Twihard With a Vengenace
(warning: this review may contain spoilers of some sort for either New Moon or Eclipse. If you haven’t seen this film and are interested in doing so, skip this review. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to, congratulations.)
If one was to sum up the reaction for non fans of the Twilight series when a film adaptation for the third novel Eclipse was announced, it would likely be one of those Jean Luc-Picard face palms. Not only had the first two Twilight films, Twilight and New Moon, ranged from bad to holy crap this is bad quality, but historically the third film of a series has been the worst. And yet somehow, someway, the Twilight series would be able to avoid this pitfall with Eclipse. No, the film still isn’t anywhere close to being good, but compared to its predecessors, Eclipse is the most complete and bearable film the Twilight series can offer. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of Twilight; if the Empire Strikes Back featured a shirtless Luke, a tool of a Princess Leia, and Darth Vader sparkling in space.
Picking up where the awful New Moon left off, Eclipse sees human/vampire couple Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattison) back together again, albeit not without issues; Bella wants to be a vampire (because…because!) and Edward wants her to marry him before he agrees to that. Also still hovering around is Jacob (Taylor Lautner), Bella’s werewolf friend who she claims to not have feelings for despite clearly having feelings for him. Conflict everywhere! The romantic triangle must be pushed aside however, as former foe Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) is found to be building an army of newborn vampires to lead against the Cullen’s in revenge for the death of her beloved James (the villain from Twilight). Thus, an uneasy alliance is formed between the Cullen’s and the werewolves in order to protect Bella and defeat Victoria’s army; all while members of the Voltari (the vampire cult from New Moon) watches from afar.
Once again, Summit Entertainment put someone new in the director’s chair after New Moon director, replacing Chris Weitz (too busy running as far away as he could from the franchise/editing New Moon to return) with Hard Candy director David Slade. Unlike Weitz and Catherine Hardwicke before him, Slade actually put it a great deal of effort in the production, particularly with the supporting characters. Mostly kept to the background in Twilight and New Moon, the audience is finally allowed to learn a little bit about the supporting players, particularly the Cullen’s and Charlie Swan (Billy Burke) (though to be fair, Bryce Dallas Howard and Dakota Fanning are both shortchanged once more in villain roles). And what we learn is pretty good; the back stories to characters like Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) are interesting and in Rosalie’s case tragic; I would’ve much preferred watching a film about these characters than Edward and Bella. Charlie meanwhile is allowed to finally just be seen, and his easy go nature and clear dislike for Bella’s closeness with Edward makes him easy for rationale movie goers to enjoy. I wonder if Stephanie Meyer insisted to Summit and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (somehow roped in for another one of these films) that Charlie be kept in a smaller role during the earlier films for that reason.
The other thing Slade does for Eclipse is give it some much needed bite. No doubt that the biggest issues (besides the effects, which Slade was unable to improve at all) with both Twilight and New Moon were the fact that nothing ever seemed to happen within the confines of the story; there was little action and even less tension, unless you count the hilarious amount of sexual tension Bella has. With Eclipse though, the story at least is building to a conflict at the end between the Cullen’s/werewolves and Victoria’s clan, and the battle at the end doesn’t disappoint. It won’t erase the fact that the vampires and werewolves in this universe are still disgraces to their respective mythos, but they are at least allowed to be badass for a couple of minutes. Although it would’ve been nice to see a little bit of bloodshed; I haven’t seen this many bloodless decapitations in a final battle scene since The Chronicles of Narnia. I expect more from the guy who did 30 Days of Night.
Despite the strengths Eclipse contains, in the end though it’s still a Twilight film, and the focus is still mostly on the worst couple in film history. No longer needed to be exiled in Italy like in New Moon, Robert Pattison is unfortunately back center stage, brooding and staring his way through another awful performance. For a character that’s supposed to be the object of all female’s desires, Edward comes across more as a passive aggressive, stuck up asshole than anything else. Kristen Stewart continues to look bored and sick as Bella, almost as if she’s waiting for Snow White and the Huntsmen to start up production. Like New Moon, she seems to have far more romantic chemistry with pretty much everyone in this movie except Pattison, and her kiss with Lautner atop a snow mountain, while hilariously contrived, contains the most heat you’re to find in all these films. Speaking of the shirtless wonder, he once again is the best out of these three, although that’s largely because the character is far too sympathetic to be done poorly. It’s interesting to note though that the film does at times try to make Jacob a bit of a jerk, perhaps to make Edward seem better by comparison. Needless to say that fails miserably.
If there’s any winner that comes out of Eclipse, it has to be the director. Dealing with the same deficiencies that the previous directors of the franchise faced, David Slade was able to at least work around or in some ways overcome them in order to create a film that at least wasn’t a colossal train wreck. That he isn’t able to overcome them all in the end isn’t his fault but the fault of Meyer for a poor source material and Rosenberg for another script filled with unintentionally hilarious dialog. In the end, one has to wonder if maybe Eclipse would’ve been off as a complete embarrassment in some regards, instead of Slade showing that some of the lesser elements of the story were more impressive than the main one. It ultimately doesn’t matter; Eclipse turns out to be the shiniest shit out of the Twilight films, and maybe a glimpse at a really talented filmmaker who just needs some better material to show what he can do.