Silver Screen: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II *
And so Twilight ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Well, there actually is some banging. Author Stephanie Meyer's wildly popular abstinence fable gave the romantic leads the green light to get it on back in the last installment of the film series, Breaking Dawn Part I, when Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) were married. Despite its often silly, convoluted mythology and a few dozen supporting characters, Twilight has been defined by a single-minded devotion to explicating in minute detail just how in love these two are. Much of the franchise is given over to almost total inaction-- Edward and Bella lying on the ground and starring at one another, Edward telling Bella how beautiful she is, Bella telling Edward how good-looking he is, et cetera. In Breaking Dawn Part I, they get married, get to it, and have a baby. It is, at the risk of punning, the series’ natural climax.
So it's not surprising that the big finale of Breaking Dawn is little more than a two-hour coda that spends a lot of time dawdling on trivial side issues before making its happily-ever-after explicit.
When last we left Bella, she'd given birth to the half-human, half-vampire baby, awkwardly named Renesmee, and become a vampire herself. Jilted werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) realized he only had feelings for Bella because he was destined to marry her child, then effectively proposed marriage to an infant in a werewolf tradition known as imprinting. But just as everyone is prepared to settle into happy domesticity with their undead-but-betrothed sex partner or infant future lover, a haughty group of vampire lawmakers, the Volturi, decide the arrangement is impure and travel from Europe to wreak havoc.
The Volturi were established way back in the second movie, New Moon. They're essentially the vampire Vatican, which is not so terribly different from the regular Vatican. Creepy, pale-faced vampire dictator Aro (Michael Sheen) believes Renesemee to be an abomination who must be destroyed, which would also conveniently allow him to steal away Edward's sister Alice (Ashley Greene) to exploit her talent for predicting the future. Vampire family patriarch Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) rounds up a multi-ethnic group of globetrotting vampires to stand with him in the final confrontation.
The entire movie is essentially a protracted tease leading up to the big showdown. Meyer's vampires all have, in addition to their supernatural strength and beauty, random X-Men-like powers. Thus the final battle is a computer-animated frenzy of special effects-- lots of shooting lasers out of hands and projecting imaginary force fields, plus quite a bit more decapitation than you might expect. After a half-dozen other superhero movies this year, it's a little familiar, but at least something is happening... except [spoiler alert] it isn't. Just as the carnage is winding down and our heroes emerge victorious but suffering heavy losses, the whole ordeal is revealed to be Alice's prediction of what would happen if everyone fought. They agree this would be pretty unpleasant, and everyone goes home.
So, if you're keeping track, what happened in Breaking Dawn Part II is: nothing.
It's a fitting end to a franchise that was from its inception mostly defined by its lack of activity. Twilight is wish fulfillment that doesn't even dare its audience to wish for more. Lead character Bella is pouty, self-centered, and emotionally flat. Though other characters in the films constantly heap praise on her for being strong, she never does much of anything other than graduate from high school barely long enough to abandon everything she knows to marry her first boyfriend and have a baby as soon as possible. She essentially cuts off contact with her parents and ceases to have any independent friends, content to spend time only with her boyfriend and his family.
That's not an unfair assessment-- it's a literal recitation of her character arc, and it is the great shame of Twilight. The series has become the kind of cultural barometer by which people define themselves, either as ardent fans or snarky detractors. I don't begrudge anyone their escapism, but Twilight is uniquely pernicious, not because its dreamy vampires sparkle in the sun and have superpowers, but because of its regressive message to its core teen audience: Don't define yourself by your accomplishments, define yourself by your boyfriend.
Consider that Twilight has something in common with two other massively successful franchises, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games: They're all three multibook young-adult series written by women with children as protagonists. Harry Potter and pal Hermione study, learn, explore strange new places, and test their growing abilities by challenging themselves to ever more difficult tasks. The Hunger Games' Katniss battles against an unjust system not just to save her family but to inspire her community to take action. Bella gets married and knocked up as soon as humanly (and inhumanly) possible.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.