There are two parties equipped to enjoy, or even tolerate, the Twilight movies, specifically The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, the hopelessly god-awful penultimate installment of the five-film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s heavy-and-dumb-as-a-brick quadrilogy. The first includes the book series’s fans (or “Twi-Hards,” if I must), who’ve already sold their souls and would gladly follow Bella Swan and her devil/angel man candy into the grimiest bowels of hell. The second consists of those who’ve embraced the notion that this is all just the frivolous, vicarious fantasy of a sexually repressed, egocentric author, and should be casually digested as such, with the same abandon with which one catches an episode of The Real Housewives. But even for those hailing from the latter, Breaking Dawn offers precious few returns, and it continually punishes all who curb their cynicism for even a split second.
Intended as the cinematic equivalent of an orgasm, this tirelessly hyped insta-blockbuster is loaded with OMG developments (marriage! Sex! Baby!) and seemingly regarded by everyone to include the most epic and gratifying scenes of romantic release in modern movie history. But no one in front of or behind the camera is able to sell a lick of the supposed urgency of these ejaculatory pop milestones, primarily because this movie isn’t important, but rather one more piece of the shittiest mega-popular media brand ever.
The Twilight films have always been about the sweet sin of giving oneself over—completely, outlandishly, and indefinitely—to forbidden desire, a prospect that understandably gets millions of teens fluttering in their netherlands. But they’ve also been about profound selfishness and unearned exaltation, as the avatar for Meyer and her minions is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a deeply unlikable center of gravity around whom virtually every other character swirls in near-blind support. “I can do this,” Bella declares repeatedly, with full knowledge that her father (Billy Burke), her mother (Sarah Clarke), a Native American chief (Gil Birmingham), the ever-devoted Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), her beloved Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and Edward’s entire vampire family will see to it that she most certainly can. As written by Meyer (and as adapted by series regular Melissa Rosenberg), Bella never seems to deserve a fraction of the endless love with which she’s lavished, and as portrayed by Stewart, she shatters viewer sympathy right along with her virginal innocence.
Once seeming to hover somewhere north of this useless fluff, Stewart now drags it down further, her considerable beauty no match for her lack of talent. Despite being the go-to angsty actress, she can’t believably communicate Bella’s I’m-just-an-outcast awkwardness, and her alarmingly unprofessional approach has grown ingratiating to watch. She has a grab bag of about four tricks she alternates on cue, employing the lip quiver, the head shake, the wandering eye, and the heavy breathing in rotation, while sometimes simply panicking and burying her face in a character’s shoulder. Compounded by Stewart’s lack of presence, Bella shifts from her intended stance of antiheroine to something close to antimatter, and in this chapter, wouldn’t you know it, she’s giving birth to the Antichrist.
The buzz on Breaking Dawn is all about Bella and Edward’s honeymoon sex, and the very bloody birth of the resulting baby—or “fetus,” or “thing,” or “demon,” depending on which character you ask. What will the filmmakers show? Will we really be able to see Edward thrust his glittery self on top of Bella? Will she moan in delight? How will they visualize Edward chewing through Bella’s belly to extract his newborn (who, as decided in a hysterical scene too ludicrous to explain, is given the name “Renesmee”)? Officially displacing Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh as the nadir of his career, director Bill Condon blows all opportunities for titillation and provocation, timidly shying away from anything objectionable; opting for trippy, barely suggestive fast cuts when things get really nasty; and rendering Edward—at the peak of this ever-climbing estrogen rollercoaster—as not just unsexy, but a minute man, of all things. No sooner are Bella and Edward slipping beneath the sheets at their island getaway than Edward is crunching the headboard into sawdust, exuding hollow enthusiasm while Bella, in the throes of her deflowering, hasn’t a peep to share.
The prematureness of the scenario, which is followed by one hell of a depiction of the destruction of Bella’s temple, is indicative of the entire film, which, more than jumping into current events in fan-friendly fashion, clumsily plummets into its plot as if pushed from a cliff. Know that within mere minutes there will be flashbacks, there will be forced chemistry between the lead couple, there will be brooding alt-rock tracks no Twilight director can avoid, and there will, indeed, be a shirtless Taylor Lautner.
Saving the showdown with all those European bloodsuckers for next November’s Breaking Dawn - Part 2, Part 1 revives the temporarily quelled tension between the Cullen clan and Jacob Black’s wolf pack, a moody crew played by a batch of actors so bad they make their nominal Hangover brethren seem Shakespearean by comparison. Following what we’ll call the Lady and the Tramp scene, a goofily heated and preposterously long-winded powwow among CGI wolves that will leave your jaw on the floor, the furry ruffians vow to murder Bella’s cursed spawn, making her a woman threatened by beasts both outside and within (the pregnancy doesn’t go well). The movie culminates in a mess of insane activity that probably read well enough on the page, but plays like some sort of phantasmagoric seizure, with wolf brawls at the doorstep, Bella at death’s door, and Jacob muttering ridiculous blather about “gravity” and “imprinting.” The scary thing is, the finale spikes into such startlingly slipshod mania that it almost, for a moment, starts to dig in its teeth, pulling us naysayers into judgment-clouding orbit. Thankfully, the movie then promptly leaves its literally damned characters, cutting to blood-red credits before our poor souls are sucked out too.