Starring Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson
My rating: ★ star
Disappointing sequel looks more expensive but fails to deliver adequate direction, performances, or script.
I like the Twilight series, both the books and the films. Really, I do. I even own New Moon. However, New Moon cannot be considered a good film.
Part of the problem is the source material. Stephenie Meyer originally conceived the Twilight series to be two books. It ended up being stretched out to four. A lot of that extra space is taken up by Jacob Black, a character who isn’t nearly as compelling as Meyer seems to think he is. In New Moon, Meyer writes out her more interesting hero, Edward Cullen, for the majority of the novel, leaving Jacob as Bella’s main companion.
The casting of the original movie only compounded the problem. For all that people complain about the acting of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart as Edward and Bella (I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some make it out to be), they have undeniable chemistry together. Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob, have zero chemistry. Summit, the studio, seemed to realize the problem and announced that they were replacing Lautner with another actor. The recasting would have fit with the source novel because Jacob goes through a dramatic physical transformation in New Moon. However, fans of the film protested the recasting, so Summit decided to keep Lautner. Not only does Lautner have no rapport with Stewart, he lacks the charisma and the acting skill to carry a movie. (To be fair, Lautner is still very young. Even Sir Ian McKellen, early in his career in Thank You All Very Much (1969), lacked the charisma and acting skill to carry a movie, qualities he acquired (in spades) with age and experience.)
But watching an hour and a half of Lautner and Stewart together now is stultifying. The other 40 minutes of the movie, the beginning with the Cullens and the end with the Volturi, is actually pretty solid. The Cullens, Edward’s family of colorful vampires, are all interesting characters with their own engrossing histories. The films only dip into these characters and their backgrounds, and I would have loved to have seen more of them on screen. However, the source story requires that the Cullens leave when Edward does, so New Moon doesn’t offer much of an opportunity to explore these characters.
The later scenes, in Italy, benefit the most from the budget increase that the success of the first movie got for New Moon. The whole movie looks slicker, more polished than the first, but the Italian locations and sets are particularly striking. New Moon could also afford some top-drawer talent to join the cast as the Volturi, the cabal that rules over the vampire world. Dakota Fanning is particularly good as the sadist Jane. Michael Sheen, unfortunately, gives a performance that screams “I’m only doing this for the paycheck,” which is too bad because he was phenomenal in Underworld, another paranormal franchise film. He made that film worth watching.
Director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy) seems more comfortable with the Italian scenes than the rest of the film. The camerawork, the pacing, everything comes alive in the conflict-laden, action-filled third act. It shows none of the static woodenness of the earlier parts of the movie and none of the awkwardness with which Weitz tackles the emotional scenes.
The awkward dialogue doesn’t help matters. Good actors can sell bad dialogue, and bad actors can be elevated by good dialogue, but weak actors can’t put over bad lines. And there were moments when Lautner had to spout some of the most inane dialogue ever captured in a movie. I was cringing in my seat. When I watch the film now, I know when to hit “Mute.”
Weitz has to shoulder much of the blame. The performances are all-around weaker in this film than in the rest of the franchise. Alice (Ashley Greene) seems too perky, Rosalie (Nikki Reed) too sullen. Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and Charlie (Billy Burke) project nothing at all.
Yes, the source novel presents difficulties, but director Bill Condon had to tackle a Jacob Black-heavy portion of the story in Breaking Dawn, Part 1, and the result is much more satisfying.
When the direction involves kinetics—camerawork and action—Weitz is more than competent. However, in the scenes that involve characters interacting on an emotional level or even just having an ordinary conversation, the film falls apart.
One production change that’s disappointing is the shift in filming location for the main portion of the film from Washington state to British Columbia. Yes, the production saves money by filming over the border in Canada, and yes, British Columbia looks like the Pacific Northwest. However, the story is set, and the first film was shot, in a very specific part of Washington, the Olympic Peninsula rainforest, and British Columbia simply doesn’t look green enough.
I suppose I should discuss the quality of the special effects, but, unless the CGI is really overdone or story is sacrificed for the sake of effects, special effects don’t interest me. Here, the effects are fine. I had trouble envisioning the giant wolves from Meyer’s descriptions in the novels, but the film brings them to life. Yes, I wish CGI gave a better sense that the objects have weight, but the wolves look reasonably real, and that’s good enough for me.
Overall, this film suffered from difficulties in the source story, difficulties that the execution failed to overcome, making New Moon the weakest film in the franchise.