A misty tree line by a river. Rising peaks. A waterfall. A CGI wolf. Heavenly shades of night are falling: it's Twilight time...again. What to say about this franchise juggernaut that hasn't already been said? If you're still an "undecided voter" when it comes to Twilight, slowly back away from the polls. But for those millions who will be compelled to watch the tension-deprived wrap-up episode The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (wrap-up, that is, until the inevitable spinoffs), nothing I say will keep them away, and the vast majority of that contingent will find this unabashedly sentimental valedictory both satisfying and heartwarming.
And that's always been the raison d'être of The Twilight Saga: like any romance-novel narrative, its job is to tease, stoke, withhold, and finally deliver on the audience's desires. Add in vampires and werewolves and psychics (oh my!), and you get a blockbuster franchise with "crossover" tolerance if not crossover appeal. Part 2 of Breaking Dawn picks up the very second Part 1 left off (spoiler alert for newbies): with Bella (Kristen Stewart) freshly "turned" and ready to explore life as a vamp and a mother to newborn human-vampire-hybrid Renesmee (played first by weird-lookin' CGI and later by Mackenzie Foy). Taking a cue from superhero cinema, returning screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and returning director Bill Condon carve out some time for Bella's exhilarating discovery of her new powers and sensual vividness, under the watchful guidance of husband Edward (Robert Pattinson).
Feminists get tossed a bone here: at last an empowered Bella can take care of herself (and others), prompting the ever-courtly Edward to confess, "I've had a bad habit of underestimating you." But there's still something inherently regressive about Meyer's novels and their attendant films. Bella continues to fit snugly into the Vampire Barbie mold: last time with her just-so forest wedding, this time with "honeymoon period" sex accessorized by a conspicuous close-up of her morally approving ring-bling, as well as a tour of her new house that briefly, blithely turns the movie into an Architectural Digest vodcast. Call it "Lifestyles of the Rich and Bloodless."
Hunky, impulsive werewolf Jacob (Tyler Lautner) continues to hang around, get in fights, make wry comments, and offer soulful love, now directed at li'l Renesmee, on whom Jacob has ferally imprinted (but it's not at all skeevy, honest). Part 2's plot, such as it is, concerns the troublesome existence of Renesmee, who becomes a target of the pimped-out Roman vampire contingent known as the Volturi (Michael Sheen excels with his hilariously overripe performance as Volturi leader Aro). And so, again, vampires train to fight, leading to a climactic battle that marks a have-it-both-ways semi-departure from Stephenie Meyer's novel. This ponderous, protracted, and finally propulsive confrontation will have non-believers checking their watches, then dropping their jaws. And can I just say? Nothing says romance like multiple beheadings.
And there's the rub: Twilight has always been borderline comical in its moments of greatest sincerity, and that hasn't changed in this ungainly, awkwardly paced, insularly fan-friendly installment (which ends with a "curtain call" for the entire Saga cast). Any similarity to actual persons, living or undead, is entirely coincidental.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]