The most persistent question about THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN 2 is why it is that the human character, the one adrift amid all the assorted vampires and werewolves, is the one who is the most engaging. That would be Charlie (Billy Burke), the father of the now undead Bella. In roughly 10 minutes of screen time, he projects more honest emotion worrying over Bellaís health, dealing with surrogate-son Jacobís sudden outburst of honesty, or quiet joy over being a grandfather, than the rest of the teeming cast does with scene-chewing melodrama and overwrought dialogue. Not that this franchise, beloved of tween girls, aims to be more than a reason to squeal with delight as the teenage characters on screen brood, fret, swoon, smooch, and battle evil. Itís not that kind of film, itís not that kind of franchise, and director Bill Condon, he who amazed audience with GODS AND MONSTERS, seems to have surrendered to the fan base.
In what we can only hope truly is the last installment of the series, Bella (Kristen Stewart) rises from the deathbed of childbirth to a new life as a vampire, thanks to vampire husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) administering venom and bites to save her when all seemed lost. Their child, Renesmee, is, of course, no ordinary little girl, growing from infancy to the size and shape of a toddler in a few weeks. All should be well for the happy couple and their extended family of Cullens. They have no need of sleep, food (aside from the occasional woodland creature), or, it would appear, jobs. Itís all cooing over Renesmee and having a whole lot of syrupy romantic sex in their elegantly appointed honeymoon cottage. Naturally, trouble is a-brewing thanks to a misunderstanding with the ruling council of vampires, the Volturi, who have it in for the Cullens anyway. The misunderstanding involves the rule that vampires canít make vampires out of children, for the very sensible reason that children, frozen forever at the age of their turning, throw tantrums and destroy villages. Rather than ask, the Volturi assume that Renesmee is a kid vampire, and thanks to the clairvoyance of a Cullen, they know that the Volturi will be coming to kill both her and the rest of the Cullen Coven. But not for a while, because Bella needs to discover her special vampire power, which, oddly enough, is not sulking, and to master it while the rest of the Cullen clan sets about finding witnesses to prove to the Volturi that Renesmee isnít a vampire, because, apparently, her having a beating heart doesnít make for compelling enough evidence.
Itís a mess. Narratively incompetent, stylistically leaden, and rife with both tedious exposition and gaping holes in the story. For instance, why the Volturi donít just sweep down on the Cullens once word of Renesmeeís existence reaches them. The performances, aside from Burkeís, are off-putting rather than engrossing. Larger-than-life creatures of fantasy reduced to posturing in carefully composed tableaux, usually looking on with awe and wonder at Bella and the astounding amounts of mascara needed to give her the requisite vampire glamour. If possible, Bella is even less interesting as a vampire, though there is a certain panache to the way she takes down prey while assuming poses and wardrobe more suitable to a high-end fragrance print ad. Pattinson, with far less pancake make-up than usual, and allowed to smile, is better than in the past, though why his new wrinkles werenít digitally removed from Edwardís eternally 17-year-old face is a mystery. No mystery is the continuing drama and supernal beauty of Taylor Lautnerís preternaturally sculpted physique as Jacob the werewolf who, despite those rippling muscles and puppy-dog devotion, didnít win Bellaís love. They both, however, are subjected to the great equalizer of a silly story and painfully clunky dialogue.
There is, to be fair, a fairly rousing final showdown between the Volturi and the Cullens. Unfortunately it follows a set piece that involves them crossing a wasteland of snow in two lines opposing lines, then coming to an arbitrary stop as Volturi leader, Aro (Michael Sheen and the second best thing in the film), dramatically tosses the hood of his flowing black cape from his leonine mane. Sheen, vibrantly, giddily embracing the sheer evil of his character makes it hard to root against him, another strike against the film.
The most chilling moment amongst the curiously non-gory beheadings, and werewolf full-body chomping, is the implication that the saga isnít quite finished yet. Stephenie Mayer hasnít written a fifth book with new material, but she hasnít precluded the possibility, despite having embarked on another project. The tween love-fest may continue, and the rest of us, who had hoped that THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN 2 would be the last, will just have to cope as best we can.