(Bill Condon, 2012)
(Originally posted at Take One)
Closing the curtain on a franchise whose sheer number of ardent disciples is counterbalanced by aggressive derision, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 sees the trials and tribulations of Bella Swan, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black finally reach their conclusion as old demons are put to rest while new and precarious ones are brought to the fore.
Split into two halves à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this episode represents the second portion of a somewhat stronger double header that attempts to forsake the wallowing, demurely miserabilist introspection of the first three instalments (which all played on a variation of near total emotional incomprehension, exacerbated by inert filmmaking) in favour of a more crowd-pleasing, if not totally satisfactory, dénouement. This it achieves, but only by assuming the staid manner of its predecessors before blowing it wide open, embracing wholeheartedly the absurdities for which the series has become particularly emblematic.
Picking up exactly where the gaunt, Cronenbergian Breaking Dawn – Part 1 closed, Bella (Kristen Stewart) – who died during the birth of daughter Renesmee – reawakens from her temporary passing afresh, her human form augmented by a transformation into a vampire. Joining her husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the rest of his undead family, Bella is finally given the opportunities she was denied access to as a mortal, namely the strength and agility she so lusted after and the chance to fully comprehend her initially unbalanced relationship with Edward.
However, once their perfect idyll is established, the family’s existence is threatened by primordial coven The Volturi (fronted by the softly malicious Aro, played with relish by Michael Sheen) who are lead to believe that Renesmee – a half-human half-vampire hybrid – symbolises a crime that risks exposing their way of life. The Cullen’s promptly rally together a transnational horde of vampires to protect them in the event of an ensuing, inevitable, battle.
It is all too easy to point out this saga’s abundant flaws: the glaringly indifferent acting; Melissa Rosenberg’s consistently stiff dialogue; patchy narrative structures and questionable views on sexuality, chastity and femininity – with which Breaking Dawn – Part 2 continues to uphold, yet perhaps the sole redeeming quality it boasts is a consistency of tone. Whereas the Harry Potter franchise is, on a whole, hampered by the vastly dissimilar voices of the four directors that featured throughout its eight film run, Twilight has at least maintained a firm grasp of what Stephenie Meyer’s original novels are really about: the journey of its protagonist from teenager to adult (or living to undead). From Catherine Hardwicke’s billowing Goth-punk opener to Chris Weitz’s facile New Moon via David Slade’s glacial Eclipse, and now Bill Condon’s campy, tongue-in-cheek two parter, the franchise has maintained a certain groggy appropriation of a form which in itself is marred by arduously complacent and self-absorbed melodrama, the kind that made several chapters such gruelling affairs.
Put together with part one, part two- the best of a bad bunch – benefits from a quickened pace that, now coupled with a full awareness of the narrative’s distinctive ludicrousness, canters towards a visible conclusion that retrospectively tinkers with the source material to give a more climactic ending, something practiced more fittingly by Tolkien and Rowling before it. The final third shifts dramatically from the haughty repetition of the opening half of the film and delivers what can at best be described as a gratifying relief from everything that has come before it; a pent up mess of sleek aerodynamics and satiating violence that fuses sneering ferocity with multiple deaths by decapitation.
There are of course glaringly unavoidable missteps, specifically Stewart’s once again aimless narration, a rigid sense of humour and the casual omission of both Jacob’s (a castrated Taylor Lautner) reticence towards Edward and the vampire race’s hold over Bella, and Edward’s initial reluctance to ‘turn’ his great love. Yet, Condon has at least sculpted a knowingly divisive finale that, proffered by a self-congratulatory sign-off, ultimately flys in the face of bloodthirsty cynics.