NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
So, it’s over? This is the franchise that took everyone by surprise as a book series, and then in its film incarnation. It’s not as if there hadn’t been vampire romances before – the slushy elements of Anne Rice are parodiable (though terribly metrosexual), Buffy fell for Angel and they drew that out for several seasons, Coppola reimagined Dracula as a whiny love story and odd things like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books had ventured into paranormal romance before Stephenie Meyer got there. Mea culpa – there’s a strong romance element in the Anno Dracula series (the only hint of an influence I can spot from me to Twilight is the use of the term ‘new-born’ – but, hey, I picked up terminology from lots of authors, eg: ‘red thirst’ from George R.R. Martin). Meyer’s vision is, in fact, a lot more peculiar than her obvious predecessors, and requires a radical redefinition of what a vampire is in order to work. There’s been some mockery of aspects of this, including the sparkle effect, but it’s one of the strongest elements of the franchise: Meyer’s vampires really are unlike other authors’, and this instalment underlines the parallel with superheroes raised in the first book/film, as each vampire also has a super-power (precognition, control of elements, pain-giving, telekinesis, etc) which makes the final face-off between the Cullens and their allies (is the name supposed to evoke Dark Shadows’ Collinses) and the red-and-black-robed vampire baddies feel a lot like the finish of X-Men: The Last Stand. Pop question: who’s in both fights? Daniel Cudmore and Cameron Bright. The latter, playing the death-smoke-spouting vampire, is cast as part of the series’ brief for using growing-up child stars (remember when Bright owned the creepy kid role in Hide and Seek, Godsend and Birth?) though his onetime X-power (negating other abilities) is gifted on series heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and proves key in enabling the outnumbered heroes to prevail.
Based on the second half of the final book, this opens with Bella turned into a vampire – and Stewart enjoying the chance to be credibly mean after so much wimpery, though this is plainly not going in the interesting direction of making Bella become an actual bad monster. Then, there’s a long lull as we keep up with the rapidly-growing half-vampire kid and her bond with edged-out-of-the-loviness Native American werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and tidy up a plot with Bella’s cop Dad (the only significant non-supernatural character left in this film) and reinforce the now-married spooniness of Bella and Edward (Robert Pattinson), which extends to a tastefully-shot 12-A sex scene that doesn’t go where the superpowered shag in Dark Shadows did though the Cullen siblings make jokes about it as if it did. All this is just waffle, and director Bill Condon gets through it with a slightly snarky attitude that contrasts with Catherine Hardwicke’s sincere, serious approach in the first film: Condon, of Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls (and the Candyman seque), takes a camp approach that makes Meyer’s vampires seem gay in the sense of not straight as well as the newer sense of feeble. Michael Sheen, trailing echoes of Tony Blair and his werewolf boss in Underworld, is the campest thing here, as a queenly vampire who can’t hold up the Evil side as well as Ian McKellen’s Magneto: there’s a neat bit of backstory about the Transylvanian tyrants this Machiavellian Italian displaced as vampire kingpins sometime before the Renaissance.
The only plot this has left is an internecine vampire feud over the irksomely-named Renesmée – Bella is ticked off that Jacob wants to call the kid Nessie (‘you nick-named my child after the Loch Ness Monster?’) – with some picking-up sides scenes that bring in a whole new batch of vampires, who are mostly more interesting than the ones we’ve been stuck with (though the Irish rebel vamps are embarrassing) and also generally funnier. Finally, in a sequence that frankly justifies the whole film, there’s an epic vampire super-power battle that is also a spectacular instance of having-your-cake-and-eating it as we get two alternate happy endings, one much more violent than expected and one exactly in Meyer’s weedy paper dragon mode. The film does flare into life as it delivers more head-rippings-off than any other film at its certificate level – though the favoured method of vampire despatch evokes Highlander, another long-lasting franchise. Seen with a partisan Twilight crowd, there’s a lot of glee to be had in the individual battles – yes, Ashley Greene versus Dakota Fanning! Ednbella vs Sheen! Characters who’ve carried spears for five films and don’t have any lines in this one getting offed in order to add grudge to the grudge match. The stars are now equally digibrushed to icy sparkly vampire perfection and try to convey lasting emotion rather than simply being deep-frozen into a caricature marriage which is doomed to last for centuries.
As for the ideology, the suitability of Bella as a role model, the sexual politics and the degree of seriousness or otherwise with which Hollywood has treated Meyer, there will be theses forever. It’s a saga that has had its highs as well as its lows … and for non-believers, is more interesting than entertaining.