Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

The fifth and final installment of the Twilight Saga does not disappoint. In the end. You do have to slog through about 80 minutes of disjointed highlights from the book before you finally feel that you’re seeing a film in its own right.

Having read the four books in the series, it’s hard for me to imagine someone fully understanding the Cullen/Swan story (such as it is) based on nothing but what they see unfold on the screen, especially not the way Condon has directed this last one, where one moment fast forwards to another without a seque. It’s like skipping rocks, it’s a lot of fun, if you know where you’re going. If not, you’re liable to fall in between the rocks.

You not only have to have read the books, but have a pretty good memory of what happened in the last film to know what is happening and, since the first half of the movie is more a montage of nice moments between familiar people, rather than a plot, if you aren’t thoroughly entwined in their lives already, there’s nothing to draw you in.

The movie starts with Bella seeing the world through her vampire eyes for the first time. She takes in her surroundings and is almost immediately able to control her new speed and power. Little learning curve is required. Kristen Stewart’s makeup and hair are lovely throughout the movie, in contrast to the last one where Bella was a wraith being torn apart from the inside by her incompatible pregnancy. Now, she’s vibrant, lithe, strong.

She immediately goes out to hunt, leaping mountains, wrestling lions. Her thirst for blood quenched, she goes into the Cullen home to see her daughter for the first time. Renesmee, Edward and Bella’s prodigious child is portrayed very convincingly both as an infant and as an older child. With the help of subtle CGI and luminous eye detail, she is believable as a miraculous girl, only partly human, with preternatural intelligence and ability.

The family has built the newlyweds a charming cottage. Edward takes Bella through it, "This is the baby's room." Well, yeah. That's why it has a big, honking cradle in the middle of the floor!. "This is our room." Well, there are only 3 of you, so if the other one was for the baby, I'd assume this one was yours! I suppose he's just nervous.

Bella learns that Jacob, her wolf friend, has imprinted on Renesmee. It’s an animal thing which has caused him to take her as his soulmate for life. His need to protect her supercedes all else. This is less annoying than it was in the book, because it is given less time and we only have to spend a few minutes watching his possessiveness try to usurp everyone else’s relationship to the child. Mainly, Jacob lays low in this installment and spends half of his time in wolf form, giving Taylor Lautner less to do. Thank goodness.

Of course, we don’t escape completely, as in the book, Jacob invites Charlie over to the Cullen house to see his newly vampired daughter, without considering the type of danger he is putting the human in, by doing so. However, when Jacob tries to give Charlie hints that Bella is somehow paranormal by revealing his own werewolf secret to the man, we get a rather humorous scene that wasn’t in the book. Charlie looks on as Jacob strips naked, too puzzled by what is happening to even ask questions, probably afraid of the answer.

Later as Jacob, Renesmee and Bella frolic in a field, they see a strange woman watching them. It’s Irina. She’s still mad because Jacob killed her lover (to save Bella). Irina runs off without talking to the trio. With her psychic vision, Alice devines that Irina has gone off to tell the Volturi that the Cullens have an “Immortal Child.” The Voluri, self-appointed vampire rulers, have decreed that converting a child into a vampire is illegal, because the child will be frozen at the age of his human death. He will be forever immature, subject to tantrums and unable to control his emotions. Able to decimate an entire village in a matter of unruly hours and quickly alerting any humans to the fact that vampires exist, which is forbidden. Therefore, any Immortal Child must be killed and those who create one will be punished.

When the Volturi are told that the Cullens have such a child, they are delighted by the news. Jealous of the powers that Carlisle’s growing family and their gifts (Edward can read minds and Alice can see the future), Aro, the Volturi leader, has been looking for a reason to break up the clan anyway. Their possession of a verboten immortal gives him the perfect excuse. The Volturi immediately head to Forks, with murder on their mind.

Alice tells the Cullens of the looming danger and they travel the world to find other vampires to take their side against the Volturi. Though it tries, I don’t think the movie properly captures the fear and despair they feel knowing that they have been targeted to die and that a child so loved and created from love has been branded as the evil that will justify their death. It was a dread and pain that the book certainly made more palpable.

