Once again, Bill Condon’s Herculean efforts make "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" far more palatable than it deserves to be
Now that this latest “Twilight” sequel caps off the series, and with it the pronouncements from teen girls of all ages and genders of whether they are “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob,” let me make my affiliation clear.
I’m Team Bill Condon.
The gifted director behind “Dreamgirls” and “Kinsey” and “Gods and Monsters” is too talented by leagues for this material, yet he’s never suffused either of the “Breaking Dawn” movies with even a drop of condescension.
Instead, he’s dug in with all of his silk-purse-making skill, injecting wit and style whenever possible, giving fans of the series more than they knew they wanted while valiantly creating entertainment for non-believers.
Tellingly, it’s when Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg veer away from Stephenie Meyer’s turgid text that “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” actually comes to life and turns into something bold and outrageous that will thrill both detractors and (if the fan-packed preview audience with whom I saw the movie is any indication) Twi-hards alike. Their naughty deviation from canon ends far too soon, but it’s a daring gambit that almost validates the existence of the whole franchise.
This latest and final chapter picks right up where “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” left off, with Bella (Kristen Stewart) newly converted to an immortal bloodsucker by her vampire husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) after she nearly died giving birth to their half-human child Renesmee.
Meanwhile, her lycanthrope ex Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has “imprinted” on the infant, becoming her sworn protector and eventually, we are to assume, her mate. (Thankfully, we get one scene in which Bella, like those of us in the audience who haven’t swallowed Meyer’s mythos, finds this repellent, but soon she too is on board.)
Everything seems comfy and cozy, with Bella learning to control her thirst for blood and figuring out how to fake humanity around her charmingly clueless dad (Billy Burke), but soon the Volturi, those Eurotrash buttinskis, find out about Renesmee, and they’re on the warpath.
Seems there used to be something called “immortal children,” kids who were converted to vampirism while they were too young to learn how to keep their bloodlust in check, so the Volturi had to kill off not only the monster babies but also the covens who sheltered them. Renesmee is something else entirely, but try telling that to a cackling Michael Sheen.
With the cloaked Volturi making their way to Forks, Wash., the Cullen clan spans the planet and pulls together a team of ghoulish Global Guardians who will stand with Renesmee against her would-be oppressors, with immortals from Egypt, Ireland, the Amazon and New Orleans preparing for the eventual Gunfight at the Type O Corral.
“Breaking Dawn, Part 2” mostly stays close to the source material, so rest assured, nothing gets in the way of Bella being the Most Awesome Girl, Ever; she adapts to her vampire life quicker than most, bests even the strongest Cullen at arm-wrestling, develops her other psychic powers and even finds time to read bedtime stories to her rapidly-growing child. (Now we know why soap-opera children magically transform overnight from squalling infant to precocious moppet — they’re half-vamp.)
The new aspects of Bella actually pull Stewart out of her lip-biting, hair-twirling, thousand-yard-stare mode of acting; “feral” and “maternal” wind up being the most interesting colors in her monochromatic paintbox. As for Pattinson, now that Edward has won the girl, he’s mostly stuck being set dressing.
Among the new vamps, Lee Pace (as a Revolutionary War veteran) and Rami Malek (last seen in “The Master”) stand out, although the movie does its best to give all these new supporting players at least a moment or two to shine.
Credit Condon with putting these cardboard characters and their loony dilemmas into a rich atmosphere; whether we’re running through the woods with those ridiculous wolves or following Bella through a lit-for-Christmas Seattle, the director and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) give the wintry settings a palpable sense of chilly foreboding.
The director also caps things off with what amounts to a high-school yearbook for the whole “Twilight” series, and the clips from the earlier movies remind us that this franchise is ending on substantially stronger footing than where it started, whether or not you ever thought this was a path worth following.