Movie critic Richard Crouse looks back at 'The Twilight Saga' films
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in a scene from eOne Films Canada's 'Breaking Dawn - Part 2'
Published Thursday, November 15, 2012 8:32AM EST
For fans: 4 stars, for everyone else: 2 stars. Total: 3 stars
Twilight, for the uninitiated, is Buffy’s worst nightmare. It is the first in an insanely popular series of books about 17-year-old Isabella "Bella" Swan who moves to Forks, Wash. and finds her life in danger when she falls in love with 90-year-old vampire Edward Cullen. The books are required reading for every 16-year-old girl on the planet and now those undead literary characters are coming to life on the big screen in what will undoubtedly be the weekend’s number one film. Vampires, despite Buffy’s best efforts, are hot again.
“Twilight,” directed by Catherine Hardwicke, stars “Into the Wild’s” Kristen Stewart as Bella, an average girl whose taste in men runs to the supernatural. She’s a sullen teenager sent to live with her father in rainy Washington State after her free-spirited mother shutters their Arizona home to go on the road with her baseball-player boyfriend. Life in the small town is sleepy until Bella meets Edward, a pale, otherworldly student who makes Casper the Friendly ghost look tanned.
She’s immediately smitten, but he is aloof, friendly one moment, cold the next.
“Your mood swings are giving me whiplash,” she says.
Soon enough Edward reveals his true immortal self to her -- he’s a vampire “vegetarian,” meaning that he doesn’t drink human blood. The idea of getting close to a mortal, and her supply of blood, is a temptation Edward fights against.
Rather than running away, afraid for her life, Bella is even more drawn to him. When a trio of nasty bloodsuckers moves into the area Edward must risk his undead life to protect Bella.
‘Twilight’ is review-proof. Advance ticket sales have already surpassed the last two Harry Potter movies and guarantee theatre lobbies filled with screeching teenage girls and sold out auditoriums. It’ll be the number 1 movie of the weekend and not since “The Dark Knight” has anticipation run so deep. Lots of people have been sucked in by this vampire tale.But is it a good movie?
I can best sum it up by paraphrasing an old beer advertising slogan: “Those who like it, will like it a lot.”
“Twilight” is bound to please “twi-hards” -- fans of the books. Robert Pattison, the unknown English actor hired to play heartthrob vampire Edward, embodies the book’s romantic bloodsucker and Kristen Stewart does dreamy longing really well.
Hardwicke, whose directorial career showcases her ability to portray teen angst in movies like “Thirteen” and “The Lords of Dogtown,” captures the cadences of high-school life by surrounding her supernatural characters with average kids handing in natural performances. She’s distilled the 600-page book down to its basic elements, cut the fat -- the most important component being the romance; that Edward goes against his natural instinct to kill because he loves Bella -- and produced a romantic film that will appeal to the book’s enormous core audience.
For others, and that includes vampire purists -- everyone knows that vampires can’t go out during the day and would never have a giant cross in their home -- the movie may feel strangely stilted and well, anemic. Anyone expecting fangs, crazy vampire sex or even high tech visual effects will be disappointed. “Twilight” is about one thing and one thing only -- romance. It’s a horror Harlequin, and while the constant starry-eyed craving between the two leads borders on caricature, without it there’d be very little left.
“The Twilight Saga: New Moon”
Richard’s review: 2 stars
I'm no 16-year-old girl. Never have been, never will be, which makes me unqualified to judge the appeal of the “Twilight” books and movies. These vampire love stories have hit a nerve with a certain demographic, made superstars out of its actors, the King and Queen of Mumbly Teen Angst, Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart, and made everyone connected with the series rich. But I don't really get it.
I'm no 16-year-old female, but neither is director Chris Weitz who I’m not sure really gets it either. He’s taken a surefire hit and turned it into a plodding, dull movie that keeps the leading man hidden for half the film.
The story picks up where the original left off. Bella (Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Pattinson) are happily enjoying a dead-undead romance, exchanging long stares and even the occasional kiss. When a paper cut and a drop of blood ruins Bella’s 18th birthday Edward realizes there is no place for a human in his world and breaks off their relationship before hightailing it to points unknown. In his absence Bella becomes an emotional wreck (nobody does tormented teen like Kristen Stewart).
There are bad breakups -- the kind where you mope and eat ice cream for breakfast. Then there is the titanic meltdown that happens after Bella gets dumped by the bloodsucker.
Enter Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), Bella’s old friend and possible new love interest. By the time someone says to her, "You're OK with weird," the going truly has become bizarre. Jacob turns out to be a member of the mysterious Quileute tribe who carry a werewolf gene. As everybody knows, werewolves and vampires don’t get along, placing Bella in the awkward position of not only being involved in a vampire-werewolf-human love triangle, but also having the two men in her life be sworn enemies.
“New Moon” is bound to make a fortune, but it isn’t an improvement on the first picture. It’s slightly more stylish than the original and there are a few more light moments but the story is all melodrama and no real drama.
The characters, which original director Catherine Hardwicke treated as real people, giving them heart and soul (of course vampires don’t have heart or soul but you get the idea), here are simple stereotypes.
In Weitz’s world Bella and Edward are reduced to lovesick ennui twins, moping endlessly and mumbling their lines. There are attempts to create a feeling of romance -- Edward even recites a passage from “Romeo and Juliet” from memory --but what felt like a sweeping, all-consuming love in the first film feels more like an overblown teenage crush in the new film.
