The good news for Twilight fans is that director David Slade lends their favorite franchise a heavy dollop of pseudo-gravitas with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the latest film in the hyper-popular family-friendly monster romance saga. The bad news for everybody else is that the film is still just as nonsensical, tawdry, unsexy, hypocritical, and ill-conceived on every level as the last two films. This is, after all, a franchise that tries to sell wholesome sex to tweens. The fact that the franchise has such a rabid fanbase has made unfortunate comparisons to Harry Potter inevitable, and its creators have moved on from trying to prove to parents that the series about a love triangle between a teen wolf, a glittery goth wannabe, and an emo girl is as wholesome as The Munsters.
As its title implies, Eclipse is now about the darker side of the Twilight universe, one in which characters talk to each other about impending danger a lot whenever they’re not pouting or waiting for young tween idol Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) to choose between Edward (Robert Pattinson), her sparkly but distant 100-plus-year-old vampire boy toy, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), her hot-blooded and frequently topless werewolf rebound. The trio’s love is professed in clichés and platitudes: We’re presented with a trite “fire and ice” metaphor for Jacob and Edward, respectively, and a lot of lifeless fretting about whether or not Bella should give in to Edward and marry him or reciprocate her feelings for Jacob and, um, ride around on him some more. Oh, and there’s a vampire war going on. Apparently, this matters to the characters, but not really. It’s just sort of there in the background. If only the same could be said for this execrable, in-your-face franchise.
Previously, on Twilight: Jacob introduced Bella to his family. Edward disappeared, fleeing from Bella to Rome because he feared his urges for her were too strong. Victoria (a sorely miscast Bryce Dallas Howard), an evil vampire whose lover was killed by Edward, retaliated by trying to kill Bella. Jacob protected Bella, confusing her all the more. Meanwhile, her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), still had not been told that his daughter is dating a vampire or that her new friend Jacob is a werewolf. This is an ostensibly family-friendly film about families of vampires and werewolves that care for each other and Bella, but apparently Charlie’s concerns as a parent don’t really matter to them.
Eclipse is the same shit, only a few weeks later. Victoria is raising a vampire army of “Newborns,” young vampires that are stronger than normal bloodsuckers because “they still have traces of their human blood” in them, according to one of Edward’s family members. The Volturi, a council of all-powerful vampires that rule over all the other vampires, are doing nothing because one of them, played by Dakota Fanning, is corrupt, so they all just sit and watch. Bella is still confused but is now, at the ripe age of 18, considering marriage, and Charlie still doesn’t know anything about what’s going on with his daughter, posting photos of a missing local boy and fuming to Bella about how he’d never stop looking for her if she ever went missing.
Bella’s romantic indecision is such an overwrought and drab affair because the Twilight series in general broadcasts its characters’ emotions in bold, capital letters that look a lot like gibberish when scrutinized even cursorily. Jacob insists, “I’m going to fight for you until your heart stops beating,” while Edward refuses to have sex with Bella, which is conflated with biting her and turning her into a vampire because “it may be too late to protect my soul, but I’m going to do all I can to protect yours.” Nice sentiment, but compared to the way that both he and Jacob behave, they sound pretty unconvincing. When Jacob kisses Bella, she punches him and breaks her hand on his jaw. But don’t worry, it’s played for laughs. He, of course, doesn’t force himself on her because this is a family movie, but he does preen to Edward: “She’s in love with me too. She just won’t admit it to herself.” This is after he tells Bella that he would be willing to share her with Edward (“You can love more than one person at a time”). Spoken like a true were-exhibitionist and would-be rapist.
Edward’s not much better. On the one hand, Bella shoos the suspicious but impotent Charlie away by telling him that “Edward’s old-school,” which means that Edward won’t have sex with her and/or bite her until they’re married. He later defends himself to Bella by insisting that he only kissed her after he asked permission. On the other hand, what he’s not saying is that he watched Bella sleep from the skylight above her bed earlier. This is to say nothing of the fact that he shilly-shallies to Bella about respecting her wishes and putting her on an equal level as him by turning her into a vamp, feeding her some nonsense about fearing that she would lose her soul in the process. Substitute “soul” for “hymen” and you’d have a much more honest, though no less confusing, declaration of love.
Both Edward and Jacob’s inconsistent track records are par for the course, however, considering that everything else in Eclipse seems to be made up on the spot and is completely illogical. We learn of werewolves’ innate ability to painfully and spontaneously heal themselves, and we’re also told about the asinine rules about how werewolf-to-vampire telepathy works: vampires can apparently block their thoughts from being read while werewolves cannot; additionally, werewolf thoughts need translation, even though Edward insists that Jacob’s thoughts are “pretty loud.” Likewise, the Newborns aren’t really stronger than the other vampires, according to the results of the series’ characteristically sped-up action scenes, and can be decapitated by regular vamps with their bare hands. And though their skin is apparently “ice-cold” and hard as diamond, when a cigarette lighter is chucked at the vampires, even if they’re surrounded by snow, they catch fire in an instant.
Everything that could and should be elaborated at length to make for a convincing or even just passably trashy love story is glossed over here just as much as in the last two Twilight movies. The key difference is that Slade gives Eclipse a darker look. Which means that you can see the grain of the film stock in frequent close-ups, but that’s about it. The fight scenes are still filmed with fast-motion photography a la the Saw films, the pop music cues are still grating (unless, of course, you think Muse speaks to your achy-breaky teenage soul), and the romance is still laughably inert. Here’s hoping Charlie figures out what’s going on before the next sequel leads him to heavy imbibing.