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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


"From now on, I'm Switzerland, okay?!"

The Twilight Saga has introduced the world to sparkly emo vampires and chiseled Native American werewolves, but Eclipse, the third cinematic entry in the franchise, brings forth a creature the world truly may not have been ready for: a "good" Twilight movie. "Good" being a subjective term, of course. Perhaps "entertaining" may be a more apt compliment. Or simply, "not horrible" if we must be unkind. Regardless, compared to the two previous movies in The Twilight Saga, Catherine Hardwicke's blue-tinged eye roller Twilight and Chris Weitz's gold-tinged dreary dreck New Moon, David Slade's efficient, action-packed Eclipse is the belle of the ball. If one must watch a Twilight movie for whatever reason, Eclipse is the one to see.

Slade, the director of the vampire action-horror gorefest 30 Days of Night, reportedly made some unkind comments towards the Twilight franchise before agreeing to helm Eclipse. If so, it seems his outsider's perspective towards the material really helped the finished product. (Any disdain Slade may have for Twilight was perhaps most visible in the opening title "Eclipse", which was curiously not preceded by "The Twilight Saga".)  Overwrought teen drama between the three lead characters comes with the territory - it's the heart and soul, stock and trade of the Twilight Saga -  but Slade kept a surprisingly light touch in those many scenes, keeping them moving and staking an undercurrent of humor in even the sappiest moments instead of wallowing in it all to the point of misery like Chris Weitz did. (Bella breaking her hand punching Jacob in the face, and Jacob's explanation to Bella's father were comedic highlights.) Slade also ramped up the action to a satisfying degree, with a horde of vampire "Newborns" attacking the combined forces of the Cullen family and werewolves in Eclipse's climactic confrontations. Vampire on vampire violence, vampire on werewolf violence, dismemberments, decapitations, Slade successfully goes for broke when the carnage starts.

New Moon took the questionable position that Everybody Loves Bella (Kristen Stewart). In Eclipse, Bella Swan's choices have narrowed down to two, although in her mind, heart, and her secret womanly places no man or monster has yet plumbed the depths of, there's really only her one true love, the vampire Edward Cullen (Rob Pattinson). And yet, out there howling at the moon and peeing in the bushes, is her other suitor, the noble werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Jacob had long since narrowed the field of Bella boyfriend wanna bes, having cock blocked Bella's classmate who wanted to date her in one of the only amusing moments in New Moon. By Eclipse, it's just down to him and Edward for Bella's affections.

Eclipse is bookended with a couple of lovey-dovey rolling around in the sunlit grass scenes between Edward and Bella that would make Anakin and Amidala vomit, but these moments are a big step forward for everyone's favorite couple. Finally, they seem generally comfortable and happy around each other (or as happy as that sullen mope Bella seems to get), compared to how outright miserable they seemed in each others' presence in the previous films. Edward has chilled out, seriously. Gone are his wild mood swings and various guilt complexes. The remaining sources of stress in Edward's otherwise ideal eternal life are the vampires coming to kill Bella and Bella continually badgering him about turning her into a vampire. Edward's curious solution is to keep asking Bella to marry him, which Bella finally agrees to when Edward describes the old-timey way he'd propose if he were still alive and if it was still the 19th century.

High school graduation is coming. ("After all, how many times do we get to graduate high school?" is an in-joke at lunch only the Cullens and Bella get.) Bella's uncool classmates have made it to the cool Cullen table and get invited to the cool Cullen house parties via Bella, with Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick as the valedictorian of their senior class. In her commencement address, Kendrick is just one of several characters who speechify directly and indirectly to Bella regarding her potential life choices. "Now is the time for us to make mistakes," Kendrick muses. You know, the kind of mistakes young people make that aren't permanent, that they can regret but learn and improve from.

Bella misses the point entirely, singularly focused on her obsession with becoming a vampire and never wavering from this madness, despite Edward's surprisingly rational and poor, lovelorn Jacob's multiple attempts to talk her out of it. The same conversation gets repeated over and over throughout Eclipse between the three; essentially: "Bella, don't become a vampire." "Nope, I'm gonna do it." Jacob has more than a few temper tantrums and scenes where he storms off from Bella stonewalling him. Finally, this culminates in the aforementioned second sunlit rolling around in the grass scene where Bella makes her final, resolute "I am woman, hear me state unequivocally I'm becoming a vampire" speech to Edward, preceded by her logic that she never felt she fit in anywhere in the world until she found solace and kindred spirits in the company of the sexy undead. The musical score cues soar to meet Bella's declaration with "rah rah" hilarity, as if the movie is telling the audience it agrees that this dumb girl's fierce determination to die and become a blood sucking monster is the best life choice she could make for herself.

