“Immortality becomes you,” Volturi leader Aro (Michael Sheen) hisses to red-irised Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who’s at last surrendered her body and soul to toothy hubby Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), vowing to be his bloodthirsty missus to infinity and beyond. Long before it’s uttered, on the brink of a climax more riveting than anything this series ever seemed capable of, the sentiment is greatly felt in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, as vampirism looks real good on Stewart, in regard to both her alabaster beauty and feral performance skills. Shacked up with Edward’s family while getting used to her newfound gifts, which include warp speed and hyper-keen senses, Bella is instructed to feign humanness when her in-the-dark dad (Billy Burke) comes to visit, told by Alice (Ashley Greene) to breathe, blink, and slouch like a mortal. It’s tough work for Bella, as lo and behold, the promise of forever has knocked the hunched-over torpor out of the young-adult world’s queen of angst, who can now dispatch mountain lions, exert animalistic rage, and leap tall cliffs in a single bound. It’s plenty refreshing to see Stewart come to life as the undead, and the movie itself is uncommonly animated, having learned from the mistakes of such dreadful entries as The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Characters are better employed; emotions are, for once, palpable; and the selfishness of Bella, author Stephenie Meyer’s avatar, is finally somewhat squelched.
The film is going to net a lot of undue, hyperbolic ink, simply because it’s the first Twilight installment that’s compulsively watchable. But there are ample problems here, beginning with the saga’s pedestrian penchant for belaboring contrived drama. In Bella’s first irate act as a protective mother (she gave birth to half-vampire Renesmee at the end of Breaking Dawn – Part 1), she goes ape-shit on chiseled werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who apparently crossed the line by “imprinting” on the infant. For reasons that can only exist in Meyer’s head, Jacob further fans the flames by dubbing Renesmee “Nessie” (“You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster!?” Bella roars, failing to realize the moniker is a vast improvement). Mistaken for one of the dreaded vampire babies of yore, whose creation is a crime against the crystal-skinned race, Renesmee winds up being the catalyst for the ultimate bloodsucker clash, prompting Volturi members to trek from Italy to Forks, Washington, presumably to kill the child and her caregivers. Thus, the whole shebang hinges on a case of mistaken identity, and while wars may well have been fought for less, this one speaks to the Twilight tradition of squeezing out conflicts like blood from a stone.
Well outnumbered by their Italian nemeses, who also include the pain-inducing Jane (Dakota Fanning) and skeptical adonis Caius (Jamie Campbell Bower), Bella and company begin scouring the globe for vampire supporters, with family heads Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and Esme Cullen (Elizabeth Reaser) soliciting kinfolk from New Orleans, Ireland, India, and beyond. It’s here that Breaking Dawn – Part 2 gets all X-Men: The Last Stand on viewers, shuffling through the niftiness of its various vamps’ powers and affording them no more than wafer-thin ethnic characterizations. Look left and see the leather-jacket-clad, lightning-fast duo from Russia; look right and catch the ritual-ready Amazonian priestesses, whose mental projections can make the whole world look like Jurassic Park. The forces assemble as banally as can be imagined, right down to the good old, systematic standing-up, in which all vow to boldly fight to the death.
Adapted by series regular Melissa Rosenberg, who again teams with Breaking Dawn – Part 1 director Bill Condon, the script thankfully gives each fighter personal investment in the skirmish, as most have a Volturi bone to pick, and aren’t just throwing themselves on the pyre of blind Bella Swan supporters. And in Biblical fashion, those loyal to the Cullens are all entranced by the child they’re presented, like damned Magi united in unholy irony (the film is quite keen to appease Meyer’s god-fearing followers, zooming in, for instance, on Bella’s chunky wedding ring during her innocuous sex with Edward). The raised stakes are also coupled with an overall boost in performance quality, as even Lautner, who’s long been the franchise’s actorly nadir, is winning in virtually all of his scenes, finally landing a worthwhile task as Renesmee’s protector, and effectively playing the audience surrogate by pointing and smirking at all the pale-faced killjoys. His character suddenly seems vital, as do most in this ultimately wild-and-woolly finale, which is even shocking in how it opts to both serve comeuppances and pull a last-minute switcheroo. Most alarming of all is how, after four agonizingly hollow trials, the saga manages to shape its central romance into something worth caring about. In a denouement that looks back over this silly fad that’s left so many folks enrapt, Bella coos to Edward, “No one has ever loved anyone as much as I’ve loved you.” We’ve heard it before, and now we hear it once more, only this time with feeling.