Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Superior sequels develop the plot of their predecessors rather than simply imitate them. "Gods and Monsters" director Bill Condon and "Twilight" scenarist Melissa Rosenberg have taken producer Stephenie Meyer's fourth novel "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" and raised the stakes as well as the rivalry. The rivalry here is not confined to just Edward and Jacob, but rather Jacob and his tribe. Mind you, if you've read the novels, you're in better shape to understand the storyline. Anybody walking into "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One," however, may find themselves overwhelmed by a surplus of plot which is only comprehensible if they've seen the previous three outings. This holds true particularly for people who find vampire movies irresistible. Ostensibly, Meyers has rewritten the rules that govern conventional vampire conduct to the point that the "Twilight" movies emerge as vampire epics in name only. In "Breaking Dawn, Part One," vampires swim in streams as well as oceans. They can procreate like humans and sire offspring. They can cavort about in the daylight without any deleterious effects to their dermatology. They can admire their immortal beauty in a mirror. They even keep a cross in their house! Although their mortal enemies the werewolves can shape-shift from Native Americans to wolves, Meyer's vampires cannot convert themselves into either bats or wolves like Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula and his kind. Meyer's vampires can read minds, foresee the future, and race hither and yon in a flash, but they remain pretty much grounded. At one point in "Breaking Dawn," the vampires must run a gauntlet of werewolves so that they can feed, and the fleet-footed wolves make it nip and tuck the whole way. You'd think Edward and the Cullen clan would scale the trees and hurdle from one to the next, but then the werewolves wouldn't pose much of a problem? All nitpicking aside, "Breaking Dawn" is just as entertaining as "Twilight," "New Moon," and "Eclipse." Indeed, the characters continue to grow. Personally, I still prefer "Eclipse," because the villainous Victoria finally bit the dust. Mind you, "Breaking Dawn" is still splendid stuff with surprises galore for anybody who has enjoyed the franchise.

"Breaking Dawn, Part One" (**** out of ****) is just what "Twilight" fans have been dying for from the start. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson of "Water for Elephants") and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart of "Adventureland") finally tie the knot. They exchange vows in the woods surrounded by their friends and family. Unlike some franchises which whittle down the number of characters reprising their roles, the "Twilight" sagas keep bringing the principals as well as the peripherals back. Unfortunately, the lesser Cullens, who had bigger scenes in "Eclipse," merge with the background this time. The same is true for Bella's high school peers who show up for the beautiful wedding in the woods. Happily, the character of Jane who is a member of the Volturi, played by Dakota Fanning, doesn’t make appearance in this entry. Sadly, she will be back in the finale. The action unfolds with an angry and obviously jealous Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner of "Abduction") charging off into the wilderness to change into a werewolf when he receives his wedding invitation. Remember, the werewolves here look like overgrown wolves, not the genuinely ghastly creatures in the "Underworld" franchise. Meanwhile, Bella struggles to maintain her equilibrium in high heels as Alice (Ashley Greene of "Skateland") chides her about getting enough beauty sleep. No sooner have they wed than our couple caper off to Brazil and then Edward takes Bella for a boat ride to a gorgeous private island paradise that Dr. Carlisle Cullen has given to them as a wedding present. Talk about wish fulfillment! Edward's fangs are so pointy by this time that he literally tears the bed apart on their wedding night. Afterward, they play several games of chess until Bella gets the hang of it and defeats him. Meantime, Edward isn't proud of himself. Bella bears the bruises of his love tussling,but she isn't complaining. While Edward is away on the mainland assuaging his appetite for animal blood, our heroine finds it difficult to keep down her own. Oh, no, not morning sickness! This improbable turn of events surprises even Edward. Bella gets sick, and Edward flies her back to Forks so Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli of "Can't Hardly Wait") can examine her. At the same time, Bella’s father Sheriff Charlie Swan (Billy Burke of “Drive Angry”) is worried about her, too. As it turns out, Carlisle has no solution, and the fetus is growing at such an alarming pace that it drains the life out of Bella.

Clocking in at 117 minutes, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One" spends the first hour getting the action underway with the wedding and then the comic honeymoon antics before Condon and Rosenberg take things to the dark side. The special effects that shrink poor Bella until she resembles a Nazi death camp inmate are truly groundbreaking. Nothing about the way that she deteriorates looks spurious. Since the "Twilight" saga is rated PG-13, the honeymoon and the battle with the werewolves isn't as horrific as it might have been in an R-rated opus. The werewolves look a little more believable, and they even get to drool saliva. Keep in mind, the "Twilight" franchise is a romantic fantasy so gravity rarely interferes with these shenanigans. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart still qualify as a sympathetic Romeo and Juliet couple, but the real surprise of "Breaking Dawn" is Taylor Lautner who brings more gravitas to his role than in previous "Twilights" or the abysmal "Abduction" that he starred in earlier this year. Of course, Jacob came to Bella's aid in "Eclipse" when he wasn't competing with Edward for her affection. Jacob's character assumes greater significance in "Breaking Dawn." The fourth entry in the "Twilight" franchise packs a wallop, particularly near the end. True "Twilight" fans shouldn't bolt when the end credits roll because more comes after the end credits with the evil Volturi savoring the final moments.