The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is the final installment in the franchise that wooed legions of adoring fans while largely failing to impress film critics with its notion of supernatural romance. The final chapter of any series is one that is as unlikely to alienate loyal fans as it is to win over new converts, and this film isn’t about to prove otherwise. However, for a series that has taken so few risks in adapting its source material, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 attempts to go out with a bang, and what it delivers just might surprise those who thought they had the Twilight universe all figured out.
In the aftermath of her conversion into a vampire, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) struggles to cope with her newfound abilities and volatile urges while trying to be a mother to a daughter whose existence shouldn’t be possible. None of this can be explained to Bella’s father (Billy Burke) without risking his life, but if she can’t find a way of easing his anxiety over her long absence, she’ll have no choice but to convince him she’s dead. To make matters worse, the Volturi, a powerful clan of dangerous vampires led by the malevolent Aro (Michael Sheen), have gotten wind of her daughter’s existence and plan on exterminating her and all those who allowed the forbidden child to live. Only an alliance of the friends and families of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) can hope to protect everyone Bella loves from total annihilation.
This film has something that has long been absent from the series: a multi-layered plot with everything at stake and long odds for success. In a dramatic departure from predecessors that were thick with angst but thin on plot, this film tells a story where lots of things are happening all at once, and any one of them could have a significant impact on how all the rest play out. There is now a sense of urgency, consequence, and uncertainty that was almost entirely lacking before.
One of the biggest improvements has been Bella Swan. After four movies in which the height of her influence was her willingness to bleed, it is positively shocking to see her moving the plot forward rather than being keelhauled by it. Before becoming a vampire, Bella spent the majority of her time moping over two men who alternated between idolizing her and manipulating her, or getting bailed out of conflicts she either started or was incapable of resolving. But vampirism has done wonders for her character. Now people depend on her physical and emotional strength, her decisions affect dozens if not hundreds of lives, and her love inspires an unlikely alliance to stand united against an implacable adversary that has them outnumbered and outgunned.
But above all, the film suddenly veers from the blueprints of the books and delivers a thrilling five-minute sequence where the franchise finally comes roaring to life. Freed from soapy melodrama, hammy dialogue, and trite endearments, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) shows us the raw emotional power that had always been possible for the series but was never before realized. Though it is ultimately a detour rather than a change of course, it nonetheless proves to be the surprising highlight of the film.
Of course, this is still very much a Twilight movie. Relationships are still founded on the whims of fate, rather than growing from the shared experiences of compatible people. Flowers, kissing, and flashbacks are used to remind us that Edward and Bella are in love, instead of showing us something that resembles reality more than it does a Hallmark card. Vampires are still inexplicably the same people they were when they turned, despite the passing of centuries (one who fought and died in the Revolutionary War uses most of his lines to express how much he still hates the “redcoats”). The vast majority of characters still have nothing to do and don’t develop in any meaningful way. Ethnic vampires are still few and embarrassingly stereotypical; every black vampire has dreadlocks, for instance, and there are simply no words to describe how egregiously inappropriate the “Amazonian” costumes are.
Fans will love every second of this film, of course, but detractors might find that they may not completely hate it (like discovering that maybe flavored cough syrup tastes marginally better than the alternative), and those who were largely indifferent to the films stand a good chance of enjoying themselves this time around.