Friday, 2 July 2010
I don't like "Twilight". In fact, I am violently opposed to it in many ways. I thought the first film was ridiculous, misjudged, juvenile and amateurish; and the second film was even worse. I despise the insipid characters, the contrived motivations, the complete lack of any kind of narrative drive, the pouty, lifeless, self-important performances from the young stars, the pompous, straight-faced seriousness of the whole risible exercise and the dubious ethical messages that come farting from the screen into impressionable teenage mind-pans.
I have read the first Twilight book, and it is EASILY the worst book I have ever read; coming over like a cross between bad fan-fiction and the diary of a pretentious teenager who isn't as clever as she thinks she is (maybe that was the idea?). I managed about two chapters of the second book before I could take no more.
So, it was with heavy heart I sat down in front of "Eclipse" yesterday morning, safe in the knowledge that I knew what to expect.
But here's where I make like M. Night and hit you with the twist:
"Eclipse" isn't that bad.
In fact, it's okay. Alright. Fine. Acceptable. Watchable, even.
Just process this for a moment. This is like a vegan saying they tried a steak and quite enjoyed it. It's like a member of the Westboro Baptist Church getting butt-fucked and saying "Actually, this "gay" thing isn't so bad".
The film tells the tale of the ginger vampire-bitch who popped in and out of the previous two films coming back to properly try and kill Bella. She's collected a rowdy street-gang of eager young throat-chewers and is preparing for a full onslaught on the terribly middle-class vampire enclave known as the Cullen family. Oh, and Edward and Bella are debating whether to get married and whether Bella should become a sparkly neck-nipper or not, and there's some love-triangle stuff with Native-American Werewolf in Forks Jacob adding the third point to the weirdly obsessive amour-shape.
So far, so same-old. So what's changed? The differences are apparent from the outset. The opening scene is a creepy stalk-and-slash complete with flitting shadows, sudden attacks and a chomp-fodder character enquiring "who's there?" in a quavering voice before getting munched by an unseen assailant. Straight away it doesn't feel like a "Twilight" film. Granted, the scene is generic and familiar, but there's more atmosphere and suspense in this one scene than in the entirety of the previous two flicks. Plus, the events of this first scene start a narrative ball rolling which knocks on the rest of the events of the film. There's an actual plot! With developments and stuff, not just a bunch of scenes of mopey people whingeing and then some forced third-act jeopardy!
We soon crash back to earth, however, as this teaser scene is followed immediately by Bella reading some like, totally deep and meaningful poetry whilst cuddling up to her crystalline boyfriend in a technicolour meadow. But wait, something's wrong! They actually seem to be talking to one another instead of just intoning their undying love! They're making little jokes and stuff! I'm pretty sure I saw them both smile! What's happening?!?
Eclipse is leaps beyond its predecessors in terms of characterisation, as Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart finally seem to have been freed up to make the characters into people instead of dull cyphers. We actually see them interacting in such a way that suggests maybe these two do have a connection beyond the narrative-imposed star-crossed-lovers thing. Pattinson gives Edward much more emotional variation than his almost somnambulist performances to date and, against all odds, Stewart has dropped most of the annoying, angsty-teen mannerisms that rendered her so punchable before.
It's as if new director David Slade took her to one side and said "You know that thing you keep doing? The gaspy, sighy, lip-bitey, twitchy-arm, awkward thing? Yeah? Fucking pack it in. She's a person, not a fricking bundle of tics. I don't care if that's how you always act, I'm not having it."
Taylor Lautner even sneaks a few moments of personality through while everyone's distracted by his man-chesticles, giving Jacob a wry sense of humour and playing relatively well off Pattinson's scowly sparkler. There's a scene where the two of them have a guarded heart-to-heart in a tent which I actually found myself enjoying as a simple character scene between two actors. IN A TWILIGHT FILM!
The latent sense of humour is a welcome breath of fresh air for the series also, helping to diffuse the ponderous self-importance that often threatens to drown the entire "saga". When Edward, upon clocking Jacob airing his abs for the millionth time, enquires "Doesn't he own a shirt?", or Jacob insists on cuddling up to a hypothermic Bella by telling Edward "I'm hotter than you", a tiny glimmer of self-awareness flickers into life; they're making the characters more empathetic, believable and ALIVE and thus improving the film.
The most humourous interludes, however, belong to Billy Burke; the dude playing Bella's dad. There's a scene where he tries to have a "birds and bees" type conversation with his daughter which is actually amusing, and Stewart doesn't even derail it with twitchy moping or anything. And when he steps between the cockfighting Edward and Jacob and tells them to "Take it down a notch", it's a fun moment. Fun, in a "Twilight" film. Satan must be salting the road to Hell.
In spite of the extra dimensions of the central trio, the best performances and most interesting characters are peripherals getting their moment in the spotlight. Peter Facinelli, as Sparkly Eddie's adoptive dad, emanates compassionate authority and Jackson Rathbone - who spent "Twilight" and "New Moon" mostly skulking in the background looking slightly constipated - steps up and delivers a supporting turn of quiet intensity as Jasper; a vampire circa the American civil war, who basically shows the domesticated Cullens how to get back in touch with their inner Lestat in time for the impending vamp-on-vamp smackdown.
Slade has lucked into the most actiony of the films thus far and, thankfully, he has chucked out a lot of the stylistic choices that Catherine Hardwick and Chris Weitz bummed up in their efforts. The shonky wire-work and dodgy digital doubles are still there, but Slade has the smarts to edit around them as much as possible, giving a more punchy, visceral and engaging feel to the action. The cuddly wolves still look shit, though.
You will notice that I have made an abundance of references to the first two films in this review; and therein lies the rub. This film is only good in comparison to what came before. This only reads like a positive review because I was so damn surprised that I didn't fully hate it.
The romance is still clunky and overly melodramatic, the protagonist is still a useless, selfish, idiot (also: amusing that the only way that angsty teen Bella can contribute to the action in the climactic battle is by CUTTING HERSELF!) surrounded by people who are inexplicably obsessed with her and - in spite of the much improved structure and heightened stakes of the story - there is still a feeling of ultimate pointlessness at the end of the film, due to everyone being in pretty much the same situation they were in at the start.
The central dilemma for Bella is "Do I become a Vampire in order to live forever with Edward?", and it is her assessment of this quandary that labels her an eternal dunder-head to any sensible member of the audience. The film is laced with sign-posts for Bella which read "Don't turn yourself into a vampire, you chump", but she resolutely disregards them because she wants to live happily ever after with her twinkly other half. After a particularly convincing graduation-day speech by Academy Award Nominee Anna Kendrick; detailing the need to live your life at the right speed and not dive headlong into anything too "grown-up", we cut to Bella pretty much going "when you gonna turn me into a vampire so we can get married and that, Eddie? I'm done with this human-being shit!". Anyone who wants to be a vampire needs a swift visit from Blade or Buffy.
So it's basically more of the same, but much better executed. I'm still not converted to the Twilight cause, but this one didn't inflame my bile-duct quite so much as the first two. This benevolence will probably only last 'til the next one comes out, though, cos that sounds hilariously terrible.