It is as though the TWILIGHT franchise made the calculated but not necessarily unwise decision to cater to its enormous fan base and only to that fan base of overexcited adolescent females for whom hormones are a new experience. This is not a casual fan base. This is a fan base that was delighted to wait in line at midnight for the last installment of the novels written by Stephenie Meyer the day it was released. This is a fan base that lines up at midnight to see the latest cinematic incarnation the day it opens. This is a fan base that plans the next trip to the multiplex before the credits have finished rolling after that first viewing, and possibly the tenth. From a profit standpoint, it would be silly not to cater to this fan base that squeals with delight over Taylor Lautners abs (to be fair, they are impressive as are his quads and delts), squeal with more delight when Robert Pattison kisses Kristen Stewart (less impressive), and at pretty much anything else on screen. And it would be silly for anyone who has not studied both the novels and the previous films with a scholars absorption to try to make sense of the third film, ECLIPSE.
Once again at the center of the universe, where every adolescent girl wants to be, is Bella Swan (Stewart). Bella is a typical teen, stylishly disheveled, not particularly beautiful, not particularly interesting personality-wise, not particularly clever, but nonetheless and through no effort on her part, the object of intense rivalry between Edward and Jacob, the two best looking guys in her small town of Forks, Washington. Actually, they are possibly the best looking guys in the state, and while Bella is hot for Edward, she is not immune to Jacobs affections. The guys are also creatures of the supernatural, which makes them even more alluring for an impressionable young girl. Edward (Pattison) is the vampire who is intoxicated by Bellas scent to the point that when he thought she was dead in the last installment, he attempted to kill himself by incurring the ire of the Volturi. Jacob (Lautner), is a werewolf whose Native American tribe has a rich and storied tradition of killing vampires that enter their territory. The film assumes that the audience knows the specifics of everything just listed, including that the Volturi are the vampire ruling council, though it does offer a small flashback about halfway through to explain what caused all the bad feelings between the vampires and the werewolves. At almost the very end, it also remembers to explain why Bella is the center of the universe when it comes to Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), too, a red-haired vampire who has raised an army of the undead to kill Ms Swan.
New director David Slade has improved the look of the film, using hand-held cameras and arty overhead shots. The werewolves are better, too, reacting, on the whole, with more nuanced emotion than the human actors. The best scene in the film has Bella scratching behind the ears of werewolf Jacob as he looks at her with big, liquid eyes and a classic canine posture of submission. Alas, the script, once again by Melissa Rosenberg, has chosen stilted dialogue and left Slade to work with a plot calibrated to connect with that melodramatic, self-absorbed and overwrought emotionality with which adolescence is blessed and cursed. It translates to the screen as overacting and/or barely acting, a dichotomy that is more interesting than it sounds. Lautner and Pattison are either pitching chaste and earnest woo at Bella, struggling mightily with the enormity of their love for her, or snarling and raging at one another over who loves Bella more, and with whom she should spend eternity, and just what that eternity should be. Stewart mumbles, stutters, and slumps, hunching over as though looking for the clearest path that would allow her to dart off as quickly and cleanly as possible from all that adoration. Billy Burke as Bellas father, Charlie, the chief of police in Forks, dealing with a missing kid that he knows about and a bevy of supernatural creatures about which he is clueless, all but steals the film. Its as though he is in a different film, one divorced from the high-pitched sturm und drang with which it is drenched. Burke nails the everyday yet touching mix of discomfort and humor that Charlie uses when confronted with a teenage daughter he loves, but whose moping and emotional outbursts are more scary to him than any of supernatural creatures with whom she is running are to her.
The violence has been ramped up exponentially here, with decapitations, full and partial, being the effect of choice. It allows Jackson Rathbone, previously relegated to over-bleached hair at attention and a perpetual look of surprise beneath it, to become disarming in many senses of that term. Both in battle and with the back story of how a simple officer in the Civil War became a member of the local Forks coven, his hair and expression have been delightfully toned down. Dakota Fanning, on the other hand, as the red-eyed Volturi is too toned down, rendering her character leaden rather than imperious beneath all that eye-shadow and enveloping but dramatic black cape.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE, for all the fighting, bleeding, and dying, is as dull and gray as Forks, a town noted for having the least sunlight of anywhere in the United States. Werewolves, vampires, teen angst, and the fear of moving on after high school graduation coupled with the delight of becoming independent, it never gels into something that is as massively important as it thinks it is, and there is nothing as compelling as those veins popping out of Lautners biceps.