Unlike the television series, “True Blood,” which manages to find a balance between the love story, the vampire action while throwing in a bit of social commentary, “New Moon” is content to present underdeveloped ideas about identity, racism and gay rights. All these concepts are buried in the script. If they weren’t pumping these “Twilight” movies out faster than AIG wastes its bailout money, the screenwriters might be able to develop some of these ideas beyond simply paying lip service to them with an anguished monologue by a jittery teen.
But what do I know? The audience I saw the film with cooed during all the right moments, laughed when Edward’s brother suggested it would be a good idea for Bella to become a vampire so he wouldn’t want to “kill her all the time” and gasped at the bombshell ending. “New Moon” will please the fans of the books and movies, but may leave non fang bangers cold.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Richard’s review: 3 1/2 stars
Werewolves, newborns and vampires. Oh my. The second to last of The Twilight Saga, “Eclipse,” is jam packed with supernatural creatures, a revenge plot, a love triangle and teen angst. At a solid two hours it’s filled to overflowing with the deep dark gothic romance that made these movies a must-see for every teenager on the planet. It’s also the most cinematically satisfying installment of the franchise so far.
Love is complicated but particularly when you are a human in love with a vampire and a werewolf. Part three of the saga finds Bela (Kristen Stewart) forced to make a decision between her love for Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and her deep friendship -- and possibly love -- for Jacob. Meanwhile the flame-haired vampire Victoria wants to avenge the death of her lover James at the hands of Edward, so she puts together a vicious army of newborn vampires to seek out and destroy not only the Cullen family, but Bela as well. War is waged, declarations of love are made and the climax is something the Twihards have been anticipating for some time.
Unlike Harry Potter, another teen oriented literary adaptation, the Twilight story is mostly self-contained. There is a back story, but the movies pretty much stand on their own. There are some odd moments and a reference or two to the Volturi that might leave non-Twihards scratching their heads but then again, very few of the unfaithful will probably ever see this movie.
Like Harry Potter, “Twilight” begins and ends with its characters and luckily for us the characters are evolving as the story continues. Not to worry Twihards, brooding is still the main sentiment on display. But for the first time Edward and Jacob make self-aware jokes! As Bela and Eddie approach a half-naked Jacob the vampire says, “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” OK, it’s not a great joke, but given the amount of press Lautner’s abs gets, it raises a smile.
Later when Jacob throws down the double entendre, “Let’s face it, I’m hotter than you,” Team Edward may not laugh, but it is a funny line.
The guys may have lightened up a tad, but Bella still embodies the spirit of the Twilight story. When she says, “I’ve always felt out of step,” she’s speaking for every teenager in the theatre suffering from a bad case of the terrible teens. That one line explains much of the popularity of these stories. Teens, and in some cases people who remember what it was like being a teen, know how raging hormones can make you feel misunderstood, like an outsider. It’s one of the keys to the success of the series; it understands its audience.
It is also one of the few teen-oriented films with a prudish attitude toward sex and sexuality. It’s about romance and something else you don’t hear about very often these days -- chastity.
Turns out Edward is old fashioned, which I guess comes with being over 100-years-old, and refuses to have sex with Bella before marriage. It’s too late for his soul, he says, but he can protect hers by not taking her virtue. It’s a quaint idea, one probably more at home in a Victorian novel than a popular 21st-century entertainment, but it strengthens the romance aspect of the story.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is a bit talky -- these characters talk about everything before they actually act. But nonetheless, it is the near-perfect mix of teen angst, romance and crazy supernatural action.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”
Richard’s review: 3 stars
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" packs a lot into its first half hour. There's Taylor Lautner's abs (20 seconds in), teen brooding, a vampiric confession, an overprotective werewolf and the most anticipated teen wedding of the decade. Well, she's 18, he's over 100-years-old but looks like a youngin'. It's the next-to-last in the popular series and takes Twihards to the bedroom and beyond.
In case you don't know, this is the episode in which the passionate, but chaste relationship between vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) becomes official and sexual. Everyone is pleased with the pairing except werewolf Jacob (Lautner), the lobo who is loco for Bella. He doesn't approve, but when Bella gets pregnant with her dead lover's baby and a tribe of werewolves vows to kill her, he chooses to follow his heart, not his heritage.
Like the most successful of recent teen movie franchises, "Twilight" treats its characters with respect. Their trip from page to stage has been an easy journey, with most of traits that endeared author Stephanie Meyers's creations to readers intact. The movies value the integrity of the characters and I think that is what has kept audiences coming back for more.
It's not because they're great movies. They've gotten better, and this episode directed by Bill Condon is one of the best of the bunch--although he pads out the almost two-hour running time with so many music montages I lost count after the deflowering montage. Still, it misses greatness because of its slavish loyalty to the book.
The story readers expect is there and family values are intact, even if they are more Addams Family than Family Ties. But the presentation of Bella's pregnancy misses an opportunity to explore the darker side of this vampire story. What could have been a cool Cronenberg-style play on body horror instead becomes melodrama with a pro-life twist.
But "Twilight" has as much to do with horror as Pauley Shore does to comedy, so I shouldn't expect real scares. Stranger than any supernatural element in this story is its attitude toward the physical relationship between Bella and Edward. Despite containing a tasteful sex scene the movie seems afraid of sex.
What message does it send to the young audience that Bella can declare how happy she is, while covered in bruises after a night of wild vampire get-it-on? And don't even contemplate the horrors of pregnancy, it seems to say.
If it was a horror film the odd messages could be taken for what they are -- plot devices -- but in this context they read more like unnecessary cautionary tales about the dangers of sex between consenting adults.
"Breaking Dawn" isn't likely to recruit many new Twilight fans, but despite some odd sexual politics should please fans of the series.