During the long goodbye at the end of Breaking Dawn Part 2, the last film in the Twilight franchise, we see images of, apparently, everyone who has ever been in a Twilight film, even if they weren’t in this one. It was nice to see good ol’ Graham Greene again; I’m sure he would’ve rather had the money, or at least a walk-on, even in a flashback (his character died in the second movie). This end-credits tribute makes it seem as though everyone in the world — well, except for those nasty Volturi — joins us in wishing an eternal happily-ever-after for the pretty vampire couple Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). I suppose this is one of the few romantic films that actually can offer a literal happily-ever-after — for many centuries, long after the rest of us are dead.
But will The Twilight Saga live forever? Teenage girls are notoriously fickle, and if you were, say, fourteen when the first of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books came out, you’re well into college age now. Still, this series probably represents the closest thing to long-form romance the movies have seen since the Thin Man films closed their doors, and that’s worth noting in an era when mostly sexless boys’-toys stories get all the franchise attention. Despite the trappings of lite horror — vampires, werewolves — Twilight has always been about how Bella and Edward would hurdle the many obstacles to their True Love. It’s been a sappy and largely uneventful ride, and I welcome The Hunger Games taking its place in girls’ hearts, but let’s not pretend there haven’t been far worse film series.
The big drama here follows up on Breaking Dawn Part 1, in which the still-human Bella gave birth to Edward’s daughter, almost died, and was saved by getting vampirized. The daughter, Renesmee (a name widely mocked in and out of the fanbase), grows rapidly and communicates by touching people’s faces. Bella and Edward have been given their own charming little house out in the forest, and Jacob the soulful werewolf (Taylor Lautner) has “imprinted” on Renesmee, which basically means he’ll hang around her with puppy-dog eyes platonically for the rest of his life, perhaps hoping for the occasional biscuit or bouncy ball outside. All seems sparkly until the dread Volturi, the elite vampire coven that controls all bloodsuckers, hear about Renesmee and think she’s a human child who’s been vampirized.
This leads to a big fake climax, which is nonetheless the highlight of the series, in which we get to see the Cullen clan, plus the werewolves and whatever other vampires they can summon, face off against the Volturi in an epic battle in the snow. Filmmakers, take note: you can get away with pretty much any level of carnage in a PG-13 movie as long as you don’t show any blood. Many heads and limbs are liberated from their bodies. Reportedly, this battle did not appear in the book, and appears here only because psychic vampire Alice (Ashley Greene) wants to show Volturi leader Aro (Michael Sheen) what exactly would happen if the opposing sides did throw down. Well, that and because director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg didn’t want to end a five-film series with a polite chat between good and evil.
As always, I have to say the proceedings were painless, if uninvolving. Stewart and Pattinson, perhaps because they were aware their Twilight ordeal was almost over, show more spark here than before; Stewart actually becomes interesting to watch when Bella is a new vampire learning the ropes, and she manages an impressive I-will-kill-you scowl directed at anyone who threatens Renesmee. This series has always cribbed from classical archetypes without quite feeling archetypal itself; it’s Epic Romance Lite, and everything else about it has been lite, too. Aside from the occasional “hmm” moment arising from our knowledge of its author’s Mormonism, The Twilight Saga hasn’t offered very much to chew on or digest, no subtext or connection to where we’re at today — these films and books could’ve been written in the ’70s. I presume it has been an introduction to star-crossed romance for a generation of girls too young to remember Titanic (much less Romeo and Juliet, even the DiCaprio version), but for the rest of us it’s been a mildly diverting sidebar, not central to any discussion outside the tabloids and the fanbase. That the movies haven’t been as embarrassingly terrible as they could’ve been is a small bonus, I guess, though embarrassingly terrible movies might have performed the dual public service of bringing Howard the Duck-level shame to the books’ fanbase and laughter to the rest of us.