Twilight: Breaking Dawn (Part 2!) Movie Review

So I went to see Breaking Dawn, Part 2 on the day after the day-after-Thanksgiving. I'm not sure what that's called, the day after Black Friday: maybe "Grey Saturday"? But anyway, I went to the theater fully intending to tweet the movie as I went through, much like I did with Part 1. However, about half of you are chortling happily at my plan because you have already realized how foolish it was: the theater was packed to the seams, and if I'd tried to fiddle with my phone during the movie, I would have been beaten unconscious with my own popcorn tub. So I took notes in the dark instead.

Honestly, it was probably just as well that my twitter plan fell through, though, because I found that I didn't really have anything witty to say about Breaking Dawn. It's not that it was bad -- though I did find it surprisingly slow, given that I'd heard this was the actiony part of the Twilight Saga -- but I feel as though maybe I've reached some sort of outrage fatigue when it comes to Twilight as a film series. There's really only so many times I can watch the series' handling of Ye Olde Ethnic People before I start feeling a little tired and barfy and in dire need of some chicken noodle soup, Sprite, and a nap.

That last paragraph got away from me a little.

I went into Breaking Dawn having not read the book. This has been a thing with me since the beginning of the deconstruction, actually: I don't mind spoilers, but I've wanted to take the books "as is" without casting too far ahead into the future. I like to point out problems when they happen, not three books later when they've been retconned into totally-not-problems anymore. And funnily enough, I think going into Breaking Dawn without having read the book is wise ... but we'll get to that in a bit. Hold that thought.

The movie starts with a credit roll, and my notes remind me that vampire blood turns serif fonts into sans serif ones, which means that the vampires really are on the side of angels. The effect is spoiled, though, because the sans serif letters don't line up with the serif ones they are replacing, so it came off looking inelegant to me. It's a nit; I picked it.

We start with Bella waking up and her having a moment alone with Edward, and we get the revelation that Bella is stronger than Edward now. In fact, Bella is the strongest person in the household, and can sweep the floor with Emmett if she so chooses. I think this is technically a "newborn" thing; I'm pretty sure it was established in an earlier movie when the Newborn Army was gunning for the Cullens, but it plays nicely in with the fact that this movie is Bella's debutante ball, as it were: she's going to be the prettiest, sparkliest, fastest, strongest, self-controlledest, cleverest, shieldiest, bestest vampire there ever was.

And I'm kind of two minds on that. On the one hand, can you spell M-a-r-y-S-u-e. On the other hand, it seems churlish to complain about Bella being strong and self-sufficient and awesome when the alternative is/was human!Bella who trips over her own feet specifically so that all the sexy man meat can carry her around like she's permanently on the cover of a series of romance novels.

Click to embiggen.

After a brief hunting scene, where it is established that Bella has the Best Self-Control Ever, we get to see baby Reneesmee. And it strikes me that the appeal of Reneesmee for a mother, particularly a hypothetical teen mother, is potentially very strong. Not only does the child fast-grow in such a way that Bella can still experience all the exciting "firsts" without them getting tedious and draggy, and not only does Bella have a cadre of volunteer caretakers at her beck and call, but very crucially, Reneesmee knows who her mother is and what she has been through to protect Reneesmee. And, what's more, she appreciates it.

Bella will never have to exclaim in exasperation "I went through ten hours of labor with you, you realize that?" to try to get through to her daughter that the world existed before she was born and her mother had to make sacrifices to bring her into it. Bella doesn't have to say that because Reneesmee remembers being born. She's aware of the pain she brought Bella. She's appropriately grateful to her mother. How many infants can you say that about? My guess is, not too many.

Then Bella beats up Jacob (and Seth) in retaliation for Jacob imprinting on Reneesmee. And while I'm opposed to violence in general, I can kind of see Bella's point. It was pretty tasteless for the Powers That Be to have Bella's suitor imprint on her infant daughter, and it was additionally quite rude to have Bella's romantic feelings for Jacob all turn out to be the yearnings of one the eggs in her ovaries. The clan moves past this; after enjoying the sight of their Local Ethnic Person being beaten up and told that he's smelly, they come to a group consensus that Jacob can come in and sleep on the couch. Apparently the Cullens don't have a guest bedroom, and I guess it's not like Edward can give up his bedroom for the night. Because then where would Edward sleep? Oh, wait.

Bella asks Rosalie where Reneesmee sleeps and Rosalie chirrups "In my arms!" (Or Jacob's. Or Edward's. Or Esme's, she adds.) And all I can think is that this family is apparently not big on teaching Reneesmee boundaries and private space and personal time. But I don't have babies, so the hell do I know. And then everyone decides that they need to move away to keep Charlie from investigating Bella's soon-to-be-announced death. So basically the gorgeous cottage that Alice just gifted to Bella can only be enjoyed for about five minutes. Whoops, future-teller! But, wait! Jacob doesn't want the clan to leave, so he brings Charlie around. And it strikes me that this doesn't make sense.

