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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (2012)

The Biter End

It's strange to think that we won't have Twilight to kick around anymore. After four years and five movies, the wildly popular, non-vampire vampire series concludes with Breaking Dawn, Part 2--a movie so wonderfully weird that I wish director Bill Condon had been at the helm from the beginning.

Before diving in, let's do a quick recap.* Sullen teen Bella (Kristen Stewart) nearly dies while giving birth to the half-vampire/half-human baby she conceived with her undead husband, Edward (Robert Pattinson). At the last moment, Edward "turns" his bride, allowing the two of them to live happily ever after. Following the delivery, jealous werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) "imprints" on the baby, binding their souls together for life (think Spock and Bones at the end of Star Trek 2, only way more ridiculous).

Part Two picks up moments after Bella's transformation, and sees her and Edward coming to grips with their child--who, because this is technically a sci-fi/fantasy film, grows at an abnormal rate and exhibits powers beyond mere super-strength and immortality. Yes, young Renesmee (no crime in giggling, folks) matures from newborn to toddler to eight-year-old girl in about a week.

One afternoon, while catching snowflakes in the woods by levitating, Renesmee is spotted by Irina (Maggie Grace), another vampire, who immediately suspects that Bella, Edward, and the Cullen family have turned a mortal child--a big "no-no" in bloodsucker circles. Irina visits Rome, seeking an audience with Aro (Michael Sheen), the head of a vicious vampire mafia known as the Volturi. Aro has had brushes with the Cullens before, and jumps at the excuse to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

The rest of Breaking Dawn, Part Two is essentially an X-Men sequel with skinny jeans instead of spandex. The Cullens recruit sympathetic vampires from all over the world, each with unique abilities (mind control, lightning blasts, typhoon conjuring, etc.), while the Volturi take their sweet time getting their army together for some reason. All of this leads to an epic battle in a forest clearing, with werewolves and misfit daywalkers squaring off against fifty European snobs in black capes.

The build-up is as silly as it sounds, and the ridiculousness is compounded by the most breathtakingly awful CGI I've seen in a mainstream blockbuster--perhaps ever. Let's begin with the baby. In an attempt to, I guess, not confuse a core audience who isn't old enough to understand the aging process, Condon and his effects wizards superimpose a computer-generated baby face over an actual child; it's meant to either resemble Stewart and Pattinson's features, or to evoke the likeness of Mackenzie Foy, who plays Renesmee at her oldest age in the film.

The effect is distracting, grotesque, and a genuine puzzlement. Renesmee makes the E-Trade baby look like one of Avatar's Na'vi. It's an odd choice, considering the number of tender moments between Bella and her daughter--moments when the audience should be emotionally invested rather than compelled to look away.

How hard would it have been to hire actual kids for these rolls? The various stages only get a minute or two of screen time each. Any casting director worth their salt could easily find a handful of look-alikes for a fraction of what it must have cost to bring those little abominations to the big screen. Regardless, once the filmmakers signed off on the CGI direction, was there no quality control at Summit Entertainment? I haven't seen such ghastly 3D character work since Robert Zemeckis's The Polar Express, and even that gets a pass because the whole production was a cartoon.

A similar issue plagues the rest of the film. Eighty percent of the Twilight series takes place in the woods of Washington, yet at least the same percentage of this movie appears to have been shot on a green-screen-covered sound stage. Stories that take place in exotic, otherworldly locations may have a need for this, as the computer-generated environments are filled in around the actors. But given the fact that Breaking Dawn, Part Two has, I think, four locations--one of which is the wooded clearing--what in the world prevented Condon and company from just grabbing some decent cameras and shooting amongst real trees and honest-to-God rocks?

Once again, if you're going to head in this direction, please at least use some of the franchise's shocking profits to invest in competent effects artists. Between the fuzzy haloing around the flesh-and-blood actors, the way-too-sharp CGI wolves, and, of course, that creepy Renesmee kid, I could barely contain my laughter. I expect this nonsense out of Tommy Wiseau, not the Academy Award-nominated director of Dreamgirls.

Having said all that, I recommend checking out Breaking Dawn, Part Two--or at least part of it. The twenty-minute battle that closes out the film is seriously thrilling. In the numerous decapitations, maulings, and immolations, we're treated to a ballsy fight to the death in which series regulars are epically disposed of and the boundaries of the PG-13 rating get pushed to their very limits. I watched this section with a racing heart and a hand over my mouth.

The only thing better than the climax is the way it ends--with a cool bit of cinematic trickery that I've seen dozens of times in the last decade, but which has always failed to elicit the directors' intended response. Pardon my dancing around the subject here, but I really don't want to ruin the surprise for those of you who don't already know about it. Some have called the move a cheat, but they're missing the point entirely. All praise to Condon, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, and, I suppose, author Stephenie Meyer, for giving me one of the most cathartic, duped-beyond-belief laughs I've had at the movies this year.

I should end my big Twilight send-off with remarks about the cast, but I'm not going to. I've thought about and written about these kids enough in the last four years. I will say that Stewart finally dislodged whatever stick had been jammed in her, um, craw this time around. It's ironic that the Bella character never came to life until the film after she died. And the new crop of actors playing vampires is fine, but they're given little to do besides entertain audience chaperones with a running game of, "Where've I Seen That Guy/Gal Before?"

No, I'll leave Twilight exactly as I found it: a curiosity that has not had--and will not have--any impact on my moviegoing life. It's telling that I sat through all five films and yet couldn't recall the context for most of the scenes that played in the closing montage. I'm still not convinced that these are actual "vampire" stories: the undead in Meyer's universe can frolic in the sun, see their own reflections, touch crosses, and subsist without drinking human blood. They're strong, fast people who don't age, but so is Superman. Maybe the Cullens are aliens? Maybe I should give up and move on.

*None of you lives under a rock, so I'll assume you're aware of the Twilight films as a pop-culture phenomenon and have simply had the good sense to avoid them. These aren't movies, after all, so much as emo theme-park rides crossed with wedding porn. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it's your civic duty to quickly shut down any attempts to unironically defend the series' quality. Twilight is the pre-teen-girl and sad-cat-lady equivalent of the Transformers franchise.

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