After much adulation and hatred, we are finally reaching the end of the road for Bella, Edward and Jacob. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (henceforth called just Breaking Dawn – Part 2) concludes one of the most divisive major franchises I’ve ever seen. Love it or hate it, Twilight has been a cultural phenomenon, and in the world of films, this series is pretty much critic-proof. Despite being reviled by critics, the films have found massive audiences and made tons of money… and Breaking Dawn – Part 2 will continue that tradition.
Unlike the conclusion of the Harry Potter series last year, which had built up to the climactic final battle between Harry and Voldemort, Twilight has already had let the cat out of the bag. For me, the series had always been about Bella (Kristen Stewart) being caught between humanity and immortality, so when she was turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) in Breaking Dawn – Part 1, it seemed like the natural conclusion to the series. Sure, there were a few elements hanging out there, such as her half-human, half-vampire child Renesmee and Renesmee’s relationship with Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and the previously under-utilized villains of the vampire government, the Volturi—plotlines that appear in this movie—but those felt more like footnotes to the main story. Yet it feels like this film was constructed with the goal in mind to end with a large-scale battle scene a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, even though action really isn’t what this serious has been about. With the exception of a few fun action scenes interspersed throughout the films, this is romantic drama at its core.
Despite having already passed probably the most logical end point, I was still hoping that Breaking Dawn – Part 2 might be able to rise to the occasion and deliver a satisfying finale. But with the exception of the action scene towards the end, the majority of the film is spent providing very shallow storytelling, not really giving any additional depth to the characters, and having them just look pretty and chat about mostly mundane things. The majority of the time we spend with Bella adjusting to vampire life is amusing, but mostly feels like filler. Unless you had previously read the book series, the core conflict of this movie, between the Cullens and the Volturi, is not well explained, and the filmmakers easily could have spent more time elaborating on that. In particular, the role and motivations of Maggie Grace’s character Irina are in part left out and in part glossed over, despite the important role she plays (albeit a brief one). I hadn’t read the books, but I was glad I had skimmed the Twilight-wiki, because it helped explain a lot of missing pieces.
While this film may be the “climax” of the series, it is probably the funniest film, and displayed a fair amount of self-parodying comedy. While that was somewhat enjoyable, it felt out of place, given the drama of rest of the series. I’ll give them credit for realizing how cheesy some of the material might be, but I didn’t watch four previous films to finally get to a few yuks. In terms of the Twilight mythology, there is a lot of material introduced in this movie that I wish had been brought out earlier in the franchise. They introduce a lot of new characters very quickly, so you aren’t really able to enjoy any of them in any real depth besides learning their name and their power. It kind of feels like the end of Avatar, where suddenly there are a bunch of other tribes to help our heroes out, despite not being referenced in the first 75% of the film.
One of the greatest shames for me is the CGI. I would call it “passing” at best. While some things look fairly decent (most notably, the work on the werewolves), there are a lot of sequences that look like they deserve to be in a parody movie instead of the Twilight franchise itself. For instance, there is a scene with Bella and Edward racing through the forest that was done better 30 years ago in Return of the Jedi. This also comes through when you see Bella’s “power” that they have been mentioning through the series manifests in a form of glorified staring. Not exactly that intimidating.
In contrast to the Harry Potter franchise, this series has always felt like each film is more of its own separate story rather than a chapter of an overarching saga. Obviously the love triangle between Bella-Edward-Jacob pops up throughout, but each film has a been a conflict with a different villain for our heroes to battle, so while this technically is the conclusion of the book series, it seems like it would be easy to continue to produce work in this universe and not really skip a beat. While I had modest expectations going in, I still would say the film isn’t good…the end action scene gives it a worthwhile reason to watch, but everything before and after that does little to change my perception of the Twilight series. If you are a Twi-hard, it probably will be satisfying for you, but everyone else is probably passing this one over.
Final Grade: C