Twilight continues to utterly blindside me.
Back in 2006, when New-Moon-the-book first slithered its way out of Stephanie Meyer’s head, I had more important things to care about. Like getting divorced, finding a new job, helping a friend weather her own, much-worse divorce through the ego-boosting medium of casual sex, and do it all while working to maintain an emotionally fulfilling relationship with an intelligent, independent-minded woman who refuses to take shit from you, me, God, or anyone. The key word there being working.
I bring this up, not to brag, but to illustrate the emotional paucity of Twilight‘s Saga in particular, and the dominant culture’s representations of romance in general. Tonight’s entry serves as a convenient whipping boy, which seems only fair, considering New Moon damn-near whipped me.
But for now, we take you back to Forks High, home of the Spartans and temporary babysitter of the most uninteresting movie couple outside a late-period James Cameron film. The female half of our undynamic duo, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) begins the film on her eighteenth birthday, a fact everyone – including Bella’s father (Billy Burke), vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson), friend-who-happens-to-be-a-boy Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and all her assorted human groupies – fawns over at length, because there’s obviously fuck all else going on in this world. Bella’s response falls somewhere between annoyance and disgust, a fact everyone ignores because Bella is Queen of the Mary Sues and can thus Do No Wrong.
Thanks to an obviously symbolism-laden dream sequence we’re given to understand Bella’s worried about growing old beside her immortally seventeen-year-old arm candy, Edward…and I find myself once again struggling not to mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which burned over this same ground more than ten. Frickkin’. YEARS AGO!
After about twenty minutes of twiddling our thumbs watching Our Happy Couple watch Romeo and Juliet in English class it’s off to Bella’s birthday party at chez Cullen. Things go delightfully (or, assuming you care about these characters, horrifically) awry once a paper cut allows some of Bella’s blood to reach the nostrils of Edward’s shaggy-haired, emotionally-manipulative (no, really – that’s his “special” vampire ability) dipshit of a “brother” Jasper (Jackson Rathbone). An all-too-brief, slow-motion tussle ends with Edward accidentally throwing Bella into a wall, forcing the Cullen patriarch, Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) to stitch her up safely away from the rest of the family. Here, Carlisle reveals the true cause of Edward and Bella’s perpetual blueballs, the true reason Edward steadfastly refuses to turn Bella into his Undead Queen: “If you believed as Edward does, ” Carlisle asks our Bella Sue, “could you take away his soul?”
Rather than discuss the implications of this for their apparent-love Edward disappears for the length of a montage, reappearing only to tell Bella all the usual rom-com break up cliches, including the most Freudian line in the film: “Bella…I don’t want you to come.” (Think about it: he probably doesn’t even believe she can.) The Cullens depart Forks sans Bella, setting up…yet another montage…that showcases just how much of an emotionally stunted headcase Bella really is. With no pasty, androgynous stick figure to oogle, Bella goes into full-on Depressive Mode, moping and crying and screaming through the night, writing long letters she’ll never send to Edward’s precognative “sister,” Alice (Ashley Greene)…who really should’ve seen all this coming when you pause to think about it. I guess that whole “free will” thing really is an illusion. (But, then again, if it were, why would I be watching this film?)
Bella swings back to the manic pole only after adrenaline-fueled visions of Edward begin to appear whenever she places herself in danger. Thus the most pathetically self-destructive female character this side of a Gothic novel receives a Get Into Trouble Free card from her creators, and an excuse to take up motorcycle repair with Jacob, for which I am exceeding glad. With Edward out of the way, Taylor Lautner actually gets to showcase some honest-to-Raven acting chops, letting Robert Pattinson know how it’s done. No one was more surprised than I to find a spark of sympathy for Jacob as a character during his early (montage-heavy…of course) scenes with Mary Swan.
Jacob is an interesting case. Lautner makes him all the more interesting by virtue of being the only one of our three leads capable of completing a sentence without an…ill-considered…dramatic…stuttering…p-p-pause. In the last film, and the first few moments of this one, he plays Jacob with an easy-going affability that came off, in the novel, as contemptuous and cynical (thus further endearing him to me). Here, the cynicism and contempt are gone, but Jacob still represents a perfect chance for Bella to actually grow as character and perhaps experience a human relationship that could, even in the most shallow and unsophisticated Movie Romance way, be considered normal. You’d think any emotional schizophrenic serial user (like her) would jump at the chance to string along her friend-who-happens-to-be-a-boy for nothing more or less than the scratching a temporary emotional itch. After all, until her addiction to Edward phantoms, Bella never gave Jacob the time of day.
