Most of the reviews of this week’s surefire box office juggernaut ‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’ are proclaiming that this, the third entry in the chaste vampire saga, is the best of the bunch. I guess it is, in its own way. But that doesn’t excuse anything. At all. The third film still suffers from the same staggered plotting, amateurish acting, and groan-inducing sexual politics of the previous two movies. It’s sort of baffling, considering the much edgier director (David Slade) and the fact that they’ve already done two of these things before. They should have known better. But they didn’t. And yet the movie will still make approximately one kajillion dollars.
The opening of the third ‘Twilight’ entry finds our star-crossed lovers Bella (Kristin Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), looking longingly at each other in a field of wildflowers. Bella is reciting a poem. And Edward? Well, Edward is sparkling. Because, as we all know, according to the lore in ‘Twilight,’ vampires don’t explode into a pile of sooty ash when confronted with sunlight. No no no, instead they glitter like disco-balls. Not exactly threatening, is it? Anyway, while Bella loves Edward a whole lot, even going so far as to schedule her eventual vampiric transformation to coincide with their wedding (after her high school graduation, natch), she still has unresolved feelings for the muscle-y, perpetually-shirtless Native American werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Complicating matters is the fact that vampires and werewolves hate each other. Also, a group of vampires are coming to kick some ass.
Sounds a little bit more exciting than previous ‘Twilight’ movies, right?
Well, yeah. Truth be told, director Slade – who helmed the occasionally gorgeous vampire opus ‘30 Days of Night‘ – adds some occasional visual flourishes, such as the nice chase scene with the vampires and werewolves. It’s just that, unlike the ‘Harry Potter’ entries, there’s no place for directors to insert their distinctive styles in this franchise. Maybe that’s because the movies are so cheap and quickly produced. Even so, it just seems like there could be a little bit of visual texture on screen to distract from the drab, Canadian-y scheme of things. When a snowstorm is introduced late in the movie, I thought, “Hey, this will add some much needed oomph to this final battle.” But the battle takes place on a clean, open field. Great. Some vaguely historical flashbacks also fail; the results are borderline laughable.
Speaking of laughable, this one is actually kind of funny. Most of the humor takes the form of macho posturing between werewolf Jacob and vampire Edward. The laughs are fleeting, but it’s nice to see the filmmakers acknowledge the inherent silliness in the material. What they choose not to acknowledge is the material’s potential metaphoric depth, which is castrated due to the hard-line conservatism of the text. Instead of exploring the inherent sex and violence associated with vampires and werewolves, and the liberation of our inner animals, things are all pent up and only spoken about in hushed, Mormon-y terms. “I’m a virgin!,” Bella proclaims to her father. Our response, as an audience: “No fucking kidding!”
Sex is a no-no, and violence is implied but never explicit. Slade makes the choice to have the dead vampires shatter like porcelain mannequins, exposing crystalline insides rather than fountains of gore. I couldn’t help think about this week’s episode of ‘True Blood,’ in which Bill had sex with a vampire so vigorously that he turned her head all the other way around on her body, causing blood to ooze from her eyes and mouth. That scene had so much power, both visual and metaphorical, and popped with so much more oomph than anything seen in ‘Eclipse.’ (It was a whole lot funnier, too.) Similarly, ‘True Blood’ lets its female characters have urges and potent inner lives of their own. Bella in ‘Twilight’ is simply torn between which man she wants to dominate her.
Another thing I was thinking about while watching ‘Twilight: Eclipse’: “Angel never asked Buffy to marry him.” And, of course: “Why in God’s name am I here?”
If you loved the other two ‘Twilight’ movies, then I’m sure there’s stuff for you to enjoy here. It’s certainly the most handsomely photographed episode yet, although there’s no hiding the amount of terrible wigs on display. There are some things to take genuine pleasure in, but those moments are few and far between, awash in long gulfs of narrative that make little sense or serve fleeting dramatic purpose. For a movie about vampires, this one is curiously defanged.