With Eclipse, the latest installment of vampire phenom Twilight about to hit theaters, PCN is taking a look back at the last entry in the successful series. As a critic, these films have historically provided an opportunity to sharpen those verbal knives and feast on an easy target. I’ve long tried to resist this urge, but so far the series has given me little to work with. I admit up front I haven’t read the books, but the films have given me little inspiration to do so. Built upon flimsy narratives with paper-thin characters, the movies are most notorious not for their odd world view or rampant melodrama, but because, simply put, they are boring. While I’d like nothing more than for the newest picture to be worthwhile, I’m approaching this one with a bit of a shrug. Will it prove me wrong? Check out my thoughts on New Moon, the episode that precedes Eclipse, below.
As an outsider to the cult of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, I confess to not understanding the draw of Bella Swan and her pasty, blood-sucking paramour. Having not read the novels and seen only the frustratingly bland and often risible first installment, I was less than eager to catch-up with New Moon.
After watching it, less-than-eager seems far too naive a stance to have taken. Significantly more stilted, cloying and nondescript than its predecessor, Moon stares full-on into the flat, gray abyss of teenage gothic longing and sexual repression. I now understand the draw, but am baffled by the lack of taste with which the series handles its themes.
Last time, wobbly, vacant-eyed teen Bella got all goo-goo over even more vacant-eyed and self-absorbed (though the series want to sell it as self-possessed) Ed Cullen, part of a local vampire clan. Their chaste courtship in the first movie was the stuff that narcolepsy is made of. I’m at a loss to think of a film with a less lively couple of lovers at its center, and I’m counting that scene of the snails mating to classical music in Microcosmos.
Stewart and Pattinson, both proving acting chops in other films, simply don’t generate together the heat or conviction necessary to make anyone–save for the most easily swayed–want to follow them. Some claim that the innocence of their relationship hampers that flame. Nope, not at all. See Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFayden in Pride and Prejudice or Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw in the recent Bright Star to see burning passion and commitment without carnal action.
In fact, the relationship between Bella and Ed doesn’t come off to me as innocent; instead it’s more than a little creepy. First time through, Ed says “You are like my heroin” and Bella, little more than a blank slate, fawns over him for it. He’s shifty, controlling, and even his selflessness, exemplified in this movie by sending her away from him forever because she makes his family crazy(all that warm white girl blood I guess), could be interpreted as surly indecision. We know he will be back, and that Bella will probably be waiting.
Ed wants her out of danger. Even though they are parted, whenever she finds herself in a scrape, he appears to her as an Obi Wan-esque ghostly image. When she figures out what triggers these supernatural Skype moments, she starts seeking out danger and adrenaline rush so she can dial up her brooding beau. Seriously, Bella, he dumped you. Stop trying to get his attention with idiocy.
Left alone, it isn’t long before she’s attacked by some of the vampires from the first movie and then rescued by her American Indian bud, Jake Black, who has clearly spent the summer on the 300 diet before being reunited with Bella. I suppose its a spoiler of sorts if you live in a cave, but Jake, and the rest of his ‘clan’, are werewolves; he’s just recently discovered that special time in a boy’s life when he starts changing at will into a large CGI Alsatian. Jake takes his shirt off, Bella stares at him, and thinks “It’s been awhile since I’ve pined for a grumpy, emotionally-inaccessible monster”. Yea, that’s pretty much it. Plenty of ‘will they/won’t they’ moments, but not anything that made me care either way.
For a movie with vampires and werewolves based on a fantasy series that is overwhelmingly popular, you would expect much more to actually happen here. Even Chris Weitz’s heavily truncated last adaptation, The Golden Compass, had more going on in its passages than this tepid loaf of half-narratives and paper cut-out characters. I didn’t miss Edward, but his absence makes this film even more arbitrary than the last one.
Moon doesn’t work very hard to make us think Jake and Bella have a chance, and Bella can’t be bothered to understand his lycanthropy in the same we she accepts Ed’s vampirism. She may like washboard abs, but not as much as men the same color as the washboard. As for Edward, he goes to meet a coven of elder vampires headed up by Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen. Eventually, the whole movie has changed setting and the characters are all racing around Italy looking desperately for a plot that matters.
As I’ve said before, I’m no Twilight fan, but I take no pleasure slagging the series simply because it is popular or it happens to be the kind of story that usually sits best with 13 year old girls. The truth of it is that Moon isn’t very interesting and a lack of actual repercussions or consequences for the characters’ actions, coupled with a very simplistic and silly view of teenage obsession, renders it almost negligent as entertainment for the younger crowd.
As a heroine (not the kind Ed likes) Bella is pathetic, her taste and approach to men eerily echoing the same kind of behavior that lands real world women in abusive relationships. Wietz, nor anyone else working on the film, seems to see this, preferring instead to assume it is just a lightweight fantasy. The truth is that New Moon is far, far less than that; its training wheels for brooding angst.