I’d like to preface this review with a short note about where I stand on the Twilight franchise as a whole thus far. I haven’t read any of the novels (nor do I intend to), and thought the first three films were generally pretty awful. I’m fully aware that I am not the intended audience for these stories, but I do maintain an interest in seeing what is popular, particularly in the case of this franchise which is nothing short of a global phenomenon. The first two films are almost unbearable, and I never would have made it through them if I hadn’t already promised a friend that I would. The second movie (New Moon) specifically is one of the most painful film watching experiences I think I have ever had. The third film (Eclipse) actually did show many signs of improvement, but unfortunately having sat through the previous films I already absolutely hated every single character, so, regardless of how much better Eclipse is, it’s still simply terrible. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to see Breaking Dawn in the cinema, on opening day no less. Here we go…
One of the most impressive things I have seen in the cinema this year was the final chapter in the Harry Potter series, not necessarily because of the quality of the film, but rather how Warner Bros. managed to maintain the quality of the franchise over ten years and eight films. Seeing the end to a cinematic phenomenon, one which we are unlikely to see the likes of again for quite some time, is bittersweet, but The Deathly Hallows, part two managed to tie everything together in a satisfying, if not ultimately surprising manner. While maybe the film didn’t need to be split into two, it’s hard to imagine that many fans of the series would be disappointed in how the conclusion turned out. Now that Harry Potter has ended, the next huge franchise soon to end is the Twilight saga, and, like Potter, in the interest of selling twice the number of tickets the finale Breaking Dawn has been split into two films. I can understand why Harry Potter is such a beloved franchise. We are given a compelling, easily relatable hero who bravely stands his ground against everything awful that is thrown at him, while also dealing with the realities of growing up and facing responsibility. Surrounded by the fantastical world of wizards, potions and dragons, there is something so real about Harry that grounds the story for us. Twilight on the other hand is a complete mystery. I honestly cannot understand the popularity of these books and films, and if I had children of my own I probably wouldn’t allow them to watch this series. It’s upsetting that this has become the standard of young adult fiction, and how anyone, regardless of age, could find this nonsense even slightly romantic is baffling. That said, Breaking Dawn, part one is an absolutely fascinating film, filled with more bizarre moments than the previous three films combined, and it’s almost worth seeing just to bask in the sheer lunacy of it all. Almost.
Following an opening scene which allows Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to take his shirt off, Breaking Dawn begins with the lead-up to the moment everyone has been waiting for: the marriage of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson). Predictably the scene is pure wedding porn, dragged out to a ridiculous length, but interestingly highlights the biggest problem with the Twilight saga right from the outset: Bella and Edward are a terrible couple. Bella seems so disconnected from Edward, even scared of him. They’re supposed to be this perfect couple, but their relationship is so weird and distant that it just never seems right. Only when Jacob appears at the wedding does Bella seem to come to life, suggesting that she probably should have been with him all along. But no, she and Edward are married and set off for their honeymoon on the Cullen family’s private island (after an inexplicable stopover in Rio de Janeiro). So far, so humdrum, but luckily it’s at this point that Breaking Dawn really goes off the deep end. Given free rein following the success of the earlier books, it seems that author Stephenie Meyer had no-one around to question the decisions she makes regarding this story, all of which are completely insane.
First, the love scene. It has been established that vampire/human sex is potentially dangerous, and that Bella’s life is in danger if she and Edward wish to consummate their marriage. So, what Meyer expects to be a touching, romantic moment between young lovers becomes a sick, voyeuristic ordeal that leaves Bella bruised, and the bedroom in ruins. Thankfully, in the interests of salvaging the film’s PG-13 rating, the scene is brief. Much has been made of Twilight‘s theme of abstinence, but is Meyer really that terrified of intercourse that, even after the wedding, sex is still so closely aligned with physical abuse? Next, Bella instantly becomes pregnant with a half human, half vampire demon child which grows at such a rate that it begins to consume its mother from the inside. There’s some mention of abortion made which is more or less forgotten right away, bringing up another problem with this series: Meyer isn’t able to effectively convey what her themes are at all. There are so many random moments where some message seems to be coming through, but before it can be explored it’s forgotten, or more likely replaced by another obscure metaphor which doesn’t make ay sense. Maybe it’s because I’m not in the targeted teenage girl demographic, but it seemed that for at least half of this film I was left scratching my head.
As unpleasant as Bella and Edward’s married life appears to be, nothing can really prepare you for the birth of their child. Having had this portion of the book described to me, this was my greatest motivation for seeing Breaking Dawn, and it doesn’t disappoint. What exactly was in Meyer’s head when she decided that her heroine should drink human blood from a fast food cup (“It tastes good” she says. Shudder) is something we perhaps shouldn’t ever know, but it’s just the beginning. After the baby (soon to be named……. sigh……. Renesmee) graphically snaps Bella’s spine with a swift, in utero kick, we’re treated to the most ghastly and bloody scene imaginable. Edward proceeds to tear the baby from the womb with his teeth, covering himself with viscera from his dying wife, and even closing your eyes cannot protect you from the vomit-inducing sound effects. Just as the romance of the honeymoon was completely overshadowed by the threat of spousal abuse, the wonder of childbirth is completely lost in a truly upsetting sequence that has no place in a film intended for young girls. If you can make it through the birth however, what happens next between Jacob and the nightmarish CG Renesmee is all the reward you could ask for, and seeing it is worth the price of admission.
So where does the story of Bella, Edward and Jacob go from here. I have absolutely no idea. You would assume, being that this is Breaking Dawn, part one, that some set-up of part two would occur. You would be wrong. Everything is more or less neatly tied up at the end. The Deathly Hallows‘s two parts told one large story, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go in this story that requires another full length feature, or at least not Breaking Dawn, part two. The wedding is done, the baby is born, the vampires and werewolves have some semblance of peace again, so what could possibly come next. I can’t begin to guess, but if it’s anywhere near as demented as Breaking Dawn, part one, I’ll be there on opening day.