Initially, Carlisle is just gathering supporters to witness, to see that Renesmee is not an Immortal Child, ungovernable and trapped in an unchanging body. She grows rapidly. Further, she’s restrained and mature, no danger to humans or anyone else. Carlisle believes that the more people who can testify to these facts, the more proof he will have to deter the Volturis. But departing from the book, once Edward realizes that the Volturi want to kill and Renesmee is the excuse, not the reason the family is being threatened, he asks everyone to fight with them and for their own rights. He urges them to rebel against the Volturi’s ruthless rule.

Because they have all agreed to fight, it’s strange that we don’t see them in training. Of course, Bella learns that she is a “shield.” She has a natural defense against vampire powers. That’s why little Jane, Aro’s evil emissary, can’t cause Bella pain, why neither Aro or Edward can read her thoughts. She exercises the shield, strengthens its power, so that she can physically protect others besides herself. This provides another source of humor that’s not in the book, when Bella tries to shield Edward from volts of electricity. He’s a hesitant guinea pig here (in the book he was stoic and willing to do anything to help her hone her skills) and, once she starts to see results, Bella is anxious to keep experimenting, to his chagrin. In the book, Bella never wanted to hurt Edward for any reason. In the film, Bella’s love isn’t so precious. For instance, in the book when Bella first learns that, as a newborn vampire, she has enough strength to hug Edward hard enough it hurts, she pulls back immediately, though a bit proud that she could make him say “ouch.” In the movie, when Edward cries uncle, she grabs him again, making him yelp once more for good measure. Plus, she's usually cool and often snippy (i.e. countering his romantic gesture with, "I haven't forgotten how to undress myself"), somewhat quelling the sense of romance.

Once Bella realizes, through the clues Alice gives her (left in a The Merchant of Venice book), that she and Edward won't survive the Volturi and that Renesmee's only hope is escape with Jacob, we see her coping with the pain, but the movie doesn't follow up with Edward's reaction to that sudden news down the road, as the book did. When Jacob takes off with the child at the end, we miss the poignant goodbye that was so hard to read. However, we do see Bella gaze upon Edward and Renesmee holding each other, knowing that their days together are numbered. It shows her empathy for Edward's loss as well as her own. Something, that I find is all too rare in both the books and the films. Though selfless, Bella is alarmingly self-centered.

As for the Merchant of Venice, Roger Ebert mocked that reference by Meyer, but I think she chose it because, like Bassanio, Bella must first give and hazard all she hath, to end up with everything she desires in the end.

As they celebrate a somber Christmas, Bella gifts Charlie with a fishing trip, to have him safely out of the way when the Volturi come. Jacob gives little Renesmee a bracelet. Bella and Edward seems to think it charming, but I find it creepy, since Jacob made a charm bracelet for Mama Bella, when she was the love of his life. Bella presents a locket to Renesmee, a picture of she and Edward inside. The child does not know it, but it is a farewell token.

Although the Cullens and their friends plan to fight the Volturi, we don’t see them practicing their physical skills as they do in the book. We’re given a brief synopsis of everyone’s abilities, but don’t see a lot of them in action. One does get the sense that director Bill Condon is using this finale to introduce characters who aren’t important here, but will play the lead in his next movies.

When the Volturi arrive as foretold by Alice, the Cullen clan is ready. They tell Aro that Renesmee was born, not bitten. She was conceived and is part human. Though Aro believes them, he says that they since there is no one else like Renesmee, there is no telling what she will grow into. She may not be a threat to the vampires now, but in the future . . . he’s not interested in reason, but is determined to fight. Here, the movie diverges wildly from the book. I expected that the non-confrontational ending Stephenie Meyer wrote would not be climatic enough for film producers. I knew they would inject action and violence where peace had prevailed in the Twilight pages. So, I wasn’t surprised when war broke out, especially when I’d seen fighting in the movie trailers.

However, I was shocked at what sparked the melee. When Aro’s soldiers grab Alice, Carlisle runs forward to save her. He is quickly nabbed and beheaded. I say to myself as long as they don’t burn his body, he can still be resuscitated. He’s not dead, unless – then they set his body on fire and I see the Cullen leader has been permanently annihilated and I’m floored. Edward rushes out in rage to exact revenge. Bella follows after and insanity breaks out. I guess it’s good that we didn’t watch them train for this battle, because all of their practice would have gone for nought. Instead of using their powers of electricity, disorientation and psychic shields everyone just brawls, fist to fist. No coordination, it's all mortal combat.

