The final Twilight saga chapter, Breaking Dawn – Part 2, was always expected to face an uphill battle with anyone but diehard fans of Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance series. Despite blockbuster box office returns, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 was met with largely negative reviews and the sense that splitting the final Twilight book into two parts arguably proved to be a disservice to the quality of the film adaptation – even if it doubled-up profits for Summit Entertainment.
It goes without saying that moviegoers who are simply uninterested or cynical about the Twilight franchise will not enjoy Breaking Dawn – Part 2 – as the film still contains the usual series staples (shirtless Taylor Lautner, glittering vampires, melodramatic romance, etc). However, does the final entry, once again directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), ultimately deliver a filmgoing experience worthy of recommendation to cautiously curious fans of entertaining cinema – in addition to the already strong Twilight series faithful?
Surprisingly, yes. As mentioned, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 isn’t going to win-over the franchise’s longtime critics and, given the amount of ties to past events and characters that dominate the proceedings, it’s still hard to recommend as a standalone experience for the uninitiated. That said, out of the (now) five film series, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 easily includes the most straightforward plot and, instead of dwelling on the core Bella, Edward, Jacob love triangle, manages to deliver a competent (albeit still campy) “war” story – complete with a fun cast of supporting heroes/villains and a finale that ends the current saga with a fiery bang. Condon shot Part 1 and Part 2 at the same time but the difference is staggering, as the latter installment is stronger in nearly every single way imaginable, with a focused story, higher production values, and a number of appealing setups. It’s still an overly-dramatic and downright cheesy escapade but, unlike most of the prior entries, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 offers enough fun for appeal to a slightly broader audience.
The Breaking Dawn – Part 2 story picks up directly after the events of Part 1: wherein Bella (Kristen Stewart) nearly lost her life during the birthing of her half-human, half-vampire daughter, Renesmee - only to be turned into a vampire at the very last minute by husband, Edward (Robert Pattinson).
In Part 2, newborn vampire Bella awakens from a post-transformation slumber and wastes no time in testing out her new supernatural powers. Unfortunately, after being reunited with Renesmee (now played by Mackenzie Foy), Bella and her daughter – along with werewolf/one-time love interest Jacob (Taylor Lautner) – are spotted by Cullen family “cousin” Irina (Maggie Grace) who mistakes Renesmee for an “immortal child” (read: a child who has been turned into a vampire and, as a result of their juvenile lack of self-control, risk exposing the existence of vampires to humans). Irina reports the Cullens to the Volturi, the vampire ruling class and police force, known for their ruthless handling of similar situations. In an effort to clear their names, and reveal the truth of Renesmee’s parentage, the Cullens recruit a roster of international vampire “witnesses” to help set the record straight or, should the Volturi choose to be unreasonable, fight to the death.
While Breaking Dawn – Part 2 still relishes in sappy cliches about “true love” and hyper-romanticized encounters between Bella and Edward, the larger plot is actually very straightforward and finds a successful balance between the sentimental franchise camp and some genuinely entertaining changes to the established format. The majority of scenes still present eye-rolling moments but, freed from all the overly-complicated teen romance, Part 2 allows a number of characters to step outside of the drama for unique moments to shine – revealing that the core Twlight universe has more going for it than the love triangle focus of earlier movies. Abstract core elements (such as the Volturi, “imprinting,” and the dangers of “immortal children”) are all explained with mostly natural exposition or engaging flashbacks – educating uninitiated audience members on the primary character beats in play.
Watching Bella experiment with her newfound powers is amusing to watch, and a welcome change of pace from her cringe-worthy descent into sickness and death in Part 1, but the real stars this round (for anyone who isn’t already grounded in Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team Bella) is the international cast of vampires who come to aid (or in some cases mock) the Cullens for their plan to face the Volturi. Not only do some of the characters offer enjoyable riffs on traditional vampires, the film focuses heavily on each Twilight vampire’s “gift” (aka: super powers) – leading to a number of slick comic book-like “heroes” such as Benjamin (Rami Malek) with Airbender-ish control of elements in nature and chilling “villains” such as Alec (Cameron Bright) who can rob opponents of their physical senses.
On the battlefield, the combination of super-powered hero vampires, rough and tumble shape-shifting wolves, as well as blood-thirsty Volturi combatants, makes for a rousing last confrontation that is as outrageous as it is amusing (it would also make for a crazy drinking game: one drink for every decapitation). The final Twilight set-piece doesn’t come close to matching the scale of the assault on Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 but, compared to the flat visuals and underwhelming action beats in prior Twilight entries, the closing moments of the film definitely raise the series bar and should provide a satisfying conclusion for Twihards – along with fun surprises for less-knowledgeable viewers.
Still there’s no doubt that the film is held-back by mushy character moments and a “budget” look (despite the franchise raking in over $2.5 billion at the global box office) – both holdovers issues from earlier franchise entries. Even though there is no “talking wolves” colloquium this round, there are still a number of unintentionally humorous exchanges and awkward visuals (especially CGI baby Renesmee) that undercut the quality of the filmmaking – even if the final film itself delivers a worthwhile experience for its intended audience.
It’s unlikely that Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is the end of the Twilight movie franchise (given all the talk of spin-offs or further sequels) but Stephenie Meyer remains clear that it is the end of Bella and Edward’s tale. As a result, it’s fitting that the final chapter in their storyline also offers the most fun and excitement thus far – not to mention serves as the entry that could change a few minds about the available potential in the larger series. Naysayers aren’t going to be won-over (and have plenty of fair criticisms) but it’s easy to imagine that some initially reluctant viewers might be less adverse to further Twilight installments after their time with Breaking Dawn – Part 2. In our review of Part 1 I contended that, considering the passion and support of the Twihard community (not to mention resulting blockbuster profits), Summit Entertainment owed faithful fans better quality Twilight films – and Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is definitely a step in the right direction.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.