Rating: 3 of 5
I don’t even know what to say. And it’s not because I was shocked by the twist ending because I was surprised at how it manifest itself but I was also expecting something.No, there’s a few things running around my head that keep me from deciding if I actually liked the move or not.
First, and foremost, the real shock of this movie isn’t that ending. It’s the Kristen Stewart isn’t bad. I’m not saying she’s brilliant but she actually wasn’t bad. It’s like the world has turned inside out and I’m not sure I know how to review a Twilight movie if I can’t make fun of her bad acting. When did she learn to act? (And why didn’t she then employ that skill on Snow White and the Huntsman?) I mean, the single defining adjective used about Kristen Stewart in these movies and in real life and in every interview she’s given for four years is awkward. But somehow she managed to shed that and actually embody this graceful, sharp, contained and controlled, powerful vampire. I don’t even know how to make sense of those words and I’m the one saying them. But all of the actors were actually good. (I kind of loved Edward when Bella found out about Jacob.)
You could make the argument that the improvements are a result of the change of Bella’s character; that suddenly it opens up the world and the characters differently which would alter performances by default. And that’s a valid point. These are characters finally enjoying themselves and it was fun to watch.
But you can also make the corresponding point that what this movie really does is highlight what a bad job Catherine Hardwick really did; that in the hands of a better director these actors are actually capable of interesting performances and even some of the more difficult moments from Twilight could have been less painful and awkward.
There’s another thing keeping me from deciding if I really enjoyed this movie or not. Because all the other Twilight films have their flaws (none of them rate higher than a 2.75 on my star scale and some would say I’m even being generous). But despite their flaws this is an engrossing saga and the movies are fun to watch. They’re full of romance and angst and all sorts of powerful emotions. And this one… wasn’t. I don’t think. And I think it goes beyond the obvious fact that these are character living in their happily ever after so there isn’t a lot of conflict (all the angst is gone and so is a lot of the romance). Because there could have been all sorts of emotion. This is the culmination of a “saga” after all but I didn’t feel any elation. And even in their happily ever after, everything is changing with Renesmee in their lives and Bella learning to be a vampire and Jacob and Charlie finding out and there’s a lot of things to explore and immerse the audience in. Then you add the threat of the Volturi and the coming together of eighteen actual bloodsuckers and there should be conflict and hope and fear; desperation and the survival of romance in the midst of danger, even if there isn’t angst. Because that’s been the appeal of these films from the beginning. Instead, more so than 2, 3 or 4, it felt like it was just progressing from one scene in the book to the next. More like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix than a Twilight film. And like that Harry Potter I wanted more time in this world; more immersion in the experience of these characters. My sister said it perfectly, about fifteen minutes longer and more substance. I wanted substance and emotion and I got plot.
The other thing is, this is a story that doesn’t focus on the main three characters and in diverting that time and story attention it’s less engaging. We’ve watched these movies for Bella and Edward and Jacob. A scene with the Volturi in London with some random vampire doesn’t give the audience anything except a chance to see Alec’s power. It wastes time that could have been spent with the characters I already care about or getting to know characters I’m supposed to come to care for.
Speaking of caring, I didn’t for Renesmee. And that isn’t to say that Mackenzie Foy didn’t offer up a nice little performance. She had less than a dozen lines but her eyes are pretty expressive and, like Stewart, she looks the part. But the story didn’t spend any time investing me in this character and why she needed to live and why they all loved her so much. They just expected it to come by default since she’s Bella’s and Edward’s child so of course they love her. But I don’t. Or maybe I just read too many interviews of everyone saying how amazing Mackenzie Foy was and then I just found her to have so little substance in the film. It didn’t justify why they had to have her or why they spent all the money on facial replacements.
Which were all done really badly, by the way. It’s not a new technology and I’ve seen it done so much better on much less expensive movies so I was really disappointed by the fact that baby Renesmee looked like an alien. Even the kid in the e-vestment-whatever commercials has better cgi. And there were other green screens that were done badly (and by badly I mean anytime I can tell it’s a green screen because if it’s done right I shouldn’t notice). There’s one I won’t point out because once you see it, you can’t unsee it and I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. And it wasn’t super badly done. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been actively looking for how they made this shot. But it was completely unnecessary. They could have edited around it and no one would have thought twice about it. So it kind of felt like they were too impressed with how clever they figured out they could be. The other was the meadow at the end, which I assume they used a green screen because the time of year they shot it wasn’t blooming the way they needed it to. Still, I would have put more money into that shot and less into fake babies and other things. Or even filmed in the meadow but added the flowers instead of faking the whole thing.
The vampires, though, were really well done. Probably the best of the franchise. It was really good. The production score would have been lower if that hadn’t pulled it up a little.
So, I’m left unsure. How do you make sense of a movie where Kristen Stewart is actually good? Where babies look like aliens and the characters we’ve spent so much time with are relegated to the sidelines? And what do you do when the saga’s biggest strength is that it delivers unadulterated emotion when the movie doesn’t deliver that? I don’t know. But the second or third time I see it should clarify things some.
ETA: Also, this great quote from Variety’s review:
[Billy] Burke, as the ever-quizzical Charlie, can do more with a raised eyebrow than most of his younger co-stars manage with whole mouthfuls of exposition.