The rivalry between Jacob and Edward is a source of endless humor. They just don't like each other, those two. (Edward does have a point about Jacob needing to put on a shirt.) Their constant shouting matches, insult trading (complete with digs at how bad each other smells), and nose-to-nose snarling stare downs makes one wonder if it's really the vampire and werewolf in love with each other and they're just passing Bella back and forth between them. Seriously, you two, just kiss already. Jacob and Edward finally reach a detente in a pitched tent (any subtext there?) when Jacob cuddles with a freezing Bella to keep her warm, which Edward takes great umbrage to initially. (This comes complete with Jacob's shameless line "After all, I am hotter than you.") But after some straight talk between vampire and werewolf, each monster sees that the other monster isn't such a bad guy after all.

In the end, Jacob and Edward are united in their desire to keep Bella safe from killer Newborn vampires, even though Bella ultimately chooses Edward, as she must. You can't blame Jacob for trying, though maybe you could point out that Jacob insists Bella is in love with him despite any real indication that this is so, besides her wide-eyed gasps whenever he takes his shirt off. Maybe it's the way she pets him in wolf form that has Jacob so convinced. I gotta say, Jacob's final plea to Bella, "You belong with me. It would be as easy as breathing" is where wolf boy blew it. Dude, you're 17. Girls don't want easy reliability at your age. They want a little danger. Jacob's a good boy, maybe too good a boy. But here's a perk: in wolf form, he can always lick his own balls.

All right, enough about those three. There's other stuff going on in Eclipse: The main villain from the whole Twilight Saga, the redheaded vampire Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard as more petulant than menacing) has been trying to kill Bella for three movies now. This time, she and her new loverboy vampire assemble an army of Newborns to attack the unsuspecting town of Forks. This causes great consternation among the Cullen family, who get to show a lot more personality and are rewarded with a lot more screen time in this movie, including some amusing flashbacks to how some of them became vampires. I liked the revelation that the blond Cullen who always had a rod up his ass is a strategic genius and has a Texan accent. Who knew? I also liked the female Cullen who always hated Bella and who isn't Ashley Greene's story of how she was turned vampire and that she basically became the Bloofer Lady from Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The Cullens and their usual mortal enemies, the Earthy pack of denim shorts-clad Never Nude Native American werewolves, form an alliance and train together to fight the Newborns; this is perhaps a curious tactical error for the vampires as they basically gave the wolves a download on all of their fighting techniques. Jacob also brings Bella to a werewolf bonfire pow wow, where their chief tells them the story of the first time the werewolves met a vampire and what sparked their war, complete with Foreshadowing from the story of how a Native American princess sacrificed her life that gives Bella the idea of how distract Victoria so Edward can kill her. (But not to the point of Bella sacrificing her life.)  The entertaining carnage that ensues between the Newborns, Cullens, and werewolves also draws the attention of everybody's favorite vampire dandy fops, the Volturi, lead by Dakota Fanning. The Volturi are a sore thumb in this movie, with their faux-Shakespearian dialogue delivered with all of the skill of a high school drama club.

That there will be two more movies made from the final, and from what I've been told by my lady friends, the least enjoyed and rather reviled book, "Breaking Dawn", casts a dark shadow on Eclipse. Frankly, Eclipse provided a perfectly fine cinematic ending for The Twilight Saga. It concluded all the main plot threads, including Bella's arch enemy Victoria literally beside herself before Edward burned her to ash, the vampires and werewolves getting along, and Bella choosing to marry Edward and become a bloodsucking, unholy creature of the night instead of being a normal, well-adjusted person. Seems like everything wrapped up nicely. But when there are so many dump trucks full of money to be made from Twilight, there's just no chance of going out of a high note, is there?  I guess if I'm curious about anything, it's how Bella's good guy father, Charlie the Sheriff, will take it when he finds out his daughter isn't just getting married, but will soon become a monster breathing men would kill. And just when he was starting to like Edward Cullen too.