At this point in the life of The Twilight Saga, can we just put aside all our annoyance at Stephenie Meyer's appropriation and warping of vampire lore? If it will help, let us consider her vampires to be some other sort of creature. Henceforth, I shall refer to them as Vampmeyers.
And let me sing a stilted song of praise for vampmeyers, because in Eclipse, at least, they finally make a cinematic sense. Needing to keep the movie franchise at a safe PG-13 for the tweens who devour the novels, the glittery diamond dust that is the skin of these things pays off, as instead of bleeding and exploding horribly like most recent movie vampires, they shatter. And why not? For fans, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) might as well be fine Waterford Crystal, since to the best of my knowledge a fine cut glass cruet cannot act, either, but it's pretty to look at.
Then again, that's the almost clever metatext of the movies. Pattinson might actually be a good actor, but as Edward, he shouldn't be. Nor should Kristen Stewart do much to fill in the lines of the hapless Bella Swan. Both of them serve the purpose of vague archetypes, into which fans project themselves and their golden god crushes. There's no need for Twilight videogames because it's already interactive.
Please don't ask about Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, because I haven't quite figured out yet why he's trying so hard - and for the most part succeeding - to make his manboy werewolf into a real human being. Perhaps it's because the perfect man doesn't need to be real, but that best friend that follows a girl around like a puppy dog does.
Director David Slade (Hard
Candy) gets luckier than previous franchise directors,
as he's coming in on the novel that most develops all the
ancillary characters. By now, Edward and Bella's "will they
or won't they" dance has lasted far past its ability to keep
us in suspense, and though it's still the focus, it now happens
in the midst of vampmeyer intrigue and ultimately, total war.
It's not exactly changing the way things are played, though
Slade flirts with danger by having Bella actually take action
at times instead of only considering taking action. After
all, this is the third film, and the "Saga's" weaknesses
have become too ingrained (and let's face it, fanboys about
to throw fits at Comic-Con) beloved to jettison.
Thus in respect to screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's original loyalty to the novels, Bella still provides flowery but extraneous narrative in a tone that makes Harrison Ford sound like Ed Wynn. The lovers still spend lots of time staring at each other so intently their eyes cross.
And though Summit seems to have kicked in a lot more money for special effects, Slade has still been saddled with cartoonishly huge werewolves and hairstyles. In a clever move, however, he has gained a new actress in an old role, and Bryce Dallas Howard actually has the chops to be more than just a slash of red hair as the psychotic Victoria.
In a subplot that brings real story momentum to the movie, Victoria has moved beyond the same old harry around the town of Forks and then run around. Now she stands in the shadows creating an army of newborn vampmeyers, manipulating them into doing her bidding.
Or is she? The Volturi, led by the extremely creepy Dakota Fanning, are also lurking about and trying hard to maintain plausible deniability and an extremely cool goth look. Who knew there might be wheels within wheels?
Jasper Hale (Jackson Rathbone) might, seeking atonement for crimes he committed during the Civil War. Eclipse provides backstory that successfully fleshes out a few ciphers in the Cullen Clan, as Rosalie (Nikki Reed) also finally opens up about her two movie-long resentment of Bella.
All of it actually serves to further the romance, as the werewolf and the vampmeyer have to find a way to put aside their differences in order to protect Bella, though really, and this is why it works, it's also protecting the whole town. At last the stakes have risen above romantic self-absorption.
Though it does replay much of the character conflict of
New Moon, that, too,
feels real. Young love is messy and complicated, and as
much as we might wish it had been otherwise, repetitive
in an often destructive way.
Slade also moves the imagery away from the blue wash that often made Bella look more undead than the Cullens. After a reasonably thrilling vampmeyer hunt opening, Slade moves to a bright field of flowers. It's a signal that the time for this all to be morose is over. Even Washington occasionally sees the sun.
Still, the movie has moments that get short shrift, such as an obviously truncated subplot about a newborn listed as "Bree." Casting the ethereal looking Jodelle Ferland causes some empathy, but the way Slade lingers on her makes it seem that something important is missing.
Also, Rosenberg's scripting still has a fair share of ridiculous moments, but having just finally given in to watching this franchise (three movies in two days), I can safely say that Eclipse has the least amount of unintentional laugh out loud moments.
Intentionally, we have to credit Slade with being able
to stage giddy action scenes. Again, that strange crystallization
of the vampmeyers allows for him to suggest an awful lot
without actually making things bloody. I've seen action
movies this summer that don't have as clearly delineated
but still exciting fight scenes as Eclipse does.
Slade may not show as much as jaded audiences have come
to expect, but somehow he makes it seem like more.
Through the first two movies, I wore Robert Pattinson Twilight expression #1 of 2, wincing constipation. But Eclipse actually let me lose myself in it from time to time, and gives me a vague dreadful sense of hope that the last two movies will only build on Slade's momentum and rise above mere effective competence. They might actually be something to remember.
Oh, and for the record: Team Jacob all the way.