampires who will attest to the squeaky-cleanness of the Cullen clan. They come from all over the world, and all have different and interesting powers... and mostly boil down to a few lines per racial stereotype. I notice none of them are really unattractive; all are young and sexy-looking. I'm sure they have eternity to get themselves in shape or whatnot, but why do only the Volturi bite old people?

This all adds up to protecting Renesmee, Bella and Edwards creepy daughter who has a creepy relationship with Jacob, which results in all-around creepiness (but awkward hilarity with that, so it's fine). As a baby she's especially creepy; they've applied CG to her to make her younger or older or something and it comes off a bit weird  She grows super-humanly fast though, and by the midpoint or so she's an innocent and adorable little girl. She 'communicates' with people by touching their face and sharing memories or thoughts or something with them. This telepathic thing happens repeatedly throughout the movie; many scenes consist of the little girl putting her hand on someone's cheek, and their eyes suddenly lighting up with understanding. It's a little tedious because we feel out of the loop, but it would be more tedious if we watched every one of these visions, and the film chooses its moments carefully.

Of course, we do get the obligatory romantic montage at the end, bizarrely delivered telepathically by Bella without explanation as to how she acquired the power. It's cheesy and cliché  but after five films I suppose they've earned it. What isn't cliché is climax, which I will proceed to talk about because it's actually pretty remarkable.


Recently I read a Shakespeare play called Coriolanus, in which the climax involved a Roman General turned against his own city, about to destroy it. His mother meets him and pleas him to reconsider. He does, and war is averted. Twilight, of course, features a scene in which a Shakespeare book is burnt. But credit where it's due: the way this film turns Stephanie Meyers climax consisting of negotiation, dialogue and agreement into a balls-to-the-wall action scene is actually pretty clever.

In fact the whole ending is completely bonkers. I got totally lost from about the moment that Carlile lost his temper, and charged at Aro... only to be beheaded by the collision. Wha...

From there they go all out, killing off character after character, and showing off as much of their mutant - I mean vampire - powers as the budget will allow. The Twilight franchise has never been good at shooting action; previous instalments have featured vampire/wolf conflicts in which it was impossible to tell who was who and what was happening. It was forgivable though, because nobody died and nothing of consequence was ever achieved. But suddenly this fight has stakes; the family that we've seen grow and develop haphazardly throughout the series is in dire straits, and many actually do die.

I did have a much better sense of what was going on than in previous instalments  There was even a moment where one of the wolves died, and I felt sad when I realised it was one who had been in the last two installments (Seth?)... but then a shot lingered on it's dead body, and I noticed how terrible the CGI was. There was also a point where one of the Voltari is being charged at by the two Russian vampires; he has a look of glee on his face and he says something like "Finally". They collide and limbs go flying. Who was torn apart? Did the Volturi just completely own those two? Did he see they were about to kill him and was thankful? Nevermind, the fighting continues...

But as our heros finally fight their way to the villainous Aro and defeat him (with a loud pop), the film pulls out the mother of all twists... It was all just a dream. A vision from Alice being read by Aro, showing him that if he continues to persecute the Cullens it will result in his own doom. Ok, I actually really loved this twist. It took me by surprise, it gave Hollywood a chance to include their crowd-pleasing action scene, it was a ballsy fake-out to put to Twi-hards, it's all-around bold and clever.

It's implications are interesting though. Previously the Twilight franchise has touched upon abstinence and abortion; this film seems to be touching on the nature of conservatism. Bella and her crew represent the progressive and the inclusive; the Volturi just  want to keep everything the same. I guess the moral of the story is that if the staunchy old order could only see how their action would lead to their own firey death... then they would understand! (but only out of self-preservation). This is a bit strange considering the stance the series takes on those topics I just mentioned, but I guess they've got to retain the young crowd somehow? I don't know, the series just seems like a mixed bag of ideas that sound appealing, thrown together with imagery of sex and violence that draws in crowds. Call me cynical, but as a cultural phenomenon, Twilight is simultaneously bizarre, understandable and worrying to me. I'll be glad its over.

But if any of that chaos sounded the least bit entertaining to you, you might not hate this film as much as you expect. The more I think on it, the more I loved the third act. From reading interviews it seems director Bill Condon poured much of his efforts into pulling it off, and while Twilight will never have the 'legitimate' status, and fine pedigree of film making of the Harry Potter film franchise, this final instalment is packed with entertainment value, and it shocks me how much praise I just heaped upon it.