The Cullens moved into town, what? One year ago? Two years ago? And started acting all creepy and weird. Billy Black, Charlie's longest and bestest friend, made a stink about their moving into town and refused to visit the hospital anymore Because Ancient Mystical Reasons. Immediately after Bella moved up to Forks, she and Edward started dating, and then she began to act erratically. She ran away from home. She suffered a serious injury and was hospitalized. The Cullens left town abruptly and she spiraled into depression. The Cullens moved back, just as abruptly, and Edward and Bella married straight out of high school. Then Bella went on a secretive honeymoon, and never saw her father again. She picked up a mysterious illness and refused to come home. Then all contact was cut entirely.

Charlie Swan, the Forks Chief of Police, has not even driven over to the Cullen house and looked in those huge floor-to-ceiling windows to see if they were hiding Bella on the property. He hasn't filed a missing person report. He hasn't served the Cullens with a warrant to search their house. He hasn't, apparently, done anything to investigate Bella's strange and worrisome disappearance other than mope about the house chopping wood. Under different circumstances this might make some sense, but Charlie has about as much privilege as he can have in this situation: he's a born-and-raised resident of this small town, a respected member of society, and the chief of police in the area. The Cullens are moneyed, yes, but they're also highly unpopular -- it was mentioned in Twilight that Charlie is about the only person in town who thinks of them fondly -- and have acted highly erratically. I mean, they're a family of adopted children who date each other, for gods' sakes. Yet Charlie either can't or won't try to challenge them on the whole "sorry you haven't seen your daughter since her teen wedding" thing. That's strange to me.

Anyway. The Charlie situation gets resolved. Bella beats Emmett at arm-wrestling. She sparkles, and says her line about how she was "born to be a vampire". A local vampire spots Nessie and jumps to conclusions, before rushing off to tattle to the Volturi. Bella and Edward take Nessie to meet the other local vampires and to prove that Nessie isn't a vampire-child (bad!) but rather a vampire-human-hybrid (good!). Nessie uses her magical convincing powers, and I have to say I like the theory that she's not just showing but rather she's also compelling. And Carlisle starts gathering "witnesses": approximately 27 vampires in all to stand against the Volturi. Jacob points out that a lot of the allies are human-eaters, and Bella says "they agreed not to hunt in the area". Jacob points out that they will still be hunting somewhere, though.

The movie brushes past this, which is something of a shame because it's an interesting moral quandary. The Cullens -- and, presumably, Bella -- believe that vampires have to stick together, whether they're trying to be vegetarian or not. Jacob believes that the moral decision to Not Murder People is more important than sticking with people just because they have a similar nature. Of course, to really test his beliefs, we'd have to apply it to a member of his wolf-pack: would they shun a werewolf who was hunting and killing humans? But let's assume that Jacob is acting in good faith here and isn't just lashing out at the vampires: is he right or wrong? I can see both sides of the coin, honestly, but I think it would have been interesting to explore it more fully. I don't begrudge the Cullens for seeking what companionship they can, and I think they probably see their companionship as a way to "witness" to the human-eaters. On the other hand, I see Jacob's point as well, and understand his reticence to be chummy with mass-murderers.

While we're discussing the vampire allies, I suppose now is as good a time as any to direct a heavy sigh at the movie's treatment of Ye Olde Ethnic People. Every single vampire in this movie is from a non-American region, and of course they don't all wear blue jeans and sweatshirts like the American and European vampires. Instead, the vampires from the Really Ethnic Regions show up wearing clothes like this:

Later, when Replacement Goldfish (for when mortal Jacob dies and immortal Reneesmee does not) vampire-human-hybrid Nahuel shows up, he turns up in the middle of the Forks mountains in a bare chest and an Ethnic Costume because presumably we might otherwise fail to notice that he is Ethnic.

And here is the thing, okay? I was being sarcastic just now. This is complicated. Different cultures have different clothing, and some people from those cultures chose to wear different clothing. There's nothing wrong with that, and there's perhaps nothing wrong with Hollywood acknowledging that the entire world isn't jeans and t-shirts. But. At the same time, people from different cultures do not automatically wear different clothing from our own. And there seems to be some people in Hollywood who do not understand that, people who assume that if one were to go to another country, one would immediately stand out from the crowd on account of being the only one not dressed in animal skins or something.

And this is particularly noticeable when the characters in question are from Ethnic Places, i.e., South America or Africa or something rather than plain ol' Russia or Ireland or what have you. You know, the Ethnicy Places. Where the dark-skinned people come from and They Have Legends.

And it is also particularly noticeable when the people dressed in conspicuously different clothing are, say, sophisticated immortal vampires heavily invested in blending into their surroundings lest the Volturi charge them with not maintaining the masquerade.

