Movie review for The Oregonian. The sketches were (hastily) drawn in my reviewer's notebook during the Wednesday screening.
The quick version:
If you're totally in the bag for the "Twilight" movies, you're probably going to love "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2."
It's funnier and a lot less padded than "Part 1," it's got a surprising amount of barmy action, it nicely juggles a huge cast, Michael Sheen is a riot, and, without spoiling anything, fans of the book are going to freak the hell out (in a way that was hilarious to behold in a crowded theater on Wednesday night) over some bold tweaks in the third act.
(If you're part of that huge subculture that obsessively loves to hate the "Twilight" series, you'll probably dig it, too, for different-yet-similar reasons.)
The long version is a bit more complicated.
I'm not exactly in the target demo for Stephenie Meyer's vampires-and-werewolves-romance series, but I certainly haven't hated all the films. Visited the muddy vampire-baseball set in 2008 and found everyone delightfully nice. Saw the movie a year later and found it an overheated mess, mostly held together by Kristen Stewart's performance. Thought "New Moon" was a massive, tone-setting improvement over its predecessor -- adding humor and warmth and character and some semblance of logic while putting me squarely on Team Jacob. "Eclipse" was an inoffensive wheel-spinner that starts and ends in almost exactly the same place for the characters. The only "Twilight" movie I loathe is "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," which will age horribly. It felt like 13 hours of dull wedding followed by 15 hours of bad honeymoon followed by 50 hours of K-Stew turning freakishly skeletal and having the most unnerving CGI-faced baby in movie history while everyone else fretted in an upscale living room.
Overall, I admire the impact of the series more than I've admired its particulars. It's terrific that the success of the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" series has finally shown Hollywood there's an audience beyond teenage boys for action-packed genre entertainment. It's maybe less terrific that Bella Swan is a passive, boring Mary Sue -- a character praised as beautiful and funny and charming by everyone around her despite never actually doing or saying anything interesting.
It's even less terrific that Bella defines herself almost entirely through the dudes she torments and lusts after and thinks she needs. (By contrast, Katniss Everdeen is a vastly more interesting and powerful heroine simply for not needing anyone but herself.) Film writer Drew McWeeny dives deep into the ways Bella is a terrible role model for girls here, if you're interested.
Also, most of the films in the series have followed an increasingly wearying pattern: Everyone showers Bella with unearned praise, followed by lots of repetitive, "Archie"-comic-level teen angst and sexual repression, until a climactic face-off ends in a truce until next time.
That's the best thing about "Breaking Dawn - Part 2": It finally breaks that narrative pattern and moves the story toward an over-the-top resolution. Bella's still a bit of a blank, but at least now she's a bit of a blank with superpowers.
In the new film, Bella is a freshly minted vampire with a weird baby, an understanding significant other, a steamy sex life, huge appetites and unchecked strength. Instead of moping and uttering endless variations on "That's really pretty" like she did in previous films, Bella now zips through the woods like a red-eyed Bionic Woman and punches rocks and arm-wrestles and kicks werewolves and tackles her husband. (She also hears and smells everything in microscopic detail -- which the movie treats as incredibly cool but just seems like it would get excruciating in a hurry.)
The love triangle with vampire hubby Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and ab-blessed werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is also, finally, off the table -- for the hilariously insane and more-than-a-little-creepy reason that Jacob has "imprinted" wolf-style on Bella's CGI-faced baby Renesmee and refuses to leave her side. Much-older men fixating chemically on much-younger women being a motif in this series, apparently.
(If I have one serious beef with "Part 2," it's that Jacob gets sidelined the way Han Solo got sidelined in "Return of the Jedi," robbing us of some much-needed smirks. But at least we didn't have to watch another scene of Bella giving Jacob a big sad hug before telling him to get lost.)
Meanwhile, the Volturi vampire leadership (headed up by Michael Sheen in full-camp mode and enjoying every single tongue-flicking second of his paycheck, all while flanked by a dead-eyed Dakota Fanning) has learned of Renesmee's existence. They think she's not just an unnerving trip into the Uncanny Valley, but also a threat to vampires everywhere -- and look to be headed to Forks to wipe out the entire Cullen clan.
So the Cullens gather a ragtag group of vampires from around the world -- many of them dressed in unsubtle "It's A Small World"-caliber regional costumes (i.e. the Irish vampire wears a cute little Irish cap, etc.). The remainder of the film feels uncannily like a magazine-spread variation on an "X-Men" movie, with everyone prepping their special powers for a big showdown in the snow. All of this is intercut with more helicopter shots of forested backcountry than all the "Lord of the Rings" movies put together.
Director Bill Condon ("Kinsey," "Gods and Monsters," the excruciating "Breaking Dawn - Part 1") and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg do a fair job of keeping the tone brisk and good-humored, staging the action clearly, and helping the audience keep track of the film's approximately 574 million supporting characters -- no easy feat. The in-the-bag Wednesday-night audience was eating this up. Also and again, without spoiling anything, there's some cleverness in the structure of that third act, and the movie closes in a sweet, big-hearted way that fans will love.
For an outsider like me, though, the chief pleasure of any "Twilight" movie comes when the filmmakers joyfully embrace the fever-dream absurdity of a story about hunky shirtless wolfmen and high-fashion vampires being forced to get along in the woods and fight a bunch of undead, absurdly dressed Italians just because everyone thinks the most boring girl in Forks is pretty. No one joyfully embraces this absurdity better than Michael Sheen. The actor finds a ridiculous-yet-perfect way to deliver every single second of his performance as head of the global vampire council -- whether he's taking of his cloak to reveal his marching-band outfit or rolling his eyes or clucking "I will collect every FACET of the truth!" or offering up a bizarre laugh of revelation or doing something weird with his tongue. He's all over the film's finale. It's fantastic.
(115 min., rated PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity) Grade: B-minus
'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2' (The Oregonian, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012)