Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

"Okay, Enough With the Heavy" ("Decisions, Decisions")

When last we left the increasingly soapish "Twilight" saga, vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) had just popped the question to Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart)—the "marriage" question, not the "can I rip your throat open and suck your blood" question.  That this one ends with her "coming out" and wearing his ring would indicates that the series might be moving at a TV-soap opera's glacial pace, where you only had to watch the Friday episodes to see the plot advance and miss out on the week's worth of "discussion" episodes.

Not true, really.  Quite a bit happens in "Eclipse:" the "Victoria's Revenge" plot-line comes to a head; the kids graduate from high-school; there's a war between the Cullens and the "Newborn"—a clutch of newly initiated vampires with a more-than-natural blood-lust; there's an endless "Team Edward"/"Team Jacob" back-and-forth; the cementing of "Bella Mandella" as a catalyst for "Cold Ones"/Quileute co-existence; the Volturi rears its ugly head, appearing to be the real threat to eternal peace and quiet; and it appears that "Twilight" saga author Stephanie Meyer might have stepped back and considered what it was she was writing.

Because with "Eclipse," it becomes clear that Meyer isn't "just" writing a teen-horror "weepie" (although she is!), she's also writing a story about young people choosing their path in life...or after-life.  Suddenly, Bella's quest becomes more focused and it becomes less about her being a damsel in distress bounced from one cult to another, and more of her exercising her choice.  That it is painful and has consequences just enhances the importance of it (aren't all life-choices?), and in a couple of badly needed fleshings-out of some of the Cullen coven's back-stories, it is made clear that she's lucky to even have that choice.

It's the best of the "Twilight" movies (so far), which started out abysmally, got better under Chris Weitz's direction, and now has a nice kinetic veneer from "30 Days of Night" director David Slade. Slade does everybody one better the way he handles this one—the action sequences are full of momentum that still can be followed (there's a rip-snorting battle between Team Cullen, with the begrudging aid of the Quileute werewolf pack, and the Newborn that has rips and snorts aplenty) and Slade even manages to include moments of lyricism that nobody has bothered to use, yet.  An early scene has Edward and Bella ostensibly studying for an English final in a bucolic sun-dappled field of flowers.  A close-up of their faces reveals not the "sparkly-diamond" effect on Edward's face (which has always looked a little stupid), but rather it reflecting a pattern on hers.  Now, that's the way it should be done.  And that they're sitting in a field of wildflowers suddenly and metaphorically places their romance in a natural context: from death and decay, life will grow—Bella and Edward are as natural as flowers and dirtNice.

This one does a whole lot of things well.  There's a great chase sequence near the beginning, which is a terrific primer on action directing—it reminds one of the "speeder-bike" sequence in "Return of the Jedi," only done better.  An uneasy sequence with the love triangle in a freezing tent, gives the boys a chance to play off someone other than Stewart, and they both do fine, subtle work without losing any of their characters' malevolence for each other. Edward's character is no longer a sulking simp' he was in "New Moon," and even dashes off a good humorous line or two (he gets the film's biggest laugh, sneering at Taylor Lautner's six-pack: "Doesn't he own a shirt?"),* Lautner is a little iffy here, doing good work when being aggressively challenging, but not so much when called on to be "intense," and Stewart isn't required to do all the heavy lifting this time, as many of the Cullen's back-stories are allowed out in the daylight, providing Ashley Greene's Alice, Nikki Reed's Rosalie and especially Jackson Rathbone's Jasper moments to shine.  Rathbone has been reduced to wall-paper in the past movies, but, here, he's subtle, intense...and very interesting...a long-suppressed Southern accent creeping into his words every so often.  He shows how this "teen-vampire" shtick should be done (Now if they'd just do something with the wonderful Elizabeth Reaser ("Ma" Cullen), I'd be happy).  The series also improves itself by casting Bryce Dallas Howard, who does brief, fine work as the revenge-driven Victoria, and getting a score by the gifted Howard Shore.

It's hooey, of course—high-blown romantic purple-prose in teen-speak with an injection of morosely doomed monster self-pity.  But, it's becoming increasingly well-packaged and more sharply defined, and, as I said, Meyer has done her homework and figured out what the monster she created really is.  As much as I want to dismiss the "Twilight" series, I acknowledge that this is one of the few multi-part stories that has improved as its rolled along, rather than snowballing into more gigantically leaden productions (Hello...Potter).  Partially, it's that the directors have gotten better as the series has raked in the cash, but also the film-makers have found ways to streamline Meyer's excesses, while giving her and the audience exactly what they want.  While not exactly a valedictorian, it certainly gets some award for "most improved student."

"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" doesn't suck.  It's a Rental.

* I still don't "buy" the Edward character, as he's written as a love-sick moon-calf, rather than a being that's lived a couple centuries.  "Old school" he may be, but he has the thought processes of a teen-ager.  Dramatically appropriate for its audience, maybe, but someone who's lived as long as he has would probably be a bit smarter and more mature.

1 comment:

Mike Lippert said...

Well...at least it's better than the A-Team ;)