Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Love is the answer to everything Twilight, even if it’s only in the form of wistfully melodramatic teenage love, at once powerful, blinding and manipulative.  Why does Bella (Kristen Stewart) want to be a vampire?  Love.  Why does Jacob the werewolf (Taylor Lautner) want to change her mind?  Love.  Why would the vampire soul mate Edward (Robert Pattinson) let her go if she did?  Love.  Why does the bad vampire want to kill Bella?  Love.  Love love love.  Love talked about, yearned for and mourned over…love expressed but rarely ever actually seen.

  To call The Twilight Saga: Eclipse the best of the Twi-hard cannon to date is sort of like picking which star from Two and a Half Men is the least cloying or annoying.  Like its predecessors, Eclipse is both these things, though to its credit, less often.  The story places us in the twilight of Bella’s high school days – she faces big life changing decisions, like where to go after high school, if she should marry her sweetheart, or if she should let him suck the soul out of her and turn her into a walking, talking icicle (apparently vampires are rather ice-like in structure, something I never knew until I watched them shatter in battle here).

  The warm and furry tip in this love triangle is Jacob, the shunned but determined best friend, and the only one in the trio that seems to actually possess a beating heart.  Whereas Taylor Lautner was once viewed as a liability, then later simplified as a chiseled sex object, he’s somehow developed into (gulp) the best thing about this movie.  The guy could even have a post-Twilight career as an actual actor.

  Until then, he’s the wise choice in Bella’s dilemma, that guy who’s perfect for her in every way… which is exactly why she doesn’t want him.  Finally, a beat with dramatic curiosity.  Bella wants the bad boy (even if Stewart and Pattinson share all the chemistry of BP and Al Gore).  She joneses for the danger.  Which is why it so consistently keeps coming for her, this time in the form of an angry newbie vamp named Riley (Xavier Samuel), who’s building an army to kill Bella, Edward and all their non-fatal vampire friends.  Why?  Because that pesky redhead vamp who’s been haunting Bella since Reel One says she loves him.  Love!  Must you be so hostile?!

  That’s it for plot here – Bella needs to choose her man, and good guy vamps/werewolves need to battle the bad ones.  That battle is actually pretty cool, for at least two of the three minutes it takes.  The rest is just the standard brooding and sulking and talking about emotions no one (not the characters, or the actors, or the novelist, or the screenwriter, or the director…) seems to understand.

  There’s a lot of weighty decisions at play here, and a lot of heavy emotions.  But Eclipse (directed by a neutered David Slade…look him up, he usually plays riskier than this) takes them all at face value, rarely digging deep into the actual humanity (or lack thereof) behind them.  And we’re expected to play along, because the boys are so dreamy.

  Okay, fine.  Eclipse knows all the notes to its Twi-hard heart song, and it plays its tune well.  But does that have to mean it can’t even try to feel the pressure, the intensity of its stakes.  Bella has a loving father, a caring mother, and above all else a soul.  All of these things she’s willing to lose, for the sake of vampiric desire.  Even if you buy into that, you’ve gotta know that’s pretty against-the-grain stuff.  Yet the filmmakers simply gloss over it, giving it a “just because” shine when the “reality” behind it is so much more complex, and so much dirtier.

  Part of the problem is Bella herself.  She’s boring.  She’s passive.  She’s a drip…and yet these two teen titans battle over her, would die for her.  Why?  What’s so great about this girl?  She’s special?  Is it because she doesn’t know how to smile?  Or because she does the modern Seattle grunge thing so well?

  I’m not the target audience here, so I really shouldn’t be complaining about receiving something that wasn’t meant for me in the first place.  But I do know that same target audience enjoys shows/books/movies along the lines of Vampire Diaries and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that both those series enjoy strong feminine protagonists, and people acting like the world as they know it is crumbling down all around them, like its ending at any minute, because it is.

  The boys and girls of Twilight posture and jibber-jabber like pros, because that’s what they’re here to do.  But Jacob aside, they don’t seem to actually live.  There’s a nice scene where Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) awkwardly discuss the risks of teen pregnancy.  It’s a fun scene, perfectly played, and perfectly understood.  And it stands out as real in a movie that so consistently seems to be – even by its own terms – anything but.

  Updated Summer Blockbuster Smackdown Standings:
1.) Toy Story 3
2.) The A-Team
3.) Iron Man 2
4.) Get Him to the Greek
5.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
6.) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
7.) Shrek 4

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