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If the entire five-part, 608-minutes-all-in running time of The Twilight Saga means anything at all, it is that vampires are the ultimate fairy-tale characters, as this is a story that literally ends happily ever after and forever for all concerned. Anyone who has seen even one of the previous cinematic installments of Stephenie Meyer’s endlessly protracted cross-species love story basically knows what to expect here, and the multitudes who have seen them all will jam theaters the world over in the coming weeks to experience the consummation so devoutly to be wished: the ultimate and imperishable union of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. The $1 billion generated by the first four entries in the U.S. and $2.5 billion generated worldwide will be increased considerably by the time Breaking Dawn finally reaches its dusk.
Shot by director Bill Condon concurrently with Breaking Dawn — Part 1 over six months in 2010-11, Part 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. Having given birth, Kristen Stewart’s Bella awakens with her new vampire eyes and immeasurably jacked-up strength and perceptions. Taken on a run in the woods by her husband, Robert Pattinson’s Edward, she delights in her sudden speed, unbridled energy and inhuman powers. Advised by Edward that, “We need to get your thirst under control,” Bella amusingly exhibits a craving for a vulnerable mountain climber but settles for the blood of a mountain lion, of all things, as her first meal on her new restricted diet. And once she gets a sample of vampire sex — unlimited endurance, off-the-charts intensity, no need for sleep — she’s totally sold on her new life. “I was born to be a vampire,” she contentedly proclaims.
However, there are those who would view Bella’s baby, Renesmee, much as most people saw Mia Farrow’s spawn in Rosemary’s Baby: as a threat, an “immortal child” whose lack of self-control could reveal vampires to humans. These spoilsports are the imperious members of the Volturi, the ancient Italy-based aristocrats and self-appointed arbiters of vampiredom. Alerted to the great danger posed by this intolerable case of miscegenation, the Volturi, led by the preening Aro (Michael Sheen, in the series’ most entertaining performance), make haste for the snowy wastes of the Pacific Northwest for the ultimate showdown.
One of the distinguishing factors of the whole Twilight Saga has been its unerring ability to prevent four directors of variable talent from demonstrating any real cinematic flair. The prevailing approach in the many romantic interludes has been one of moony dourness in which the yearning and romantic platitudes that dominate novelist Meyer’s prose have been faithfully rendered, while the action/combat scenes concentrate more on vampire and werewolf speed, as well as abrupt, relatively bloodless deaths, than on creative representations of violence.
Although the new film builds to a massive confrontation on a wintry field between more than two dozen vampires, backed up by their hirsute werewolf allies, and the more numerous and gifted Volturi, this remains the rare popular series without any great set pieces or even memorable scenes; from the beginning, it all has just sort of chugged along in a stylistically mundane way that has not infrequently slipped over into dullness.
And yet, this has been an astonishingly successful series, the repository of coursing emotions for countless teenage girls and evidently others as well. This was amply on display at the Los Angeles premiere of the film at the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre, where peals of screeching and screaming greeted the appearance of every name on the opening credits, from all the castmembers to the production designer and executive producers. Granted, it was a radio promotion-heavy crowd, but the exuberant reaction of the Twihards was testimony enough as to the heavy-breathing enthusiasm the series has generated, a phenomenon that will continue for a few more months until conclusively taking its place in history as a series most remembered for its extraordinary financial success as well as for the on- and offscreen romance between its two beautiful leading actors that sustained, with one embarrassing hiccup, throughout its five years of existence.
As for this last installment — for which, as was the case with the Harry Potter series, the final novel was split in two to double the money — the first hour is devoted to Bella’s period of adjustment, the rapid growth of her lovely daughter (played by 10-year-old Mackenzie Foy), the latter’s cautious introduction to Bella’s in-the-dark father (Billy Burke) and the rounding up of far-flung allies who will try to help convince the Volturi that little Renesmee represents nothing to worry about.
The second half sees the gathering storm come to a head in a test of inhuman powers that makes you wonder whether the MPAA was looking the other way when it handed out a PG-13 rating. Everyone in the cast gets into the act, but Ashley Greene’s Alice Cullen gets some special moments in the spotlight as she facilitates a neat plot twist as an intermediary with Aro. Taylor Lautner gets to take off his shirt one last time as the now-reconciled Jacob Black, while a returning Dakota Fanning, as a key Volturi, again proves that, in acting, the eyes have it.
The end credits feature the very nice touch of presenting a visual parade of all the actors who have played any kind of significant role in the entire series, building from the smallest bit players to Pattinson and Stewart at the end. They acquit themselves here just as they have throughout the saga, which has captured the peak of their youthful beauty. Now it’s time for them, and the audience, to move on.
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