Let’s cut to the chase. Is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse any good? Well, sort of. Twilight (2008) was a solid movie. Its first sequel, New Moon (2009), was positively awful. This one reminds me of Star Wars Episode III (2005) in that it’s a real hoot as long as you’re willing to gloss over the details. Simply put, the film won’t change your opinion of the series, good or bad, though you might end up questioning Stephenie Meyer’s ability to choose a proper book title. I waited 124 minutes for a celestial alignment. Nothing.
Instead, Eclipse answers a question that’s been on my mind since the first instalment: is Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) relationship with Edward (Robert Pattinson) in any way healthy? To my surprise, the story acknowledges the goofy-haired vampire’s controlling nature and does little to attenuate it. Sure, the guy makes an effort, but he’s still the sort to damage his girlfriend’s truck just to keep her from seeing another guy. Really, this chapter’s about Bella learning to stand up for herself, though I wish she’d done it without the endless monologues spelling out her every motivation.
The plot, it should be noted, contains forty-six percent fewer smouldering gazes. When a newborn vampire army threatens the town of Forks, Edward’s family teams up with Jacob’s (Taylor Lautner) werewolf pack in the hopes of eluding the attention of the Volturis, royal blood-suckers who say ominous things I’m sure will pay off later but right now don’t mean squat to me. Meanwhile, the three leads resume their love triangle and invite all kinds of derision when they end up sleeping in the same tent because no one thought to bring a heater for Bella.
The movie also fleshes out some of the supporting characters, most of whom spent the previous flicks posing for the inevitable Teen Beat spread. With beats straight out of an EC comic book, Rosalie’s (Nikki Reed) origin is a bit lurid, given the target audience, but director David Slade cuts around the heavy stuff, showing only the setup and letting us fill in the blanks. My favourite backstory, though, belongs to Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), a former Confederate soldier with more than a little blood on his hands. I wouldn’t mind a spinoff with him and his spunky girlfriend (Ashley Greene).
These digressions are a delight, but their insertion into the main narrative leaves to be desired. For the most part, the flashbacks are just sort of shoved in there or introduced by way of stereotype. Take, for example, the framing device for the Quileute werewolf tale. Now, I’ve spent time in a Native American reservation, and let me tell you, the whole town gathering round a camp fire so the elders can talk about the Time of the Buffalo doesn’t happen nearly as often as Hollywood seems to think.
Part of the issue, I think, is screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s unwillingness to take the material seriously. Meyer’s melodramatic flourishes are distracting enough without the self-referential humour. Some in-jokes admittedly work, such as Edward asking whether Jacob owns a shirt. Others, however, detract from the scene’s emotional pull, like Bella’s line as she tries to stop her best friend from joining the battle: “Jacob, stay!” It’s funny because the boy turns into a giant canine. It’s a problem because I’m supposed to fear for his safety at this point.
Also, the woman doesn’t know when to end a scene. One of the key moments in Eclipse involves Edward and Jacob finally coming to an understanding. Give or take a few awkward lines, their heart-to-heart trucks along at a decent pace and reaches its logical conclusion with the werewolf saying, “Yeah, well, that, I remember.” Then the conversation goes on for another eight minutes, repeating the same information over and over again until the whole thing feels trite.
Mind you, it doesn’t help that Taylor Lautner’s become so beefy his face looks like it’s going to explode whenever he tries to talk or emote or, heaven forbid, do both at the same time. Don’t get me wrong: the kid’s likeable. However, the scene in which his character throws a wrench and a hissy fit over Bella’s decision to become a vampire shouldn’t come within ten feet of his demo reel. Oh, well. At least Robert Pattinson’s loosened up a bit since the last movie.
I miss Rachelle Lefevre, who really classed up the previous productions as Victoria. Her wholesome beauty and mature demeanour brought such contrast to the villain’s feral nature. As such, the latter’s use of sexuality to manipulate a younger soul would have made an interesting parallel with everyone’s concerns regarding Edward. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t bring any of that to the role, content to snarl and look confusingly asexual next to her prey. Say what you will about Kristen Stewart’s lip-biting; when her character wants to bone someone, you get it.
Incidentally, that’s pretty much every second of existence with Bella. For all the cool special effects (the vampire deaths are kind of neat) and divagations about supernatural truces, The Twilight Saga remains a teen drama about resisting one’s carnal urges. In fact, Eclipse brings forth a basic truth seldom acknowledged in Hollywood movies: girls can be just as sexually aggressive as boys. I think that’s what I appreciate most about this sequel… No, wait. Jasper. I kind of dig Jasper.