Who would have thought that it would be the director of films like Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night who would actually breathe some life into the stunningly bland and lifeless Twilight series?
It doesn't hurt, of course, that Eclipse ups the action and pacing enough that the monotone emotions expressed through countless variations of "I love you," "I love you more," "I can give you more," "You love me," "You love him, but you love me," "I want you," "I want you, too" and other melodramatic, faux expressions of forever devotion actually start to give way to occasional expressions of genuine thoughts, feelings and, GASP!, actual humor.
It's the occasional bits of self-referential humor, even moreso than the film's upped action, that help to breathe life into characters who became one-note caricatures in the second Twilight. Slade, who is unfortunately not attached to the final two films in the series, manages to give the story and its characters just the right touch of self awareness that helps to make the entire affair infinitely more palatable for those of us who aren't devotees of the series without losing the melodramatic romanticism that has helped the series become such a huge success.
Oh sure, the film still essentially centers around the monotone love triangle of Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Yet, everyone here seems more energized and alive and, in turn, more interesting.
For those few of you who don't actually know the storyline of this third flick in the series, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) shows up back on the scene with her crew of newborn vampires, who are said to be more powerful and energetic than older vampires because they've not yet adjusted to their newly acquired blood lust, and she's swearing revenge on the Cullen clan with a primary objective of eliminating Bella. To protect her, Edward and Jacob along with the wolves and vampires must work together.
Can they do it?
But, of course. In such melodrama, it goes without saying that one will do anything for love (Is anyone else hearing a Meatloaf song about now?). So, then, the sworn enemies in the town of Forks unite to fend off the newborns, protect Bella and preserve peace before the Volturi show up to clean up the mess themselves.
Of course, they will show up on the scene anyway since Dakota Fanning is way too big of a star to completely leave out of an entire film.
If you're actually expecting anything else to really happen in Twilight: Eclipse, then you've obviously stumbled into the wrong film. The romance in the film is played out in slow motion, the drippingly sentimental lines delivered with all the conviction of a high school production of Romeo and Juliet and scenes don't so much resolve themselves as simply spiral themselves downward along the lines of the sand winding its way down an hourglass.
Yet, it's hard to trash a film that, love it or hate it, actually comes at least moderately close to accomplishing what it sets out to do. Is it trying to do much? Nope. It's simply trying to be a reasonable facsimile of the book upon which it is based and, for the first time in the series, it comes pretty darn close with the exception of yet another abysmal performance from the terminally chiseled Taylor Lautner.
To his credit, it does appear that Lautner comes reasonably close to expressing an emotion in Eclipse beyond "pout" and "ultra pout." Here, Lautner actually smiles in a way that doesn't appear to be an evil smirk and, on occasion, actually appears to care about something, or someone, other than himself. To be fair to Lautner, as well, he is undoubtedly saddled with the film's most embarrassingly melodramatic lines that would be difficult for even the best actor to deliver with conviction.
Kristen Stewart gives a rejuvenated performance here, pulling out of the sullen, undead performance from Twilight: New Moon and gets back to being the Kristen Stewart that virtually every goth poser knows and loves. Stewart can act, but too often the Twilight films have sabotaged her in the same way the Star Wars films reduced Natalie Portman to a robotic drone. Here, however, Stewart is loosened up, energized and actually creates a believable character with touches of charm and moments of relaxed humor. While it's still difficult to fathom such a love triangle surrounding such a morose young woman, in Eclipse Stewart at least starts to justify such devotion.
Then, there's Robert Pattinson...or, as I like to call him, Robert Smith. While Pattinson continues to be enveloped by Cure-like make-up and laughably bad make-up, here Pattinson begins to show glimpses of a soul that he swears does not exist. His performance here feels much like his performance in Remember Me, a film where Pattinson began to shine in scenes with young Ruby Jerins when he could relax and simply be richly human. While being "human" isn't part of the deal here, Pattinson adds some depth to Edward that is refreshing and believable at times.
Among the film's supporting performances, Billy Burke picks up some steam as Charlie Swan, Anna Kendrick sparkles as Jessica and Jackson Rathbone has some really nice revelatory scenes as Jasper Hale. On the flip side, Dakota Fanning comes off as a female sibling to the Lost Boys and Bryce Dallas Howard plays a few notes too many as the histrionic Victoria.
The special effects in Twilight: Eclipse are impressive, most notably the wolves are beautiful to behold and avoid the cartoonish quality that occasionally victimized the last film. Paul D. Austerberry's production design remains consistent from the previous two films, and Howard Shore's original score continues to complement the film nicely.
While one could easily fault Melissa Rosenberg's script, the reality is her writing has always been one of the strengths of the series as she nicely adapts Meyer's story and tone for the big screen. Rosenberg's fortunate that this time around she has a director who seems to be equally in touch with the script's tone and together they sell the story much more completely.
Had David Slade managed to coax a stronger performance from Taylor Lautner, Twilight: Eclipse would have undoubtedly received a solid recommendation. However, even with Lautner being at the rear of the pack (Sorry, couldn't resist!) Twilight: Eclipse is easily the best of the three films and hold great promise that the final two films (the final book is being divided into two films) will manage to eclipse their predecessors.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic