Five movies in, I finally get what The Twilight Saga is all about. Folk have made a big deal out of its promoting abstinence, and, sure enough, Stephenie Meyer’s Mormon values permeate the original Twilight (2008), but it really pertains to restraint, the wisdom to resist one’s biological and emotional urges for a better future. In New Moon (2009), Bella (Kristen Stewart) contains her heartbreak just enough to forgo a rebound, saving the most important friendship of her life; in Eclipse (2010), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) set their differences aside while Victoria pays the price of her vengeful passion; and, in Breaking Dawn Part 1, our heroine overcomes her own sense of self-preservation to give way to a miracle.
Now comes The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, and, yes, I consider the last two instalments of the franchise separate entities, even though their source material was originally published as a single novel. Director Bill Condon means to re-edit them into one giant epic. However, it seems to me Melissa Rosenberg, who penned every film in the series, went out of her way to make each half stand on its own, with Part 1 recounting the birth of Bella and Edward’s daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), and Part 2 accelerating her growth to wrap up the Volturi subplot.
If anything, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 brings in too many new elements for a concluding chapter. We get a new central dynamic as Bella and Edward grow from lovers to parents. We get a new MacGuffin in Renesmee, whom the Volturi want to kill because they think her existence breaks a sacred rule. We get new mythology as flashbacks reveal that the villains are using vampire law to settle old scores. Last but not least, we get a new supporting cast as our heroes recruit a panoply of ragtag bloodsuckers to make a final stand.
Seeing as we never really got to know them in the previous films, I can’t say I miss Alice (Ashley Greene), Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), or any of the other Cullens to take a backseat. However, I question the wisdom of introducing no less than thirteen new characters in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, each with his or her own power and subplot that goes nowhere. Take, for instance, Garrett (Lee Pace), who joins the cause but refuses to stop snacking on human flesh. He falls in love with an electrifying vegetarian, Kate (Casey LaBow), thus setting up a redemption arc that never makes it to the screen.
I suspect my mild affection for these characters has less to do with the truckload of exposition that comprises their backstory than with the impressive cast Summit Entertainment has garnered throughout the series for what essentially boils down to bit parts. Aro, for example, strikes me as a rather generic “evil mastermind” figure in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, but Michael Sheen portrays the two-faced villain with such over-the-top glee I found myself eager for a Volturi spinoff.
I feel the same about Billy Burke, who seems to have set up a private joke in the previous instalments, implying by way of subtle frowns and quiet exasperation that Charlie has gradually given up on understanding his daughter and her kooky goth friends. Consider his offbeat reaction after accusing Edward of offering an expensive fishing trip to get rid of him: “Well, it’s working!” There are over a hundred ways a lesser actor could have read this line. Burke’s requires six exclamation points and an emoticon.
Still, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 feels oddly sluggish for a movie that goes in every direction at once. That is, until the final act, in which every vampire dukes it out on a snowy plain. I’m told the book doesn’t feature this spectacular bloodbath, presumably because it goes against the notion of containing one’s passion, be it lust or rage. Amazingly, Condon manages to have his cake and eat it too, indulging in some good old-fashioned “kiss kiss bang bang” without betraying the spirit of the source material. Sure, you’ll see the twist coming a mile away, but Meyer’s message comes out loud and clear for once, and not a minute too soon.