July 1, 2010
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13)
Smokin’ hot werewolf beefcake and tortured, romantic vampire poet are both in big swoony love with an everygirl in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, part three in the wish fulfillment gothic romance series.
This movie opens nearly exactly where New Moon ended, with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) trying to convince Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) to marry him. She has apparently been saying no for the weeks that have elapsed in the breach between movies. Marriage is, like, weird and old and Bella is more interested in the kind of forever that comes with being bitten by a vampire — even though Edward would prefer she stay mortal. But Edward isn’t the only one after Bella’s heart. The werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is in big hunky shirtless love with her too. He can be her boyfriend without wanting to eat her and they can grow old and have hairy children together — being dead, Edward and vampire Bella could never have children (hey, you with the giggling, stop reading ahead).
But there are bigger problems in the town of Forks than a totally Beverly Hills: 90210-style love triangle. Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), the vengeful vampire who hunted Bella all through the last movie, is still on the lookout for her. And in nearby Seattle, people are being killed and going missing at such an alarming rate that Dr. Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and the rest of the Cullen Scooby Gang are pretty sure that someone’s creating a vampire army. And the creepy red-eyed vampire royalty the Volturi — led by creepy red-eyed sadist Jane (Dakota Fanning) — is still waiting for Edward and his special powers of mind-reading to make Bella and her special powers of not being readable one of them already.
And to make things even worse, Bella’s dad (Billy Burke)? Still totally hating on Edward. As the movie opens, she’s basically grounded.
Curfews, vampire army — being a teenager sucks.
So, yes, we get The Forbidden Kiss — though why it happens when it does makes even less sense the way it’s set up in the movie than the shaky way it happened in the book. And The Tent Scene is even more squirm-inducing and strangely hilarious than it ever was in the book — and yes, I give, I read the books. All of them. They are like one of those find-the-3-D-image posters that used to be on display in every mall. You can’t look away, even though your eyes are crossed and you’re embarrassed to be spending this much time looking for, like, a Romulan ship.
There are some structural, story-telling problems with this movie. The big climactic battle in this episode is almost an afterthought, it’s so barely a part of the story. A lot of supporting characters and little plot points go uncontextualized — I can’t see how someone coming fresh to this universe can possibly untangle the wad of characters and relationships. The movie picks as its focus the romantic turmoil — Jacob’s love for Bella, Bella’s fear of marriage, Edward’s horrible taste in jewelry. (The engagement ring he offers her looks like half a diamond-encrusted thimble.) And these things are explained and examined via lots of painfully flat dialogue, at least three flashbacks to “ye olden times” and way too many ultra-tight close-ups of one of our three main characters, leading you to think things like “that Kristen Stewart really has a lot of forehead” and “geez, Robert Pattinson, cheer the hell up already.” The movie sort of underlines all the ways in which the story could have been more interesting with a tweak here and a polish there — the way the characters could have been more dimensional. The audience at my screening, based on squeal-accompanied applause, seemed to agree that Jacob was the more interesting of the boys Bella has to choose from. In this book/movie in particular, you have to use your own imagination to fill in some of holes in explanation for Bella’s unwavering love for Edward.
Lautner can’t seem to figure out where to correctly put the emphasis in his sentences, much less how to match them with some believable emotion. Pattinson is at risk of cracking his skull, so deep is the furrow of his brow. Stewart might seem like Meryl Streep in comparison (there are some genuinely nice scenes between Bella and her parents) but she’s still basically giving the same halting, open-mouthed performance she has in the previous two movies (though this time in an unflattering wig thing).
But, to some extent, so what?
The point of the movie — all of these movies — seems to be some deeper, more primal guilty pleasure. Lick the frosting of hurts-so-good romance off the top and bite into the desire-beyond-reason cupcake, enjoying the crunch of campy-bad-acting sprinkles. Eclipse isn’t good, per se; might not even be as “good” as New Moon. But Eclipse is still goofily, dizzyingly enjoyable. Sure, the books are kind of ridiculous and the movies are ridiculous and unevenly acted but they are fun, wonderful silly fun that, if you are a girl, reminds you of the intense embarrassing silly emotions of your younger girl self. It’s fun to giggle at these things — I’m sure girls of the Bella-and-younger age enjoy the movie for reasons that both overlap with mine and are different. But for me, it’s the wacky roller coaster quality that makes them exciting and the glad-I’ll-never-be-there-again nostalgia that makes them entertaining. C+
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. Directed by David Slade and written by Melissa Rosenberg (from the novel by Stephenie Meyer), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is two hours and four minutes long and distributed in wide release by Summit Entertainment.