The so-called “Twilight Saga” has become a cultural punchline of sorts, repelling almost as many viewers as it attracts with its dopey neo-sincerity. The first two adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's novels, Twilight and New Moon, were thudding motion pictures, occasionally capturing the naïveté of young and obsessive first love but struggling to keep any sense of momentum going thanks to the lackadaisical plotting and some truly embarrassing dialogue. The third film, Eclipse, got a little better, with an adequate revenge storyline bolstered by an enjoyably preposterous love triangle held over from the previous films. But the fourth and fifth movies, each directed by Bill Condon, have – in all fairness –outdone themselves as unique and remarkably effective genre craziness. That they’re of two entirely different genres altogether is an unexpected treat.
Condon’s first installment, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, was an ultra-conservative pro-life body horror parable, equal parts soap opera, Lifetime Original Movie and David Cronenberg, that concluded with series protagonist Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) giving horrific birth to a half-human, half-vampire progeny called, for some reason, “Renesmee.” The film ends with Bella, her ribs cracked open by her previously unborn fetus, bitten all over her body by her husband, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and dead on an operating table while her pseudo-ex-boyfriend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) imprinted a life-affirming but creepily romantic fixation on her newborn daughter. This after an entire film of debating whether to abort the fetus (or “baby” or “it” depending on who was talking at the time), to save the life of the mother.
Believe it or not, the follow-up to that nightmare is a straightforward superhero movie. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 begins with Bella Swan opening her eyes, irises blood red, now a vampire after spending four whole films begging her would-be lover Edward to make her a part of his clan. The first thing she does is wrassle a mountain lion and rip its throat out. Bella finally has all the superpowers she’s been dreaming of over the course of the franchise, and she makes the most of it, living out her fantasy of constant conjugal bliss with Edward, no longer afraid that she’ll wake up in a wet spot of her own internal organs because her vampire husband is not to be trusted. The plot kicks in when her rapidly aging daughter is spied by an untrustworthy member of the extended Cullen clan, played by Maggie Grace, who thinks that Bella has broken one of the oldest vampire laws in the book by turning a child into a creature of the night.
Now, the all-powerful Volturi – a corrupt vampire monarchy/police force – is en route to kill Renesmee and the rest of the family, so the Cullen Clan decides to travel around the world recruiting superpowered nosferatu to protect the child and, if necessary, destroy the Volturi once and for all. For some reason it’s easy to accept vampires with psychic powers like reading minds and predicting the future, but in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 we’re introduced to increasingly absurd bloodsuckers that shoot electricity and control the elements, albeit only the classic, unscientific “four.” The bulk of the film is nothing more than this cast of colorful newcomers training for a big, epic Marvel vs. DC-style showdown, and the finale… oh, the finale…
I cannot, in good conscience, describe the climax of Breaking Dawn – Part 2. I can, however, describe the screams of delicious and juicy agony that filled the theater as it unfolded, when hundreds of “Twihards” yelled things like “THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN IN THE BOOK!” and “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” Bill Condon has, according to the fans I spoke to after the film (who emerged satisfied regardless), made a major change to the novel’s big finale, and the effect it has on the series’ fans, to the outsider observer at least, is the sweetest brand of schadenfreude imaginable.
Whether you love the Twilight movies or hate them with a fiery passion, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is a “must see,” and on opening weekend no less. In deviating from the ending of the novels this film provides the ultimate catharsis, giving the series’ detractors exactly what they’ve wanted to see all these many years, but ultimately telling the story that Twihards wanted to see too. There’s about ten minutes of this movie that even the most miserable of Twilight cynics are likely to put on a near-constant loop in the near future, but the effect the sequence has on a room full of dedicated, unprepared fan-persons is unprecedented, and their squeals are well worth the price (and potential shame) of admission.
But even with all the shock and awe trickery aside Breaking Dawn – Part 2 would be one of the better entries in the Twilight canon. The longing glances have subsided and the actual joy of the vampiric power fantasy is in full effect, particularly if you’ve sat through all the other movies in this franchise and could use a decent orgasmic release. The plot is still thin, but the entertainment value is higher than ever and the action is an impressive and impressively ultraviolent accomplishment, suggesting that the director of Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh was perhaps the wisest choice the producers ever made in the entire course of the series. Twilight ends with a bloody bang, and proves once and for all that the series wasn’t all that bad in the first place. It was just mostly bad.
Follow William Bibbiani on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.