And so it ends — better than it started, but still a few brain cells shy of lucid thought. In its favor, Bella is a lot more lively now that she’s dead, which is kind of a neat trick. But since she’s still played by Kristen Stewart, she tends to look vaguely unwell a lot of the time. In fact, everybody seems a little more animated this round — almost as if they’ve finally realized this is all pretty silly and are mildly amused by it. On the one hand, it’s disconcerting that it took them all this time to figure that out. On the other hand, there’s no denying that it makes for a livelier show — and in a movie where nothing much actually happens, that’s a definite plus. And I’m really not exaggerating, because a great deal of the film’s two hours is devoted to just kind of waiting for something to actually happen.
The plot this round — apart from some guff about Bella learning how to not leap upon and slake her thirst on the nearest human — is centered on the half-vampire spawn of Bella and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). This is Renesmee (is that even a name) who grows from infancy to somewhere around 10 in a matter of months — an occurence that seems of not much concern to Bella’s human dad (Billy Burke), which strikes me as rather improbable. As luck — and skillful screenwriting — would have it, she’s out one day playing in the snow and levitating herself to catch snowflakes when Irina (Maggie Grace, Taken 2), some poor relation or other of the Cullens, happens to catch sight of her. Well, sir, Irina assumes the Cullens have turned a child into a vampire — a big no-no in the vampire world of the Volturi — and runs off to snitch to the big cheese Volturi (and king of queenly camp) Aro (Michael Sheen). From here, it’s largely a matter of the good guys marshalling their forces against the impending showdown with Aro and company.
All this leads to what has been described as an “epic battle” pitting a small group of Cullens and those Shetland Pony-sized werewolves against the amassed Volturi. It’s not remarkably different from an earlier showdown in The Twlight Saga: Eclipse (2010) — a lot of incredibly bloodless carnage with vampires whose heads pull off like so many Barbie dolls. I am reliably informed that nothing of the sort happens in the book. Thank goodness Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg decided to expand on the novel — otherwise, this would be a movie where the big action consists of the revelation that Bella can transmit clips from the previous four movies into Edward’s mind. That they had to cheat to do so will be a point of some contention in certain quarters. (One young lady at the show I attended, however, liked it so well, she actually cheered.)
So is it any good? No, not really. It’s just as cheesy and ludicrous as the others — and bringing in good actors like Lee Pace and Joe Anderson in supporting roles didn’t change that. It still offers unintentional laughs. (Really, fast-motion is so ingrained in the cinematic lexicon as a comedic effect that it falls short in drama.) And the special effects are still seriously sub-par. But it should be remembered that this was made for the hardcore fans — people who are already sold on these characters and their soapy saga. When it gets through its protracted ending, it doesn’t outdo Return of the King for not knowing when to quit, but it tries — it settles into a credit sequence with pictures of not only the folks in this film, but the ones from all the earlier ones, too. That’s obviously for the fans — and so is the whole picture. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity.
Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7