(Bill Condon, 2011, USA)
The fourth and penultimate instalment in a franchise that, for a passing viewer, has been a continuous foray in amateur filmmaking, staid performances and subdued narrative development, limps its way back to the big screen in the first of two halves, something of a last-ditch attempt at doing justice to the novels and their ardent fanbase. Going down the same route Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows went in fleshing out its broad final chapter, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 represents the lifeless pre-storm escapades of its moping protagonists, continuing the story by not actually depicting very much plot.
As franchise virgin Bill Condon delves headfirst into where last year’s Eclipse (2010) left off, with the nuptials of human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and brooding vampire Edward Cullen (vehemently dull Robert Pattinson), the film retains a similar downward progression as it’s three predecessors, subdued in sulking melodrama. Though not as bogged down in its own miserable irreverence à la New Moon (2009), which presented a joylessly inescapable source of cinematic despair for over two hours, Breaking Dawn mixes up the formula by effectively proceeding without a primary antagonist, which is both refreshing and awkward. A large portion is devoted to Bella and Edward’s lavish honeymoon on a picturesque island in Brazil, where their so-far uninterrupted chaste vow is broken in an apparently brutal night of passion that leaves her bruised and the bed demolished. Uncomfortable efforts at bashful humour, which sees Bella toying with alluring lingerie and the pair playing chess in a visually metaphorical substitution for sex, are scuppered by the revelation of pregnancy, the ultimate warning against fornication, according to novelist Stephenie Meyer.
A life-threatening, as well as uncommon impregnation throws the film into a fast-paced frenzy of puzzled glances and doom-riddled exclamations, where Bella’s increasingly frail body is subject to a conflict of viewpoints; she wants to keep it, whereas Edward believes it will kill her if she isn’t ‘turned’ to vampirism. Meanwhile Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner, who continues to act with his finely tuned abs, attempts to fend off his pack of bloodthirsty werewolves bent on killing the unborn, for reasons that are never particularly clear. Though watching their furry CGI’d equivalents trying to explain it whilst talking in English raises an unintentional laugh or two.
The Twilight saga’s foundations have been built on ceaselessly weak acting and subpar action imbued by sloppy special effects, and the trend is upheld to some extent here. Stewart, perhaps the most productive element to have been nurtured by the franchise, delivers a fine portrayal of an increasingly frail young woman battling against her own body for motherhood, yet she is once again let down by those around her. The Cullen clan’s acting abilities remain dead behind their coloured contact lenses, and Pattinson and Lautner persist in being unscathed by their character’s demands for passionate expression, choosing to rely on aloof, expositionary dialogue used to translate whatever the actor’s emotionless features cannot.
Though this is the bloodiest and most graphic (in its depiction of a strained birth) of the series so far, one gets the impression that Condon, in his attempts at upping an ante sorely lacking by this franchise, is trying to drive these two farewells into more mature, peculiar and eventful territories, away from the detached suppression of the first three. Yet, as evidenced by this first half, it can be argued that he is unable to break with tradition.