You never saw such an improvement in a movie franchise. Or a girl. In Breaking Dawn-Part 2, the magically schlocky last (please) installment of The Twilight Saga, Bella Cullen, nee Swan (Kristen Stewart), is officially a vampire. She’s incredibly strong and capable—no harnesses needed if Bella wants to rock climb; she pretty much flies these days—and now she and Edward (Robert Pattinson) can have mutually rough vampire sex 24/7 if they want, complete with orgasms that sparkle like a disco ball. “You really were holding back before,” Bella murmurs, preparing to mount her husband again.
Even better, the sulks, moodiness and lip biting are gone. Vampire Bella is even funny. “You think you have some sort of moronic wolfie claim on her?” she bellows at her former suitor Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who has transferred his affections to her newborn half-vampire, half-mortal daughter Renesmee. (He imprinted. It’s a wolf thing.) By the time Bella wakes after her traumatic-caesarian-section-by-teeth as seen in BD-Part 1, Jacob has taken to calling the child Nessie, which seems a reasonable approach to a name fit to crush the spirits of elocutionists everywhere. “You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness monster?”
The movie is a wildly campy, action-packed end to what has been a stultifying though undeniably beloved series; I have resisted each installment but had a shrieking good time at this one. What’s the difference? Director Bill Condon shot both parts of Breaking Dawn, the last of Stephenie Meyer’s four Twilight books, simultaneously and using the same screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, who adapted the other three books for the screen. But this time the age of avoidance and resistance is over; it’s not just the virtue of a young mortal in love with an extremely well mannered vampire at stake, it’s the future of a Very Special Child and the entire Cullen clan.
The fascist police of the vampire world, the Volturi, based in Italy and led by Aro (an over-the-top hilarious Michael Sheen) and Jane (Dakota Fanning, who is not in the least constrained by acting only with her eyes) do not take kindly to the news of Renesmee’s presence among the Cullens. Not realizing her origins, they assume she’s an immortal child, one who has been turned into a vampire and is forever uncontrollable, trapped in the terrible twos forever. “A single tantrum could destroy a whole village,” the Cullen family’s “dad” Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) explains. The Volturi eliminated all immortal children centuries ago in the only way you can get rid of one of Meyer’s vampires, pulling off their heads and tossing them into flames. This could happen to Renesmee (played from infancy on by spooky little beauty Mackenzie Foy), although I don’t see why they couldn’t try telling the Volturi she’s Bella’s American Girl doll, a totally plausible fib.
The Cullen’s resident clairvoyant Alice (Ashley Greene) forsees that the Volturi will come when “the snow sticks to the ground.” (Why the delay? Soccer season in Italy?) They all assume the Volturi won’t listen to reason in regard to Renesmee, so in preparation they gather “witnesses” from all over the world (including Ireland, the Brazilian rain forest, the Middle East) to bear testimony to the truth of the matter. The logic here is dubious at best, especially since no one can lie to Aro. All he has to do is touch someone to know the truth. But logic has never been the strong suit of the Cullens. Who else would give Bella and Edward a cosy, ivy-covered, fully decorated cottage of their own, right nearby, and then immediately announce that it was time to leave Washington state so that Bella’s dad Charlie (Billy Burke) doesn’t figure out she’s turned into a vampire. (Never fear, Jacob has a most excellent way of handling that problem. Shirtless.)
(READ: The last time Mary Pols claimed a Twilight movie was the “best so far.” Clearly, she’s on Team Jacob.)
I do appreciate the Cullens sense of home décor however, which they often seem a part of. The vampires have a habit of grouping themselves in their modern living room, paired off like tasteful ottomans and easy chairs while the camera pans over their faces, smiling or looking concerned as the situation calls for. The framing of these Twi-oramas is somewhere between soap opera and the cover shoots for Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood issue. Their frozen quality speaks to the chronic lack of action in the series. This time the camera has to work overtime to make sure all of the visiting witnesses are included. Every time a shot paused on the Irish vampires—red heads dressed in various shades of green, fisherman sweaters and tweed caps—the audience howled at the sublime artifice. Saturday Night Live couldn’t parody Twilight better than Breaking Dawn-Part 2 itself does.
But that’s nothing compared to the howls that greeted the big dramatic showdown in a snowy field between Cullen and Co. and the Volturi. Many of the witnesses have X-Men-like special powers—influencing the elements, lightning bolts from the finger tips and such. My personal favorites are the duo whose only gift is sounding just like Count Chocula. Even though the Cullens are outnumbered by the Volturi, there’s potential for a good brawl. No spoilers, but what happens is far more dramatic and zesty than I ever would have predicted; even the dedicated Twilight fans in attendance at my screening seemed thoroughly shocked by some of it (slight spoiler: a little deviation from the book). The production still looks as cheap as a Sears commercial (though this movie was reportedly the most expensive of the five) and the special effects are, as usual, terrible, but all this jellsperfectly with Condon’s B-movie atmosphere of melodrama and mayhem. Should I go so far as to describe Breaking Dawn-Part 2 the way Aro describes Renesmee, after a fabulous mad cackle, as “magnifico”? No. And I hope to God there isn’t some Disney-George-Lucas-style deal where we are consigned to endless Twilight movies. But while parting involved no sorrow, it was sweeter than expected.
SEE: Where the last Twilight Saga movie ranked on Time’s Top 10…Worst Movies list of 2011