Oh, yes. I’ve met this ubermensch, and he is me. But Jacob, too, fails to grow as a character by failing to realize what most of us friends-who-happen-to-be-boys figure out by age fifteen: ignore the serial users and, eventually, they’ll come crawling back to you. Instead, Jacob waits around for Bella to give him The Line. You know the one I mean, guys: her “I don’t want you to leave,” is just one more variation on, “I love you as a friend.” Since it’s been twenty minutes since the great Crying Montage it must be time for the Great Change to come along, and Jacob to come out of the doghouse as the goddamn egg-sucking werewolf he is.
This leads to a recreation of the love story that tied up three quarters of the first film, with Jacob and Bella going through the same basic motions of the Edward-Bella Dance: ILove You Now Go Away. I Don’t Wanna Be a Monster. You’re Not You’re Just A Guy. I Love You But I Could Kill You. I’m A Co-dependent Obsessive Who Doesn’t Give a Damn About Anyone But Myself. And so on. Until a surprise twist suddenly introduces a conflict just when you thought it was safe to fall asleep, and Bella’s half of the dance becomes I Love You But I’m Flying to Italy to Save My Real Boyfriend Whom I Still Love Even Though He Abandoned Me to a Downward Spiral of Narcissistic Pouting, Buh-bye.
On the one hand, this is exactly what a good sequel should do: revisit and expand upon the themes and situations of its prequel without slavishly repeating them down the last, obsessive compulsive detail (unless that sequel is Back to the Future 2, the exception that proves the rule and is therefore awesome). On the other hand, that prequel was a farcically-moralistic jaunt into an imaginary world populated by one-note, lead-faced, and utterly moronic characters even more unlikeable on film than they were in print.
Once again, the most monstrous thing about Jacob (the film’s sprinkling of “real” vampires are too few, and come too late, to really count) is the fact that he’s a teenage boy. This means his susceptibility to Bella’s emotional manipulation is the only half way “realistic” aspect of the film. As for the rest of his “pack”…their fangs are pulled as effectively as the Cullens’. According to Jake, they don’t eat people, only hunt the occasional stray vampire, and, like a late-period Bruce Banner, can pretty much control their changes at will. There’s no “curse” involved since lycanthropy is genetic and the human personality of each wolf seems to survive the Change more-or-less intact.
Unlike every other werewolf in Western literature, these bad boys are quite alright with their transformations. Jacob gets a little emo about not being able to hang out with Bella anymore (because way back when, Jacob’s tribe of Movie Indians made an agreement with the Cullen’s to the effect that blah-de-fucking-blah-who-cares?)…but then proceeds, like any good Stephanie Meyer protagonist, to sneak into her room at night, like a brown-skinned Peter Pan…the better to go all emo in her presence. Not that he has any real excuse since New Moon does for lycanthropy exactly what Twilight did for vampirism: reconstructing monster tropes into a half-assed piece of Bronte Sisters fan fiction.
Fuck if I know why anyone would want to be anything other than a werewolf…but, then, I’m not an idiot. Unlike Jacob, I had interests, hobbies, and the lives of loved ones (genetically-related and otherwise) to distract me from my unrequited love and no patience with those who were stupid enough to get moon-eyed over the first piece of ass that paid them any attention. Yet, near the end of things, Jake patently ignores a relative who’s just suffered a heart attack and died in favor of trying to get to first base with Little Miss Let’s Just Be Friends. This is the final nail in the coffin I’m currently building for him, and the hollow thunk of my hammer is the sound of a movie critic coming to terms with the fact that every major character in this Saga is an egotistical, self-obsessed, one-track-minded dick.
I don’t care if I’m “the target audience” for this or not. Everyone is the “target audience” for a good story well told. This is an over-long, predictable, and therefore ultimately undramatic story about a collection of self-important tossers mooning at each other for over two hours. Every authentic teenager in America should be insulted by this tripe, which is nothing more or less than an adult projection of how you all should be. Not how you are. I don’t have much faith in the human race but even I’m not cynical enough to believe that this picture of knuckle-dragging tunnel vision is a accurate portrayal of American adolescence. Don’t you see? That’s just what the film wants you to think. That, and the fact that your worth as a person is directly proportionate to your relationship status.
