The best thing that happened to The Twilight Saga franchise wasn’t Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, or even Taylor Lautner’s shirtless physique. It was director Bill Condon. After the first utterly mediocre film by Catherine Hardwicke (Dogtown and Z-Boys, Red Riding Hood), Twilight sunk into a hazy rut. Whether they were mooning or eclipsing, the middle films are as banal as they are interchangeable: muted greys, washed-out faces, prolonged stares which were ripe fodder for endless parody. Adolescent in their constructions of desire and longing, Condon managed to evolve the franchise from emo to emotive.
The previous Breaking Dawn occupied an oddly free space in the Bella (Stewart) and Edward (Pattinson) love story. Like any good series, the final novel was stretched out across two instalments, which the movie happily basked in. After their wedding makes coitus acceptable, Bella becomes pregnant, spending the rest of the film bed-ridden and deteriorating. Playing upon this state of actual expectation, the film is a trial of waiting. Waiting not only for the infamous fetus-womb eating scene (which Condon does his best to make gritty in a PG feature), but waiting for the finale, the next film. Approaching part one as somewhat of a stop-gap, Condon let loose, exaggerating the soap opera plot lines, indulging the melodrama to the extreme, and embracing campy visuals, which verged on Sam Raimi territory. This final time around, however, the stakes were higher, going hand-in-hand with greater constraints. But Condon does what he can to give the final bite bite.
Here, Edward and Bella rally allies around the globe to defend their child, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), from the Vulturi, the vampire overlords who are denoted as evil with their red-lined capes and bad hair. Picking up where the last film left off (with Bella opening her blood-red eyes), focus is now on the micro-sensual and interiority. We begin with Bella’s sensory system ramping into overdrive, drawn into her new world: we hear the sound of a plant growing, the pulsing blood in a mountain climber’s jugular vein miles away. As she wrestles a mountain lion within the first five minutes of the film, it seems as though we’re in for another Condon exercise in excess. For a time, this is the case. Reveling in the joy of seeing Bella physically dominate those around her after four films of passivity, BDP2 is distinctly wedded to her point of view. Now with a child in the mix, Edward is sidelined to a degree, as the story becomes that of Bella’s mental fortitude. With her mind literally shielded from the other vampires' telepathy—this is her supernatural power—she alone has the ability to propel the narrative forward and save her daughter.
Condon captures not merely the soapy falsity of the story, emphasizing the constructed nature of the Cullens' world (and even enhancing Renesmee with CGI), but the film also cleverly nods to the extra-cinematic elements of the franchise. While being taught to act human, Bella is told to blink more and slouch, in essence play the twitchy Stewart the media so loves to pick apart. Early on, Jacob doesn’t merely remove his shirt, but essentially performs a strip tease; an act that is all but a gift to the squealing fans. Populated by over-determined racial stereotypes that would be offensive if they weren’t so ludicrous—the Amazonian vampires in their loin clothes, the red headed Irish ones in tweed jacket and newsboys caps—the world approaches that of knowing parody. Rounded off with an epic battle sequence where the beheadings are in the double digits, there are moments in the film echoing a Xena-like playfulness.
This lack of seriousness, however, is undone in the film’s saccharine conclusion. Projecting her memories (a sizzle reel of key moments from the past four films) into Edward’s mind, Bella reasserts her undying love in that now iconic field. Complete with a black and white slide show of all the major and minor characters we’ve encountered since 2008, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 ends on a sweet note that's difficult to swallow.