Jasper is decapitated and, again I am stunned. I know this was supposed to be the final installment, but I can’t believe they’ve killed these characters off forever. They kept talking about a “twist” at the end of the movie, would they have the audacity to kill off Bella or Edward or to make their fates a cliffhanger to be resolved years in the future? I’m uncertain. Afraid of what might happen, eager to find out.

Alice grabs Jane and feeds her to a wolf who tears her to shreds. It’s a good thing that vampires are made of marble and don’t bleed or else this movie would be pretty gory.

Although, characters see their lovers die, we don’t really get to explore their reactions. They are moving so fast, it’s not as if they are even experiencing grief. I’m somewhat disappointed about this. Edward and Bella fight separately and don’t seem concerned about each other. Then, for a moment they are together and see Aro approaching. They lock hands, both wedding rings visible. They exchange a meaningful look, an unsaid goodbye. Then, they race ahead to duel to the death with Aro. Edward swings Bella towards Aro like a weapon. He throws her upward and she comes pouncing down onto their enemy. Showing physical strength that Aro is not capable of in the book, the movie Aro fights back. Edward and Aro are in a clench, evenly matched, either could die. Bella jumps on Aro’s shoulder, twists his head as Edward wrenches his body until they break the head villain in two and set fire to him. Then , as the flames engulf him . . .

We see it was all a vision of Alice’s. Her hand in his, she has transmitted the future to him, shown Aro what will happen if he persists in fighting the Cullens. He got the message loud and clear and turns back to his party: ‘Nothing to see here. Move along.’ With an abrupt and comical change of heart, he assures his Volturi gang that the Cullens hold no danger for them and they should leave.

Hey, I’m an old Dallas fan and I should have seen the “it was all a dream” twist coming from a mile away, but I didn’t. I guess it’s because I expected the movie to depart from the book’s non-violent finale anyway that I accepted the fact that it did exactly that so readily. We have all experienced M. Night Shayamalan fatigue and, at this point, surprise endings have long lost their luster. They often seem cheap, tacked on, a cop out. But this one worked, because it was perfectly in keeping with the rules Meyer set out from her first book through her last. There was no cheating. Alice has always had visions. We have never seen them before, but she’s told us about them from the start. What’s more, those visions aren’t static. Nothing is fated. We know that her futures can change as quickly as someone’s mind does. Therefore, the fact that the vision she showed Aro was an alternate one and not something that actually happened is not a plot shortfall. It’s a triumph. Aro had planned to fight them. Once he’s shown what the outcome would be, his plan changed, as did the vision.

The audience was glued to the action, but rejoice when all its damage is reversed. Carlisle and Jasper live. Happiness reigns. We don’t get the post script from the book where Alice explains why she seemingly abandoned her family. The apparent betrayal was a focal point of the novel, adding to the sense of gloom. It’s not as much of a factor in the movie.

However, Edward and Bella’s last goodbye to us is true to the original story. They aren’t at home (as in the book) but in the field where their love first bloomed. Bella wants to show Edward something. She gives Edward a mental vision of all the beautiful moments they’ve shared over the years. From the first time since he’s known her, he can read her thoughts. He’s overwhelmed and we’re touched by the montage of intimate footage from the last 4 movies. Edward asks her to play the vision again. She says it takes a lot of time. But they have all the time in the world. Forever.

As Edward and Bella kiss, we see the last page of Stephenie Meyer’s book on the screen. And we close the cover on the entire saga, movie and book. Together, at last.

The credits roll. We see photo credits, images of all of the actors who have been in the series, along with their names. The minor characters are pictured first, from those who only had one line to those who did not appear in this last movie at all. Their faces grace the screen and we remember them from the movies past: Renee, Victoria, Mike. It makes us think back all the way to the original Twilight, when everything was new and beginning. As all those faces keep flashing before them, we come to the main characters, the Cullen family and then, finally, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Stephenie’s early pages, black and white words scrolling past, as her character’s first introduce themselves in print. Then finally, the title. We leave right where everything started. And yes, it does make you want to pick up the book and read it all again.

As a whole, I wouldn’t say Breaking Dawn 2 was a consistent piece of movie-making, but the last 30 minutes were moving ones, salvaging everything else and leaving me with memories of all that was good and enchanting.

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