At one point in this final installment of the “Twilight” saga, the new-born vampire Bella (Kristen Stewart) is practicing her skill as a “shield”—one who emanates a blur of protective energy—to keep her hubby Edward (Robert Pattinson) from feeling the effect of another vampire’s electric touch. When he’s asked about the result, Edward says, “Still painful, but tolerable.”
That’s a pretty fair assessment of “Breaking Dawn-Part 2,” which is easily the best of the franchise’s five episodes but still none too good. It suffers, as the earlier pictures did, from risible dialogue, amateurish acting, and effects that are far from special. But this time around the result isn’t quite so hard to stomach, and not merely because you know the pain is almost over. Director Bill Condon brings a hint of genial self-deprecation to the mix that’s almost like an admission that he knows what junk he’s peddling, and is half-apologizing for it. Of course, that won’t stop him and the other filmmakers from carrying the loot this final entry brings in to their already overstuffed bank accounts.
It certainly helps that the movie isn’t burdened with the dismal, ugly tone of “Part 1.” To be sure, it doesn’t boast much of a plot. Simply put, Bella, Edward, the rest of the Cullen clan and wolfman Jacob (Tyler Lautner) are faced with the task of protecting the happy couple’s new child, Renesmee, from the powerful Volturis, the ruling family that maintains a semblance of order within the vampire universe under the whimsically domineering rule of Aro (Michael Sheen). To do that, they must convince their friends and potential allies that the fast-growing girl is no threat to them, and thus make them witnesses to her benign nature. They do in fact assemble a small force of defenders, composed of both vampires and werewolves despite their natural hostility, to face off against Aro and his army of robed minions on a snowswept tundra.
That big confrontation is unquestionably the high point of the picture, marked by a lot of action that’s fun and impressive despite effects that fall far short of the best to be found on screen nowadays. It also turns out to be a narrative jest , a means by which Condon—and the audience—can have their cake and eat it too, stuffing themselves with decapitations and other anatomical indignities without any real emotional pain. It’s all based on a ploy that would be dismissed as a cheap trick if there were any depth to what was happening. But since there isn’t, it’s easy just to go along for the ride, especially since Sheen presides over the mayhem with such a gleeful sense of malice.
Unfortunately, to get to that point a viewer has to make his way through plenty of stuff that’s much less enjoyable—lovey-dovey montages of Bella and Edward loping through the forest or smooching in flower-filled plains, visits to potential allies that tend to blend together, and dippy dialogue, intended to explain the mythology behind the plot convolutions, that devotees of the book might understand but others will find the narrative equivalent of a foreign language. You also have to put up with the melancholy posing of Pattinson, who has remarkably little to do this time around but look angst-ridden, and the puffed-up preening of Lautner (though admittedly the film treats his inevitable taking-off-his-shirt scene with an appropriate grin). Stewart is somewhat more animated than she was in the more morose turns of the previous chapters, but she remains a drearily one-note actress of very limited range. Everybody else is relegated to virtual cameo status, which with a few exceptions (Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone) is all to the good.
On the technical side, “Part 2” does a somewhat better job of melding the live-action footage (decently shot by Guillermo Novarro) with the elaborate CGI effects, but the quality doesn’t begin to approach that of the blockbusters put out by other studios. By comparison to them, this picture looks cheap, though not as embarrassingly so as the earlier installments. The background score, however, is terrible, especially at the beginning, when a succession of sloppy pop tunes throbs away behind the visuals. (Music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas is the culprit.) And even when Carter Burwell’s original music kicks in, it’s not much better.
But despite all this, “Breaking Dawn-Part 2” actually represents the high point of the series, and at the end Condon gives fans a nice sendoff with a complete roll-call of all the actors who’ve appeared throughout it. That should please the initiates. For the rest of us it merely serves as a reminder that when it comes to ‘Twilight,” night has fallen all too slowly.