July 01, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Zzzzzz: Part 3

Grade: C +

Director: David Slade

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, and Billy Burke

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

The dread comes in early in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and once again, it is not the variety you would hope for from a tale about vampires, werewolves, and forbidden love. The film opens with Edward (Robert Pattinson), the most benevolent bloodsucker this side of Count Chocula, and the angst-ridden Bella (Kristen Stewart), still the most dysfunctional movie teen since Heathers, lying in a field of wild flowers. “Marry me,” says Edward; “Change me,” answers Bella; “I will if you marry me,” replies Edward; “Not again!,” screams the inner-monologue of every audience member who does not choose movies based on the recommendations of “Seventeen” and “Us Weekly.”

In truth, the tedium still outweighs the titillation in this tertiary film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s fantasy-romance franchise. But, new director David Slade credits include the pedophile-torture, Ellen Page vehicle Hard Candy, and 30 Days of Night, Josh Hartnett’s own vampire slasher flick. While still constrained by Meyer’s insipid prose, Slade struggles mightily to bring a dark visual and thematic edge to Eclipse. Vampires, werewolves, and a plot…oh my!

Vile Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre) is up in Seattle recruiting an army bloodsucking “newborns” to help exact revenge on Edward and Bella. Sensing encroaching danger, Edward and the rest of the Cullen clan call an uneasy truce with Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and the lycans in order to join forces and brace for battle.

Unavoidably, however, the main storyline always reverts back to a tedious love triangle over who Bella really wants to take her literal and metaphorical virginity: Edward, who glistens in sunlight and can give her immortality, or Taylor, who sports a six-pack and has enough body heat to help her stave off hypothermia when all three go camping during a blizzard. Call me crazy, but if Bella wasn’t in the pup tent, Edward and Taylor’s heart-to-heart d├ętente had the makings of a supernatural Brokeback Mountain moment. Guess what? That would not be the worst development that could take place in this otherwise inert hunk of mass-marketing.

Eclipse corrects some of the oversights in its two predecessors, including some welcome flashback exposition about Jacob’s Native American tribe and the origin stories of vampires Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed). The action sequences are energizing while propelling the story forward, and there are several flashes of sly humor – “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” Edward asks about the chronically bare-chested Jacob.

But, like a vampire getting his first taste of blood, all these flirtations with competence only tease the ways this series has fallen far short of its latent potential. The three leads remain vapid eye-candy, particularly in comparison to a supporting cast that now includes Howard, Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. More importantly, Eclipse toes, but never wholly crosses, the dividing lines of race, class, and religion inherent to Forks’ demography and lingering the background of Bella’s star-crossed dalliances, boundaries that should have been breached two movies ago. Instead, the whole spectacle is dumbed-down into a more easily marketable row between Team Edward and Team Jacob, with the only arbiter of righteousness being the decibel level of teenagers’ screams.

During the climactic battle scene in Eclipse, there is a moment when Bella – reenacting a bit of Quileute folklore – nearly carries out an act that would both save Edward from his attackers and force him to transform her into the thing he does not want her to become. Unfortunately, the plot – like the series as a whole – plays it safe, eschewing any possible complexity for the refuge of more wild flowers and inevitable “Will they or won’t they?” blather.

With two more films on the horizon, there remains hope. But – at the risk of mixing metaphors – it will take more than a simple transfusion for the sun to shine after this Eclipse. Twilight needs a heart transplant, stat!

Neil Morris

No comments: