From the start, the Twilight film series has struggled with the dearth of external conflict presented in its source material. This isn’t a problem for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling book series, who can recall every thought and emotion behind the many, many protracted stares exchanged between characters, while those not indoctrinated into Meyer’s world are left to wonder why everyone in the film appears to be in constant gastrointestinal distress. The Twilight films have undertaken a difficult balancing act, attempting to take the small-scale, low-stakes emotional content that drives the majority of the book series and translate it into the sort of engaging action that drives a blockbuster movie franchise. The series’ preceding four entries have only been successful at doing so in fits and starts. Breaking Dawn—Part 2 comes as close as the film series has gotten to reconciling the epic romance it’s billed as and the self-aware camp-fest it often hints at wanting to be, but it’s still a messy, unwieldy slab of film product that’s targeted directly at fans of the book series, with little regard for anyone else.
Picking up directly after the events of Breaking Dawn—Part 1, which ended with Kristen Stewart’s Bella giving birth to a half-human/half-vampire baby before dying and being resurrected as a vampire, Part 2 opens with Stewart acclimating to her new immortal life with her now-husband Edward (Robert Pattinson). This means lots of poorly rendered vampire gymnastics—this series has unfortunately never applied much of its considerable budgetary heft to its CGI—and candlelit romance in the Pottery Barn catalog the undead couple calls home. But it also means figuring out how to close the door on Stewart’s human life and the people in it, a significant predicament that’s quickly waved away in a half-assed conversation that essentially amounts to, “Just go with it, okay?”
There’s also the issue of the bond that’s formed between Stewart’s rapidly aging daughter and Stewart’s former emotional play-toy Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The exceedingly awkward situation of a full-grown man-wolf being in everlasting, inexplicable love with a child is handled with some actual wit, allowing Stewart and Lautner to flex their comedic muscles as they engage with the soap-operatics. (Lautner gets to flex his substantial physical muscles as well, specifically in a funny scene where he strips down in front of a horrified Billy Burke in order to exhibit his shape-shifting abilities for Stewart’s perpetually in-the-dark father.) But like every other major conflict in the Twilight series, it’s quickly shrugged off with a conciliatory sentence or two, and everyone goes back to being even happier than they were before.
That is, until the evil vampire authority known as the Volturi get involved. Originally introduced in the series’ second film, New Moon, then mostly ignored in the following two installments, the Volturi are especially interested in Stewart and Pattinson’s offspring, whom they incorrectly believe to be an “immortal child,” their culture’s ultimate taboo. The new parents and their peace-loving coven know they can’t fight the looming, black-becloaked force (fronted by Michael Sheen, having the time of his life in a tremendously campy performance), so they decide to handle the issue as they do everything else: by talking. This involves recruiting several sympathetic “witnesses” to their cause, leading to the introduction of a dozen or so new, very minor characters. Many of the newbies have their own convenient “special gift,” a favorite plot contrivance of the Twilight series that allows for sidestepping major problems via mind-reading, premonition, mental persuasion, or whatever other power is needed to hurdle the issue at hand.
These special powers become the focus of a larger, poorly explained threat posed by the Volturi, leading to a tense, snow-blanketed showdown between the two factions. In these concluding scenes, the movie feints toward actual substance and consequence—and threatens to diverge from its rigid adherence to the book—before chickening out in spectacular, baffling fashion. If nothing else, director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg deserve credit for rendering the story’s passive conclusion so epically, but they’re ultimately beholden to the inert source text and its exacting fan base.
If there were any doubts that Breaking Dawn—Part 2, like all of the Twilight films, is meant foremost as a love letter to fans, they’re put to rest with the presence of both a series-spanning montage and a video-yearbook-esque closing-credits sequence that lists every single character in the movies, including ones who haven’t appeared since the first film. Moments like these, combined with the series’ insistence on introducing and naming every single minor character, no matter how insignificant, suggest that the Twilight films were never intended to stand on their own terms—they serve as a visual extension of an established entity with a built-in fandom. That fandom will be thrilled to see their beloved characters’ happy endings in Breaking Dawn—Part 2, while everyone else will be left wondering why they were supposed to care about any of them in the first place.
For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, plot details not talked about in this review, visit The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2’s Spoiler Space.