Remember back in elementary school when you'd pad your book reports with the word "very"? Twilight: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 is a lot like that. Only here, the teacher (in this case, the studio) returned the book report (script) and asked the writer to add a whole lot of padding (pauses, sighs, montages). Why? Because that would allow one film to become two, and "Twi-hards" could get greedily soaked for twice the price.
So, for more than an hour, Breaking Dawn features pre-wedding brooding, one minute of wedding vows (mostly kissing), post-wedding brooding, pre-coital brooding, one minute of rough sex (tastefully shot in gauzy close-ups, of course), post-coital brooding, a whole lot of montages and — voilà! — Bella gets pregnant. If you thought she moped a lot before, witness the pre-partum depression that accompanies her soon-to-be-born half-breed suckling.
Yeah, there's some nonsense about her bloody bundle of joy violating a previously unmentioned bylaw in the vampire-werewolf treaty, but this just provides Jacob with something to do. Contrived as the conflict is, it's a heck of a lot better than the show-up-to-storm-off scenes that precede it. Bill Condon (Kinsey, Dreamgirls) is the series' first A-list director and, try as he might, he adds very little to this exercise in soapy inaction and monosyllabic melodrama. He gets the best performances from the cast to date (not saying much) and creates a few absorbing moments, but his action scenes are murky, the humor is clunky, and there's simply no getting around Melissa Rosenberg's lumbering and unimaginative script.
Pattinson, once again, smirks and tries to look soulfully sullen. Lautner acts really, really hard (and fails). Billy Burke still has his Village People mustache. And Kristen Stewart proves once again that she's the best actor not named Michael Sheen in the cast (he'll be back in the last installment).
Convincing fans that the Twilight series is anything but revelatory is a waste of time. Like Harry Potter and Star Wars, the films are mostly critic-proof. What makes the films so risible is how cheaply their devotees are bought. The special effects are anything but special, and desperately little inventiveness is applied to the storytelling, cinematography or thematic explorations. Given the box office numbers involved, Hollywood can and should do better.
More troubling is how author Stephenie Meyer's subtext transitions from being pro-abstinence into anti-sex. It's one thing to gussy up teenage anxieties over the loss of virginity (an entirely appropriate reaction); it's another to punish Bella's deflowering with death. I get that Meyer is trying to let her protagonist eat her cake and have it too (by delivering a baby before turning into a vampire) but there's no getting around the fact Twilight puritanically insists that sex isn't only scary, it's fatal. Even if you only have it once. On your honeymoon.
And if that weren't enough. The series' endless focus on hunky, young Jacob as an object to lust after (but not love) isn't just a tease, it's a cruelly delivered mixed message: Long for the sexually primal nature of werewolves but submit to the romantic sterility of vampires.
All these thematic considerations aside, Breaking Dawn — Part 1 fails at the one thing it was created to do: deliver Bella's magical matrimonial moment. For three-and-a-half films, our moody heroine has been wrestling with her sexual longings and Edward's chivalrous sense of propriety. But when the moment finally arrives, Condon and Rosenberg give their consummation less attention than the honeymoon vacation house it takes place in. Even the climax is an anti-climax.
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