After four blockbuster movies and four reviews admonishing author Stephenie Meyer's staunchly anti-feminist, Harlevamp romance stance, the so-called "Twilight Saga" finally comes to a close with fifth-part hanger-on "Breaking Dawn Part 2." Directed, as with 2011's stretched-thin "Breaking Dawn Part 1
," by Bill Condon (2006's "Dreamgirls
"), this climactic curtain call breathes sudden last-minute new life into a franchise that has been rather inert and emotionally bloodless up until now, a fantasy of antiquated beliefs that has somehow sent a portion of the female population into a passionate frenzy of, first and foremost, hornball desires. If they were to stop and actually consider the messages behind the pretty guys, some of them might very well be alarmed at how flimsy and childish and downright disturbing the premise is. No mind, "Breaking Dawn Part 2," for what it is, works. It's still as foolish as its one-track-minded heroine, but Condon brings style, an elegiac lushness, and a sneaky sense of fun to the proceedings. As for returning screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, she's still not above including some doozy lines of dialogue"Now we're the same temperature" is close to skin-crawling, and in a bad waybut she has also concocted a few sly surprises for viewers who think they know where everything is going each step of the way.
It hardly seems worth it at this point to mourn teenage simpleton Bella Swan's (Kristen Stewart) decision to give up all ambitions and end her mortal life to be with a hot, brooding (and very much dead) twenty-first century answer to Luke Perry. After all, at the start of the film she's already gone through with the transformation, a last-ditch effort on new husband Edward Cullen's (Robert Pattinson) part to save her during the fatalistic childbirth of their half-vampire/half-human hybrid daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). Now Bella is a beautiful, super-strong, red-eyed bloodsucker, training herself to drink animals rather than humans; Renesmee is aging at an abnormally fast rate, a fact that worries her parents; and frequently bare-abbed lupine Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is an unofficial new member of the family, having imprinted on Renesmee the moment she was born.
All is reasonably wellBella even figures out a way to still see her father (Billy Burke) without having to tell him what she's becomeuntil the Volturi receive word that they are harboring an immortal child, a major no-no that puts all of their vampiric kind in jeopardy. What they do not know is that she was born when Bella was still human, a rarity that might be their savior. As Aro (Michael Sheen) and his clan draw near, the Cullens' set out to gather as many witnesses to the truth as they can. They hope they can convince the Volturi to see reason, but if they can't, they're not about to go down without a fight.
Something feels slightly different about "Breaking Dawn Part 2" from the get-go, starting with a coolly concocted opening credits sequence matched by a sleek, haunting musical suite from composer Carter Burwell (2012's "Seven Psychopaths
"). Perhaps because it is the final entry, director Bill Condon felt increased pressure to get things right while defying some of his naysayers. Notably less mopey that 2008's "Twilight
" and 2009's "New Moon
," and certainly less depressing than 2010's improved but funereal "Eclipse
," "Breaking Dawn Part 2" does exactly what a conclusion should: build the stakes to a mounting crescendo and then pay off the loose ends. It's far from perfect and still a bit meanderingnow that both parts have been seen, there is conclusively no reason to have split Meyer's last novel into two films beyond the shamelessly monetarybut it is nonetheless nice to, for once, see lead characters who smile and look generally happy. Said happiness, of course, is threatened, along with Renesmee's very life, in the second half, and this is where Condon finally pulls out all the stops. The third-act showdown between the good vampires and werewolves and the snippy Volturi goes above and beyond what is expected, giving a sense of epic grandeur and, dare it be said, elegance to a series that has been lacking in both up to this point. It's quite a show-stopper, worth seeing all by itself.
Kristen Stewart (2012's "Snow White and the Huntsman
") has received a lot of flack for her portrayal of Bella, giving the part a gravity and seriousness it probably never earned based on what was found on the page. All, however, won't be able to accuse her of not letting loose here. Now forever young and a little on the chilly side"I was born to be a vampire," she saysStewart turns Bella into an altogether more self-assured and vibrant version of herself. As Edward and Jacob, Robert Pattinson (2012's "Cosmopolis
") and Taylor Lautner (2011's "Abduction
") have always had less to do, and neither one overexert themselves on the acting front. That said, it's nice just to see the two of them getting along, with Jacob having given up on romancing Bella and instead redirecting his energy to protecting Renesmee. Billy Burke (2011's "Drive Angry
") finds his role as Bella's dad Charlie increased, sharing some nice moments with a daughter he's not at all willing to give up. As Volturi daughter Jane, Dakota Fanning (2010's "The Runaways
") gets maybe two lines if she's lucky, but doesn't need them, emoting more with her eyes than most performers are able to achieve with their entire bodies. It's a shame that Fanning has been criminally underutilized otherwise, but what can a person do when the source material is equally emaciated? Finally, Michael Sheen (2011's "Midnight in Paris
") makes for a particularly vivid villain; his turn as Aro has been workmanlike in the previous movies, but is ingeniously inspired this time while apparently channeling the maniacal Reverend Kane from "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."
It's a good thing that vampires do not exist in the real world, because if they did, all of these wayward "Twilight" pics would probably prompt an onslaught of daft teen girls to get themselves knocked up with immortal blooda modern day version of a 1950s housewife, if you will. All kidding aside, "Breaking Dawn Part 2," like all of the past films, tells an immensely silly story. Were it not for the threat of consequences having everything to do with Stephenie Meyer's skewed vision of love and womanhood, it would be downright inconsequential. Jumping over this hurdle since the damage has been doneBella claims to be happier than she's ever been, though that could be her fiery loins still talking"Breaking Dawn Part 2" is a sincere, handsomely mounted farewell that brings honest to goodness legitimacyif only a very littleto its place in the cinematic history books. On final assessment, "The Twilight Saga" has been one pop-cultural fad difficult to figure out the appeal of, but one thing is for sure: all involved saved the best for last.