Even those of us who hadn't read the book could tell by watching The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1, with its many scenes of inactivity and waiting around, that the story didn't need to be split into two films. Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 confirms that suspicion -- there's a lot of wheel-spinning here, too -- but it also delivers a climactic action sequence that's genuinely entertaining in its over-the-top nuttiness. (Perhaps tellingly: it's not in the book.)
Shot back-to-back with Part 1 by the same creative personnel (director Bill Condon, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg), Part 2 brings the timeless Twilight saga to a close in a way that fits the rest of the series: sometimes eye-rollingly sappy and inherently silly, yet fully committed to the bizarre story concocted by author Stephenie Meyer. Nobody who isn't already invested in the series is going to see the film anyway, and those who are will probably find it to be more or less what they hoped for. If you're looking for a review that will tell you the movie is terrible and its fans are idiots, I'm afraid I must disappoint you.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a vampire now, and has given birth to a human-vampire hybrid baby that she and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have saddled with the trainwreck name Renesmee. The monster baby ages rapidly, which must make it hard to buy clothes for her, but there is a greater problem. The Volturi, who are like the vampires' congress of cardinals, get wind of Renesmee's existence and believe she's an Immortal Child, an uncontrollable creature that must be destroyed lest the vamps' well-kept secrets be exposed. That's not what Renesmee is, but try telling that to the Volturi. They do not listen to facts and reason. They are what we call low-information voters.
The bulk of the story here has Bella and Edward's vampire friends assembling an international team of vampires who will serve as witnesses to Renesmee's harmlessness and to do battle with the Volturi if it comes to that. These characters, many with special abilities beyond the usual vampire talents, comprise an X-Men-like squad; unfortunately, most of them are given almost nothing to do in the film other than fight anonymously as an army.
Also stuck with nothing to do: poor ol' Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the werewolf who's in love with Bella. He and Renesmee have a peculiar connection that might have served some thematic purpose in the book but that plays no real part in the movie story: Jacob would have been protective of any child of Bella's anyway, without this odd "imprinting" business. Condon salvages it, though, by embracing the inescapable humor of the situation. He does that in other parts of the movie, too, including the moment when Jacob comes out as a werewolf to Bella's dad (Billy Burke), and with various aspects of Bella getting used to her new vampirism. Condon doesn't turn it into pure camp, but he does allow us to find comedy in what might have otherwise been a too-serious teenage romantic drama.
The high point is an extended battle sequence that serves as the movie's climax. Here we have Michael Sheen hamming it up as the gloriously insane Volturi leader Aro, and a lot of nameless vampires and werewolves ripping each other's heads off, opening chasms in the ice to swallow enemies, and perpetrating other energetic acts of violence. I unabashedly enjoyed every minute of this sequence: it's big, it's fast, and it's fun. Does the CGI look awfully fake, especially with the werewolves? It sure does! Godzilla looked like a guy in a rubber suit, too, and it didn't detract from the cheesy B-movie pleasure of it.
Nothing about the story's emotional through line -- which is ultimately the real point, not the vampires-vs-werewolves aspect -- connected with me this time, for most of the usual reasons: Stewart and Lautner are wooden, Pattinson seems embarrassed, and they all talk like people in a paperback romance novel. No doubt the experience will be different for viewers who are more attached to these relationships than I am. And thus we bid adieu to one of the strangest, unlikeliest, and most divisive franchises in moviedom. Wave your freak flag high, Twilight! Be proud of what you are!
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 invades movie theaters across North America on Friday, November 16. You have been warned.