Just a little over a year ago, many of us marveled at the impressive manner in which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 concluded its momentous film series. A popular children’s franchise, after some awkward first steps, had grown up and into a dark, twisted epic and concluded with breathtaking finality, its young actors finally filling out their onscreen personae as young men and women. Alas, the same cannot be said of Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the final installment in the popular Twilight film run. If anything, this series has gotten dumber and more inert as it has progressed, with this last one finally reaching over into an extended wallow in camp. Forget the multiple, cascading and intertangling plotlines of the Harry Potter series; Breaking Dawn struggles to keep even just one ball in the air. It didn’t necessarily have to be like this.
Anyway, here’s the plot: Young Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), having given birth to her half-vampire daughter Renesmee with now-hubby Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is finally reveling in the glorious new sensations, not of motherhood, but of vampirism — as we may recall, she had to be turned into an immortal after a rather nasty childbirth in the last installment. When the film opens, Bella’s red eyes are taking in her surroundings, her heightened senses shivering with every sound, touch, and scent. “We’re the same temperature now,” Edward tells her. With their powers finally matched, the two are now free to have merciless sex, and they also whip through the forest hunting for blood, leaping over waterfalls and seemingly aware of every rabbit and spider in the woods. Edward’s protective instincts are still there, however: He has to stop a bloodthirsty Bella when they come across an unsuspecting mountain climber. (Alas, the climber never looks down to see a cocktail-dress-clad K-Stew rapidly climbing the rock face towards him, and we’re spared what might have been the greatest reaction shot in movie history.)
But of course, trouble is brewing. Renesmee is growing rapidly, and soon enough, the Volturi, the ancient and aristocratic coven who act as enforcers in this undead world, come a-calling, convinced that she’s that most uncontrollable of creatures, an immortal child. The rule is that such children, because their tantrums can rip through entire civilizations, have to be destroyed on the spot. Thing is, since Bella conceived and gave birth while still human, the girl is actually not immortal. Good luck proving that to the preening, trigger-happy Volturi, however. As the ancient vampires (decked out in dandyish, matching black military uniforms and capes that make them look like an invading army of Michael Jacksons) trudge their way to the Pacific Northwest, Edward and his brethren convene as many witnesses as they can from all the corners of the world to testify to Renesmee’s non-immortality. Luckily, these witnesses, along with Bella’s hunky werewolf friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and his pack of gigantic canines, also seem like they’d come in conveniently handy in an apocalyptic, head-ripping fight to the finish.
Don’t get too excited, though. Though the aforementioned first scenes promise heightened, almost unbearable awareness of the world on Bella’s part, most of the film is pitched at the same mopey register as the forgettable soft rock songs on the soundtrack, with everything underplayed to an alarming degree. You can’t really blame the actors for whispering their lines unconvincingly, as their dialogue consists almost entirely of either half-hearted exposition or stale sweet nothings. Of course, that’s been a problem for the series since the beginning, but one wonders what might have happened if the films had taken a page out of the Potter adaptations and allowed for the desperation and fervor to build as the stakes increased. Indeed, we have a working example of it, as Michael Sheen, playing the leader of the Volturi, single-handedly breathes brief life into the film in its final scenes by allowing himself a genuine screech or two. (We know director Bill Condon can pull this sort of thing off: If nothing else, his musical Dreamgirls was passionate.) Maybe all this holding back is an attempt to counteract the inherent absurdity of the melodramatic material, but the lifeless delivery actually has the effect of doubling down on the silliness — it refuses to even try to engage us.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read the books, and it is my understanding that the finale of the film departs somewhat from the end of the novel. Not sure I want to give too much away, but let’s say that quite a bit of vampire and werewolf blood is spilled in the final act — sort of. And it might have been both bloodcurdling and cathartic were it done with anything resembling sincerity or excitement (or even decent special effects), but even here, Breaking Dawn 2 can’t do anything but go through the motions. These actors can’t even lose their heads with conviction.