And it is also also particularly noticeable when the dark-skinned Ethnically Dressed people are gathering to risk their life and limb in order to save an Innocent Little White Girl, here variously represented as Reneesmee, Bella, or Alice.

So now you know why I'm getting a bit fatigued on the whole movie franchise. Because I don't even know where to start deconstructing the Othering at this point. I just want to sort of point at the whole thing and say "pretty much all of it".

Anyway. So. But. Random observations from the notebook:

  • Edward cops to consistently underestimating Bella.
  • They have a pair of GIANT SCISSORS on their cottage wall as a decoration. 
  • Leah does not appear in this movie, outside of CGI wolf shots and the back of her hair, but she's credited on IMDB. Not sure what's going on there.

Moving on. Edward thanks Carlisle for the first time for the life he's given him, which I guess means he's finally given up on his sadfeels angst and decided to be cheerful, what with the immortality and the limitless wealth and the soulmate wife and the adorable moppet. But Edward loves his manpain and woobies that none of this impending bloodshed would have happened if he'd not fallen in love with a human, which, what? No. Shut the fuck up, Edward. It has been clearly established that the Volturi were going to do this sooner or later because they wanted to seize control of Alice. If anything, you're in a stronger position having this happen now, what with your Imprinted Wolfpack and your Magical Shield Wife, so hush up on your manpain.

Wait. Back up. I forgot to talk about the wolfpack, didn't I?

Well, not only are they going to fight and die for Reneesmee because of imprinting, they're also turning new wolves by the dozens because the Cullens are gathering so many new vampires. Jacob hunts down the newly turned and comforts them and teaches them. If anything, he seems pretty cheerful about having so many new recruits. And this ... makes me feel really uncomfortable. Maybe a lot of the werewolves like being werewolves, but we've also seen a lot of lives ruined over this whole business. Being a werewolf means furring-out at unexpected times and hurting or killing your loved ones by accident. It means having your emotions overridden by magical imprinting that forces you to leave one lover and take a new one. It means having your every thought shared with the wolves around you, whether you want it to be shared or not. It means being forced to submit to pack leadership if you want to stay in your home.

It's a life without control and without privacy. It's not a life that I think should be pushed onto people without their consent, but by gathering vampires to THIS home rather than to, say, their Alaskan one, they are doing precisely that. And this is presented as a good thing because it means that the Innocent Little White Girls have even more ethnic people to defend them.

Anyway. But. So.

Alice shows up and offers to "show" the Volturi why they shouldn't take and/or kill Reneesmee. The Volturi kidnap Alice regardless, and Carlisle breaks through the lines. He attacks the leader, and in a moment Carlisle's head has been torn off and his body burned. And this is what I mean about the movie being better if you haven't read the book, because my first thought was Holy shit! My next thought was I am going to wiki the heck out of this movie, because there's no way that's in the book. Meyer's perfect happy ending can't include Carlisle being six feet under. My delighted suspicions were enhanced when the Twilight fans sitting next to me gasped in shock and surprise and leaned forward into their seats. Then there is an Epic Battle with Lots of Casualties and I was wondering how they would get away with changing so much when ... Dallas! The whole thing was just Alice showing the Volturi why they shouldn't start anything.

I'd feel cheated -- our one action sequence for this entire five-movie franchise was a freaking dream -- but instead I just feel a sad premonition that Breaking Dawn The Book isn't going to be nearly as exciting as I'd hoped.

And everyone lives happily ever after. Bella has an Ethnic Person to take care of her baby-daughter whenever she feels that shagging her husband is more pressing than changing diapers, and the baby-daughter has that same diaper-changing Ethnic Person ready-and-waiting to be her adoring husband when she grows up in seven years time. And she also has an Auxiliary Backup Ethnic Person to be her husband after the first one dies from terminal mortality. (Assuming she doesn't make Jacob into a shiny white vampire. I'm guessing that werewolves are immune to that sort of thing.) And nobody even had to break a sweat or anything!

Oh, and also: Edward finally gets to read Bella's mind, because she wanted to be able to 'prove' her love to him as if everything that's been said and done so far somehow didn't count as proof. No comment at this time.



bekabot said...

"The clan moves past this; after enjoying the sight of their Local Ethnic Person being beaten up and told that he's smelly, they come to a group consensus that Jacob can come in and sleep on the couch. Apparently the Cullens don't have a guest bedroom, and I guess it's not like Edward can give up his bedroom for the night. Because then where would Edward sleep? Oh, wait."

Which totally does not make sense, because when Human!Bella needed a place to crash and when the Cullens were not hiding out in Denali, they found a bed for her.

(Actually, they kind of kidnapped her, but that's one of those dicey little Twilight details that one can't explore to intensively without sinking into a quagmire. I'm going to sidestep the quagmire this time, but I'm just saying.)

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