And the whole “teenage boys are monsters” thing I mentioned earlier. They Only Want One Thing, you see. And it ain’t help with Shakespeare essays. Best to deny them That One Thing until you’ve safely trapped them into a toxic mimic of a real relationship, where allure is attraction, smothering stands for sensitivity and co-dependency unashamedly masquerades as love. This is seventh grade Abstinence literature, repackaged with monsters and set loose upon us all.
I know some people actually believe all that in their heart of hearts, but these people are fools. Whether Stephanie Meyer believes it or not is immaterial. At this point, Twilight has escaped her into the sheltering arms of “free” market capitalism, which sells these flawed representations of American youth back to us with all the subtlety of a trench coat-and-shades-clad drug dealer standing outside your child’s middle school. New Moon continues this trend by faithfully recreating one of my own (and, I imagine, many people’s) high school experiences, robbing it of all the conflicting emotional malaise (and thus all the drama) actually attendant such situations. All in the service of producing an image of American youth harmless enough, and insulting enough, to appeal to American parents. That it’s simultaneously snared so many unthinking teenagers (most of them, in other words) should tell you how desperate The Kids are for any representation of themselves. They’ll jump onto the first sexless, bullshit bandwagon that comes along.
Plenty have harped on the fact that Edward is a creepy douche who’d send any rational person running for the nearest Slayer (myself included). Few have called Bella to task for being even less appealing than her chosen ego-prop. This is because Bella is so fundamentally uninteresting Stephanie Meyer had to insist her fans read New Moon twice, rather than do what they did the first time and skip from page 73, where Edward vanishes, to page 451, when he once again graces us with his (ahem) presence.
In that sense, then, Stewart is perfectly cast, gracing us with another scowling, stuttering-mad performance, her lack of craft all the more obvious next to Lautner, who actually has this little thing called “screen presence.” Or perhaps we should be charitable and call her “lack of craft” an “unwillingness to waste her talent on the role of Grand Prize in Forks’ annual Supernatural Teenage Boy Pissing contest.” Whatever you call it, it’s tremendously evident when played against Robert Pattinson, who couldn’t play brooding immortal if he actually were one. If anything, Pattinson looks bored, or pained by the hours of perpetual eyebrow waxing he no doubt had to endure for this film.
Oh, but I’m sorry: I keep forgetting Bella wants to be a vampire. This continuous bit of standing in place, stamping her feet and saying, “I WANNA!” somehow makes her a feminist icon in the minds of her creators (and one mind in particular, the one behind all this). Despite the fact that Edward immediately took the decision out of her hands in the last movie, only relenting in the closing minutes of this film on the condition she (surprise!) marry into his screwed up, Modernist family. Not that I mind the vampirism-as-metaphor-for-marriage thing. It works quite well on several levels, meaning it is the only element in this two hour and ten minute waste of your life that honest-to-Dracula works.
Some other things that didn’t quite piss me off: Chris Weitz is a much better director than his predecessor, despite his obvious love for The Montage (adding a criminal amount of padding to an already over-long film). I enjoyed the fact that vampires consistently outrun the slow motion camera, turning the eventual vampire-on-vampire violence into a CGI blur of undead, whirling dervishes. I also enjoyed the way this film eschews the washed-out blues-and-grays of its predecessor in favor of a darker, moodier, more colorful pallet, heavy on the earth tones, that at least allows me to see some contrast between regulation-human paleness and chalk-white vampire skin.
But in the end, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (once again) fails to turn a turgid, repetitive, ill-paced book into anything other than a turgid, repetitive, ill-paced film, neither good nor bad enough to stand upright. This is, in the final respect, two more hours of undiluted set up for the next three films in the series. Which, since I measure my self-worth by my site’s traffic figures, I’ll be considering all-too soon. So I suppose I should be grateful and pat myself on the back with a “Cheerio, job well done, mate.”
But I won’t. Because, while most modern capital-B, Bad, films are misguided monuments to stupidity, corporatism, auteur audaciousness, or any combination thereof, this film (following in its prequel’s foot steps) commits the ultimate Bad Movie sin by being dull. The dull sequel to a dull film that trafficked in dull representations of romance as tasteless and uninspiring as a pack of corn tortillas made of woodpulp. Special print runs of both films should be minted for the specific purpose of heating poor people’s homes throughout the Northwest’s notoriously long and dank-as-a-well-digger’s-ass winters. It’d be the least these filmmakers could do for the poor people of the world, especially the poor people of Forks. With all the supernatural murders we’ve heard about over the last two films, I figure they deserve the help.