All right, Twihards. After four books and five movies we have finally reached common ground. I still don't quite "get" what tickles your fancy (and other parts) so about this odiously tedious and regressive vampire romance story, I still think the characters are wooden at best and essentially nonexistent the rest of the time, and all that pale-face vamp makeup still makes me chuckle whenever I see it. But, I must say, the final film in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, is a shockingly enjoyable movie that, if not exactly salvaging the rest of the dreary franchise, sends the Twilight universe off onto its ice floe on a good, silly, upbeat note. Yes, I was thoroughly entertained by Bill Condon's second outing in the Twilight director's chair; mostly, I suspect, because everyone finally, finally loosened up and decided to have some damn fun.
For the people who have just emerged from a decade spent in a cave and are now blinking in bewilderment as they take in this new and terrible world, Twilight is a series of romance of books turned blockbuster film franchise about Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a dowdy mortal girl, and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the literally shimmering vampire hunk she falls in love with after moving to rainy Forks, Washington. But that was many moons, or at least one New Moon, ago and now, at the conclusion of our tale, Bella has been made vampyr. Not because darling Edward couldn't resist himself, but because on their wedding night they conceived what they thought impossible: a vampire/human hybrid baby that killed its mother during birth. Thus the only way to get beloved Bella back was to make her an immortal blood fiend. At the start of BD P2 Bella is first experiencing the joys of her new vampirism — heightened senses, glowing alabaster skin, fiery red eyes — and gets to meet her daughter. It's mostly a happy occasion, except when Bella learns that her onetime suitor Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a teen werewolf, has "imprinted" on baby Renesmee. Meaning, he's hers for life and, uh, sorta the other way around. If that sounds creepy, it is. There's no sexual tension between wolf and baby at the moment, but the idea is that later, when she's all grown up, well, yeah, there will be. So Bella's angry about that, but she gets over it as quickly as any other plot is discarded in this scattershot series, and then it's on to some fun stuff.
The first pleasure of this deeply silly movie is watching Bella test out her new vampire abilities. As a newborn undead, she's extra strong and hungry, and so goes tearing through the woods with Edward, giving the series yet another chance to display this particularly cheap-looking special effect. (It will not be the last in this effects-heavy film.) There's also some arm wrestling with big grinning vampire dope Emmett (Kellan Lutz, beefy as always) and then some vampire lovemaking in the fashionably adorned cottage given to the new family by the Cullen clan. The camera lingers over all the interior details of the new house, so those in the mood for some real estate porn to go with their softest-core sex will be in for a treat. The movie spends its first charming, languid thirty minutes exploring this blissful world, before, as always, darkness sets in.
The swiftly growing Renesmee -- she appears to be about six years old after a matter of only a few weeks or months -- is not an immortal, but she does have some special vampire abilities given to her by her daddy. And, while out playing with her mother and wolfish uncle/future lover, is spotted by another vampire, Irina (Maggie Grace), using some of her supernatural tricks. Irina, a relative of the Cullens from Alaska, immediately assumes that her cousins have done the unthinkable: Turned a child into a vampire. There's then some historical reenactment stuff about immortal children, deadly but with no control over their impulses, wreaking havoc on medieval towns, and it's all actually rather interesting. One starts to wish that the book series' author, Stephenie Meyer, could scrap all this dewy romance stuff and focus on this bloody vampire history in a new series. Or that a more elegant writer would take her notes and go nuts. But, ah well, at least they've put it to good use in this movie, as Irina travels to Italy to report this crime against nature to the Volturi, the heavily makeupped clan of ancient vamps we met all the way back in the second film. The Volturi decide to take a trip to Washington State to get rid of this abomination, and it's then that the movie turns into an only occasionally plodding (which is saying a lot for this series) war of the worlds thriller.
Warned of the Volturi's plan by Alice the prophet vampire (Ashley Greene), the Cullens split up and travel across the globe to seek the help of friendly vampires, and thus we get to meet a whole host of wacky bloodsuckers from all corners of the planet. There are two tribal Amazonian women who mostly glower a lot, an elements-manipulating Egyptian played by the alluring Rami Malek, an American war hero vampire played with cheesy brio by a scruffy Lee Pace, and, best of all, two Romanian vampires (very Dracula-esque, is the stated joke) with accents straight out of a '40s B-movie who are hellbent on revenge against the Volturi. It's a motley crew to be sure, especially when everyone starts experimenting with their X-Men-like powers, but when all assembled in their dopey makeup and various funny voices, they're also a hoot. I'm choosing to assume that Condon and company knew how hokey this all looked while filming it and, perhaps owing to senioritis, decided to do it anyway and have a laugh. Intentional or not, laugh my audience did, at just about every dramatic line and chintzy special effect.
All of this culminates in a big and surprisingly exciting (if sloppily choreographed) battle to end all battles on a snowy field. I'm a sucker for this type of grand, all-in melee — Buffy and the potentials fighting the First, Harry and the Hogwarts gang repelling the Death Eaters — and this here is no exception. I'm also a sucker for a big, hilarious twist right at the end of a movie, and this one delivers a humdinger of a whopper. It's fun, this kitchen sink conclusion to such a staid and dramatically anemic series, and there was a strange twinge of sadness in the air after it was all over, knowing that we could have had five films like this one, instead of four bores only partially rescued by a final, fiesty piece of camp. And, yes, there is also some sadness at a saga reaching its conclusion, complete with flashbacks to when we were all younger and perhaps more innocent, coupled with a romantic indie tune and the gossamer gush of two pretty people pretending at love.
Or, you know, they might not be pretending. Stewart and Pattinson are a real-life couple, as we all should know at this point, and there is, after all these years, some undeniable chemistry between the two. And when not gazing at each other with hunger, these less than gifted actors have at least settled somewhat into their roles, breathing bits of life into performances that have been pretty inert and dead-eyed prior to this film. The rest of the acting ranges from criminally bad — I'm looking in your direction, Mr. Lautner — to droll scenery chewing. Michael Sheen in particular, as the wicked and foppish head of the Volturi, seems to be having a grand old time playing up this goofy material. This is the first time the series has really seemed in on the joke, which, jeez, took 'em long enough. Sure there have been moments in the previous film, but all of BD P2 plays with a wink, one that's affectionally teasing instead of sneering.
I doubt we in the audience learned much of anything from the Twilight movies, but those on the other side of the screen at least seem to have discovered that all this madness doesn't have to be so self-serious. I'm glad they finally figured that out, it's just a shame it came at the very end. Well, the end for us, anyway. Bella and Edward and everyone else, well almost everyone else, can all now saunter off into eternity knowing that they've left the mortal world on a high note. They came, they saw, they fell in love, and at long last, against all odds, they learned to enjoy themselves. So long, dear vampires. And thanks for all the kitsch.