The usual disclaimers apply, beware of spoilers in this review, though most people keen to see the final instalment of The Twilight Saga were lined up at the midnight screenings back in November when the film was released, unlike me, who waited a leisurely few weeks to see it and an even more leisurely couple of months to post a review.
Nonetheless: **Spoiler alert!**
I should preface this by explaining that I come to this series with mixed feelings, having enjoyed the first film and novel, but not so much the sequels. So I’m by no means a devoted fan, but neither am I a(n entirely) scornful critic.
The film is based on the last part of Book Four, with the powers that be having decided to split the final book into two movies for reasons of
commercial gain artistic expression. Bella has married vampire Edward Cullen, their half-human half-vampire child Renesmee has just been born, and Bella has survived being turned into a vampire. The plot builds towards a confrontation between the good vampires (the Cullens and friends) and the bad vampires (the reigning Volturi and friends), and our vampire lovebirds are now in danger (again).
We discussed the Twilight novels (and briefly, the films) in our book, and specifically we looked at how the novels use some of the werewolf characters in regard to adolescence, gender, class and race (just a few minor things, then). I’ll talk about those aspects briefly and then move onto less serious things.
However, the werewolves were downgraded to bit players for this film; none of the formerly major wolves appeared in human form except Jacob and, briefly, Sam. There was an odd Christmas scene where the characters formerly known as Seth and Leah were positioned carefully so we never saw anything but the back of their heads. Perhaps the budget was a bit tight so they brought in some hair doubles? Very odd.
So it’s difficult to really add anything here about shapeshifting in the series because the wolves do not feature as much. Adolescence isn’t really approached here, since Jacob and his Quileute friends are fairly stable by now in their lupine identities and able to control their aggression.
Gender is interesting only insofar as the book and film both describe Bella’s increased physical strength, which for a time is greater than anyone else’s strength. Bella’s mental power is also an important factor in the book because of her ability to control her lust for human blood and her discovery that she has a supernatural ability to “shield” herself and others from supernatural harm, but this film struggles to bring in all the plot threads so this isn’t as big a theme as it might have been. So while it might be worthwhile exploring how the series constructs Bella at long last as “equal” to those around her (and most importantly, in her eyes, almost equal to Edward), by virtue of her change into a vampire, the film doesn’t really add anything different to what we already talked about.
Class again doesn’t come up sufficiently for discussion because we’re almost entirely in the lap of Cullen luxury in this film, with a notable exception of Bella’s father Charlie and his Quileute girlfriend, and I say notable because it is a striking visual contrast between the Cullen conspicuous displays of wealth and Charlie’s working class background with respect to their appearance/clothes/houses, which is the same with the class divisions between vampire/werewolf (or, white/ Indigenous) in the series.
Finally, race. In our book we talked about how the Quileute wolves learn in the climactic scene of Book 4 that they are not “real” werewolves but shapeshifters. How do these Indigenous people learn this crucial part of their history? The white ruling vampires tell them. We mentioned in the book that this is a little odd (if not suggestive of neo colonization) that white people need to explain to the Indigenous group their very existence and history, but there’s no need for concerns here when that entire subplot becomes just one line: “But those werewolves are our natural enemies!” protests one bad Volturi vampire as they leave peacefully instead of fighting it out as they wished.
Now that I’ve shown such fortitude in taking the film seriously, I have to talk about the superficial: some of those aspects of this movie that were just a bit too silly and provoked laughter where it presumably wasn’t intended.
It might have been the opening scenes of Bella’s red eyes and flitting about the forests in a pristine blue evening dress while devouring beasts with her bare teeth.
Or was it seeing these characters run at superhuman speed through forests and over cliffs, which has just not gotten any less silly from the first movie.
Maybe it’s Jacob’s “imprinting” with Renesmee, which the film tried to gloss over as quickly as possible, and yet somehow nothing can take the ick factor out of pairing an adult male with a little girl no matter how much Jacob insists “it’s not like that!” (no, Jacob, it’s not like that. Yet).
Or perhaps the endless close ups of vampiric red eyes, which unfailingly displayed the faint circular rim of the coloured contacts the actors were wearing?
How about Jacob’s strip tease for poor old Bella’s dad? Words failed me. Stifled laughter did not.
Renesmee’s name? Renesmee’s nickname?
Or those CGI wolves, who just looked fake most of the time?
Carlisle’s very uncool haircut and colour that turned him from Forks’ nicest looking doctor to its frumpiest?
How about the motley cast of red-eyed International X-Men: Vampires and their assortment of odd super powers?
Or what about the characterisation of Bella? It’s business as usual here, displaying a range of emotions from frowning over a grim future, to frowning over Alice’s cryptic note, to frowning over Jacob and Renesmee’s romance (though I’m with you on that one, sister), to frowning over making her psychic powers work. But she does smile sometimes (see that earlier picture of her running super fast with Edward?).
Several things struck me as weird. These vampires are supposed to be dazzlingly beautiful, quite literally. So why were many of the actors in obvious, heavy make up? One wouldn’t think gorgeous young sparkly things should need so much eyeliner, lipstick, eyeshadow, foundation, false lashes, ad nauseum, but apparently so.
How are we supposed to reconcile the inconsistent ethics in the series, where the Cullens are constructed as “good” because they choose to abstain from human blood no matter how badly they want it, but where the same good characters will watch, without a qualm, another “less-good (but not entirely evil)” vampire kill a human?
Other parts were much better than expected. For instance, I was, quite frankly, nervous about seeing Creepy Renesmee on screen, but the filmmakers did an okay job of turning the freakish vampire-human hybrid into an entirely unscary, cute little girl. Probably not showing her little girl teeth dripping with blood helped with that.
Several parts of the film were effective. The battle scene trick was quite convincing (I have heard others heap scorn on it, but it worked for me), I sat there thinking for a moment, Hey, this is a lot more gory than I remember in the books, and since when did Carlisle and Seth and Leah all die, did I somehow miss that in the books? When we were shown those deaths were not real but just one of Alice’s visions, I found it oddly comforting. And then I found it deeply disturbing that I found that comforting, but there you have it. Mind you, the fighting was still weird to see people flying and fake wolves jumping around and magical powers being used, and all so very gory, with the opposing forces finding a vast number of ways to detach heads from bodies.
The end was a nice strategy of paying tribute to the previous saga instalments, showing Bella finally learning to share her thoughts with Edward, which was a neat way not only of showing her increased power over her abilities but also of showing a montage of scenes from the earlier movies.
If anyone else has any thoughts on this film series – or the novels – please feel free to share, even if the film feels like a long time ago now!