Last night I went to see an early showing of the last film in The Twilight Saga. Like other final films in many recent series, it would make zero sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the previous movies. Really, it would be like starting Harry Potter with Deathly Hallows Part 2 or Lord of the Rings with Return of the King. Even the opening credits won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen the final minutes of Breaking Dawn Part 1.
That being said, here are initial impressions. As ever, the acting in the film remains almost uniformly excellent. Taylor Lautner remains the weak link, but he’s a lot less central to this story. The other major difference from the rest of the ensemble must be Michael Sheen as Aro, leader of the Volturi, but for the opposite reason. Whereas Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward), Ashley Green (Alice) and Billy Burke (Charlie) all turn in very good (and given the subject matter surprisingly subtle) performances, Sheen eclipses (heh heh) them off the screen. Partially, this lies in the nature of the story. Simply, he’s got the plum role! Aro makes for such a ruthless, weirdly childlike, excessively polite monster it makes Dr. Who fans like myself long to see him as The Master! But I digress.
This time round the cast feels three or four times the size as ever before, mostly because it is. At this point in the review SPOILERS begin. You have been warned.
For the first half hour or so the film focuses on Bella waking up as a vampire and adjusting to this, as well as discovering all about her new daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). One of my favorite lines from the book is when Bella learns Jacob’s nickname for the little girl–and they kept it in! But it turns out less funny than on the page, mostly because of some rhythmic decisions by director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. Totally see the reasons but we’ll get to that later. In keeping with the overall tone, a few logical lapses would seem take place, but I suspect that comes from deleted scenes. Bella goes on her first hunt, for example, and kills a wild animal for its blood. When we see her and Edward come out of the woods, there’s not a drop of blood on her. Oh come on! But–she’s also wearing a different set of clothes, so I suspect there’s a deleted scene. Especially since so many other logical loopholes or unanswered questions do indeed end up closed or answered. Aro even makes a point that modern technology does indeed threaten the existence of vampires. (There’s also a tiny nod to Underworld near the very end).
The real threat of the film emerges when Irina (Maggie Grace) spots Renesmee doing something supernatural from a distance and we get a nice bit of lore. Seems for a time, a few “Immortal Children” were made. Like all Twilight vampires they remained frozen at their age, not only physically but in some sense emotionally. Incapable of learning self-control, they could inadvertently wipe out entire towns in a tantrum. So the Volturi destroyed every one, forbidding their creation. Irina, whose own vampiric mother had been executed for such an offense, leaps to the wrong conclusion and informs the Volturi of the Cullens’ offense. Alice of course sees the future, of the Volturi and all their Guard destroying the Cullens, and gives the warning. Here we have the bulk of the conflict in the story.
Here also we have the reason for such a large cast! The Cullens immediately begin to gather allies, or at least witnesses in hope the vampire Judges will listen. Along the way we (briefly) meet the different members of the covens seen in all those character posters. Nicely, we see one such loner or nomad fall in love with member of the other “vegetarian” coven. Plus we meet the ancient Stefan (Guri Weinberg) and Vladimir (Noel Fisher), or “Dracula One and Two” as Jacob calls them, who bear an age-old grudge against the Volturi and hope to get some revenge. It makes for a new brew of different characters, and surprisingly doesn’t feel over-crammed.
All these hit the high points of the plot in the novel, including the sudden disappearance of Alice and her mate Jasper (a seriously under-used Jackson Rathbone) leaving behind a subtle clue that Bella picks up. She eventually makes arrangements to save her daughter at the very least. At the same time she also learns how to extend her personal “gift” of being a kind of psychic shield, so as to protect others.
Some critics of Twilight make much of Bella’s supposed weakness in that she falls totally and completely in love with a man, so much so he becomes in a real sense her life. This criticism ignores the fact that he feels the same way, and that Bella drives the plot of all four novels through her decisions. In Breaking Dawn Part 2 this story arc comes to its fruition. A subtly powerful young woman, not in terms of raw strength but her impact on those around her (the only kind of power most human beings ever wield), transforms into a vampire of subtle-but-awesome power. By the time we get to the climactic battle scene we see how Bella makes for the polar opposite of one of the villains–namely Jane (Dakota Fanning), whose gift is to inflict searing pain with a glance. But Bella, immune as a mortal, can protect others as a vampire. One is a girl who becomes an adult, a wife and mother. The other is a permanent little girl, a more sophisticated and hence dangerous version of the “immortal children” forbidden by vampire law. One has a family. The other has in effect a vicious clique. For that matter, one actually hunts (albeit wild animals) while the other has unsuspecting humans brought to her to devour. For a first time novelist, Stephanie Meyer really tapped into some fundamental themes, which the film brings out overall.
Readers of the book by now might be scratching their heads. I certainly did at the trailer which showed bits of this climactic battle between the Cullens and the Volturi. Battle? As in actual combat? It comes down to fighting? Here frankly is the biggest single deviation from the novel, and one I frankly welcome. Meyer tends to pull her punch, especially in the last of the Twilight novels. The book has no such combat take place, just a threat of same. The movie however does something very different, with a courageous change that had several members of the audience gasping and (eventually) cheering when I saw it.
But I’m not going to tell you what it is. That would ruin the experience. Far far better for you to see for yourselves, if you’ve a mind to. But please feel free to share your reactions! We love to hear from you! What did you think of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2?