Twihards, rejoice! The third installment of your beloved franchise is far superior to the first two.
It seems to have become somewhat mandatory for anyone critiquing a Twilight film to state their familiarity with the franchise upfront, so let me begin that way. I read and enjoyed all of Stephenie Meyer’s novels, but had been fairly disappointed with the prior adaptations (my review of Twilight is here, and my review of New Moon is here). So you can bet that I had extremely low expectations going into the screening of Eclipse. Thankfully, almost (key word) everything that bothered me about the other two films has been amended. The godawful cake makeup, overuse of slo-mo, laughable special effects, and particularly bad acting in Twilight are gone. The odd wrinkliness of Edward (Robert Pattinson) in New Moon? Thankfully fixed — he’s back to looking like he could at least be a contender for the Most Beautiful Boy in the World. The freaky golden eyes still exist on all of the Cullens, but — as in the novels — this time around they fluctuate between being fiery and dark, and they did not distract me nearly as much as they did before.
But the most welcome difference is that there’s simply a lot more action in this installment. When we last left the story, Bella (Kristen Stewart) had grown closer to Jacob (Taylor Lautner) after Edward took off to mope for several months, and then Edward, Bella and Alice (Ashley Greene) had a terse meeting with the Volturi in Italy after promising that Bella would be made a vampire, since she knew all of their secrets. Redheaded baddie Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) was still out for revenge for the murder of her partner James, and at the very close of New Moon, Edward proposed.
At the beginning of Eclipse, Edward is still bugging Bella to marry him — apparently she’s been continuing to avoid giving him an answer since he originally asked. Now her high school graduation is nearing, and her days as a mortal are numbered; the Cullens agreed that someone would “change” Bella shortly after this milestone, because it would be, like, so awful if she was forever 18 while Edward was forever 17. But as the clock ticks toward her friend Jessica’s (Anna Kendrick, who’s not in the film nearly enough) commencement speech, Bella finally seems to be thinking a bit longer and harder about her decision. The majority of the film is dedicated to both this internal conflict, and a conflict of a more action-oriented sort: the inevitable showdown between an army of “newborn” (read: recently changed and crazy-strong) vampires, the Cullens and Jacob’s wolf pack.
Bella’s struggle was handled well. A short visit to see her mom instills a bit of doubt in our perpetually stuttering heroine. A frank conversation with Edward’s sister Rosalie (Nikki Reed) puts a very fine point on what she’d be giving up… and what she won’t be able to live without once she’s no longer human. The graduation sequence shows Bella’s previous confidence about her dedication to an undead life continuing to waver. But it is her deepening relationship with Jacob that really causes her to start thinking twice. And that is exactly what Jacob had been hoping for.
While the dialogue and acting in Eclipse are still lacking, they’re significantly more bearable than they were in Twilight and New Moon. By far the most entertaining character this time around is Jacob. No more Mr. Nice Wolf — he’s cocky, funny, and mad as hell. He wants Edward gone, and realizes that he needs to start taking more drastic measures to make Bella see the light. This leads to a couple of truly great scenes — some touching, some hilarious — but yes, he’s still shirtless in most of them. At least the franchise is no longer taking itself too seriously, because Edward was given a pithy one-liner about this very issue.
As the battle rages on inside of Bella about what to do and Jacob tries more and more desperately to win her over, we also see Edward struggle with the impending consequences of his true love’s choice. One of my favorite parts was the infamous “tent scene,” which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book, but will at least say that during this scene, Jacob and Edward finally have a bit more time to hash it out. No, the dialogue’s not stellar, but the point is still made: Edward isn’t happy Bella wants to give up her life for him but feels there’s nothing more he can do to convince her otherwise, whereas Jacob’s like, “Um, you didn’t try very hard.” This round goes to Team Jacob!
While the love triangle ensues in a mountaintop tent, the newborn vampire army battle commences down on the ground. The wolves and the Cullens make a pact to fight this threat together, and though things get slightly violent, there will not be blood (vampires just shatter like glass, remember). Something’s still off with the wolves’ CGI; I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s like they seem two-dimensional or something. I didn’t really believe they were in the fight. It wasn’t so bad that it affected my enjoyment of the movie, but I will say that all of the cheesiest, groan-inducing scenes (for me) took place during this part of the film. First you had the Cullens looking oh-so-stylin’ as they awaited their enemies. That was just silly. Then there was the whole “undead march out of the water” bit that I had already ripped on when I talked about the movie’s trailer. The wolves weren’t real enough. The lack of Michael Sheen’s Aro made the brief Volturi scenes much less enjoyable than they’d been in New Moon, and Dakota Fanning, reprising her role as Jane, seemed too stiff. While my complaints about the film are few, I don’t exactly think it’s going to inspire anyone who wasn’t already into Twilight to rush out and read the books. But at least any non-Twihards who are dragged to the theater have no reason to be embarrassed to be there this time.
Those who’ve read the novels won’t be surprised with how the film draws to a close, and will most likely agree with me that director David Slade did a fine job setting everything up for the freakfest that is Breaking Dawn. So yep, I’m going to admit it right here and right now: Eclipse resuscitated my enthusiasm for the Twilight franchise, and proved that decent films can be made out of Stephenie Meyer’s beloved source material. I’ll be seeing it again.
If you need a refresher before you see Eclipse, remember that New Moon is currently in redbox kiosks. Click here to reserve a copy.