Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
My rating: ★★1/2 stars
Over-faithful adaptation will please fans of the books but few others.
I enjoyed Breaking Dawn, Part 2 for the exact same reason that it’s not a good movie. This movie, an adaptation of the second half of the final book in the Twilight series, sticks close to the source material, very close. It does its best to recreate the experience of the book, and, for that reason, I liked it. However, the film would have been much stronger had it deviated from the source material to a much greater extent.
Breaking the final Twilight book into two films, obviously inspired by Warner Brothers’s breaking the final Harry Potter book into two films, is clearly a shameless cash grab. However, Breaking Dawn lends itself to such treatment far better than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book divides neatly between the time before Bella becomes a vampire and the time after, the transformation providing a natural separation.
Two movies would seem to give more time for development beyond the basic plot, but scenes, characters, and relationships all seem rushed through, merely sketched out. A smaller scope could have provided a more involving film.
The film begins when Bella Cullen (Kristen Stewart) wakes up after her transformation into a vampire. The opening scenes of her adjusting to her new life are taken directly from the book. Much of the dialogue, which wasn’t that good to begin with, is unchanged despite the fact that it doesn’t sound good on film and requires Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) to talk far too much. Some scenarios from the book just don’t work when they are made visual, like Bella fighting a mountain lion in a cocktail dress, especially as the film fails to convey why Bella is wearing a cocktail dress to fight a mountain lion or her exasperation with her sister-in-law’s dressing her up like a life-sized Barbie doll while she was out of commission going through her transformation.
The whole hunting sequence isn’t filmed particularly well, either. I was disappointed with director Bill Condon, who did a great job with bringing the first half of Breaking Dawn to the screen. He should have known better than to show Bella super-speeding in a full-face tracking shot like the Bionic Woman (in a cocktail dress). The special effects to show Bella’s newfound powers look technically fine, but the visual impression is ridiculous.
These early scenes do little to engage the audience with the film. The plot picks up when the Cullens learn that the vampire leaders, the Volturi, plan to destroy the whole Cullen clan because the Volturi erroneously believe that Edward and Bella’s daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), is a full-vampire child, the prohibition against creating a vampire child being the most sacred taboo of vampire laws. To prevent their destruction, the Cullens gather a number of friendly covens to act as witnesses.
The movie follows the book, here, too closely. The introduction of nearly two dozen new characters with their own histories, motives, and powers, who, in a book, can be given several pages of discussion each, is overwhelming on film. The film would have been better off halving the number of witnesses in order to better develop the more interesting ones, including American Revolutionary Garrett (Lee Pace), cynical Brit Alistair (Joe Anderson), earthmover Benjamin (Rami Malek), the Denali coven, and the bitter dispossessed Transylvanian coven. Compelling actors like Pace (Lincoln), Anderson (Across the Universe), Christian Camargo (TV’s Dexter), and Noel Fisher (TV’s Shameless) here serve as little more than glorified extras.
Furthermore, I doubt that viewers who have not read the books would be able to follow this glut of characters and limited exposition. For example, Denali vampire Eleazar (Camargo) continually offers explanations about the powers of other vampires and the modus operandi of the Volturi, but the film fails to elucidate why he is such fount of knowledge. Even elements crucial to the action remain under-explained. Throughout the film, I found myself filling in blanks left in the film from information I had gleaned from the reading of the books.
The movie follows the book almost scene for scene, which is satisfying for fans who want to see their experience of the book recreated on screen, even if some of those scenes seem a little abbreviated. However, the film fails to extend its appeal to non-readers and to turn the story into one that would work as a film, one that exists separate from the source novel. The film had to navigate the difficult waters of pleasing readers and changing the story from one medium to another. Too often, the makers of the film erred on the side of caution, taking the route guaranteed to please fans but also the one promising the least excitement.
When the film, recognizing the adaptation difficulties presented by the final showdown between the Cullens and the Volturi, deviates dramatically from the source novel, the film picks up new energy. Seeing the film in the theater, I noticed that, at that moment, it was as if the entire audience, who had been lulled into a comfortable slumber, instantly became alert and involved in the film. This change, which made the climax more visual, was refreshing after 90 minutes of familiar material. The film could have been vastly improved by taking more risks.
One of the difficulties of adapting this particular part of the book is the rapid growth of Renesmee. Having the newborn turn almost immediately into an eleven-year-old is jarring. Yes, she grows quickly in the book but not that quickly. We don’t get to see Bella and Edward bond with their child and, thus, have to be told about the development of their relationship. Yes, we believe what we’re told, but we don’t really feel it on a fundamental level.
Fans of the novel will be pleased with this adaptation, but I doubt the film will win over the haters or the merely indifferent.