The Inanity Triangle returns, in this follow-up to last November’s New Moon, the second installment in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga novels, adapted for the big screen. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, resembling James Dean with a bad case of dysentery—hunched over and squinting throughout the better part of the film’s two hours.), Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, reading well below her ability and appearing to know it) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner’s airbrushed torso) return. For what purpose, I can’t really be sure.
It’s a challenge to discern any real story arc for this film. Ms. Meyer and the screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, seem to have one in mind but it’s executed as a subplot, or put so far toward the end of an unnecessarily lengthy film, which clocks in at a glacial 124 minutes. Continents have drifted with greater speed.
In Seattle, a young man exits a bar and is run down by some shadowy figure. We later learn his name is Riley (Xavier Samuel). A powerful ginger, err… vampire, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), turns him to help recruit an army of undead bloodsuckers for a purpose I shall not reveal. Not that it matters. It’s so entirely out of left field that it may as well have been an army of circus midgets being trained to hijack a nearby Starbucks just for the hell of it.
Otherwise, the story furnishes no revelations or character development that didn’t already occur in the first two installments. The Volturi, of whom we newcomers to the franchise should be given an opportunity to learn more, have an ambulatory handicap. They can only walk from place to place in slow-motion. This helps ensure they’ll always arrive late to the scene of a throwdown. So what purpose do they serve, other than to give Dakota Fanning the opportunity to show off her acting skills that are only slightly better than Mr. Pattinson’s dyspeptic lurching? Note to Anna Kendrick, who plays Bella’s friend Jessica: You’re an Academy Award nominee. You may be excused from this amateur production.
Furthering my hatred for Hollywood, yet another music video director recruited into the ranks of cinema, David Slade, has replaced Chris Weitz—who has moved on to better projects including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which should’ve been the title for this film. Mr. Slade, himself a music video alumnus (and it shows), made his feature debut directing Hard Candy. In my 2006 review, I noted that Mr. Slade hadn’t thought through more complicated questions, and deliberately painted his character psychologies in monochrome in order to justify the protagonist’s vigilantism purely to inflate his intellectually-worthless shock video.
Here, Mr. Slade has an even easier task. As I’ve noted in my review of New Moon, there’s no depth of character or story to work with. The actors, particularly Mr. Pattinson and Ms. Stewart, seem like they’d rather be in any other movie. When Bella says to her hapless father, “There’s nothing I can say. Edward is in my life,” her words possess all the emotional conviction of styrofoam.
I’m also unsure of the motive behind the racial stereotypes. The Cullen clan are like rich, chiseled Scandinavians living in obscenely expensive contemporary architecture—owing perhaps to the dynastic wealth arising from their immortality. They have lengthy dialogues concerning the destiny of vampires and mankind. The Black clan are the Magic Brown People—a sort of allegory to Native Americans, who, like all indigenous peoples, are living in spiritual harmony (read: dilapidated accommodations in Bumblefuck, Washington). Werewolves, they run around shirtless (yet mysteriously regain shorts when they transform back to human form), fix motorcycles, commune with nature and have a tendency to get in fights. Alas, there’s no clan of Korean convenience store entrepreneurs in this series.
I’ve already beaten to death the notion that Bella, Edward and Jacob’s love triangle is a psychologically abusive, manipulative relationship. But the film goes right ahead and flogs this dead horse, again and again. Bella continues to play Edward and Jacob against one another, flip-flopping so frequently that she should consider a run for office. Edward’s refrain vacillates between indifferent rage and indifferent affection. He so lusts for Bella he can barely contain his total lack of emotion.
The bigger problem is that the abstinence parable injected into Ms. Meyers’ original story is so ham-fisted, Bella’s ambivalence seems utterly preposterous. I can’t quite figure out the danger she’s trying to avoid, when her so-called protectors are willing to resort to brutal violence at every turn on her behalf, rather than just dispatching her far away to a place where she need not be concerned with the affairs of sparkling Nordics and shapeshifting Indians. Isn’t it already quite evident that religious fundamentalism tends to prefer violence over sexuality? Why did we need this series to tell us that? Well, ok, from the eyes of a teenager, this movie comes off as being solely about unrequited love. The abstinence messsage may be going over their heads with otherwise transparent symbolism. It is, however, somewhat perverse that teenagers, with their already limited grasp of relationships, are confused into believing Bella’s pathetic mind games are what true love is all about.
Ultimately, the movie never coalesces because its actors are disinterested, its characters uninteresting, its relationships forced and abusive, and its story fractured and unfocused. The film’s narrative failure rests on the director’s and writer’s assumption of the audience’s prior knowledge. But core fans will go see this movie regardless of what critics, or any other rational human beings, tend to think of this color-graded, celluloid turkey. Maybe that’s irrelevant, given the film’s low budget for a blockbuster—$65 million—relative to the gigantic fan base for Stephenie Meyer’s novels. It will turn a profit no matter what happens. Not that I care about the numbers, nor should you. Taste and popularity are generally at odds with one another.
Footnote: The CG wolves are so terribly animated, I found myself drawing parallels to the shudder-inducing phenomenon of Furries. If you have to ask what they are, don’t. You don’t want to know. If, however, you must know, here’s a primer. Just don’t inquire as to what “Yiffing” is. Some things, once seen, can never be unseen. This movie, for example.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 124 minutes • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. • Distributed by Summit Entertainment
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