It’s hard to guarantee a hit these days, so when a studio gets one, it wants to make sure that it ekes out every last nickel and dime it can. To split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts was justifiable; the source novel was over 600 pages long. To split The Hobbit into two, at just over 300 pages, is harder to justify, though perhaps with supplementary material from Tolkien’s appendices to The Lord of the Rings, Unfinished Tales, and so forth, the book can be expanded to two films. Whether the post production decision to carve a third film from the footage, The Desolation of Smaug, was an inspired creative move or greed worthy of a dragon will not be apparent for another two years. Certainly, at 756 pages, Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn has the word count to support two films, and the box office takings warrant the investment, but is there sufficient story within that text?
The main criticism of Breaking Dawn part 1, released late in 2011, was that it was largely a preamble to Bella’s death as she gave birth to her half human/half vampire daughter Renesmee and her subsequent awakening as a vampire, the majority of the film being concerned with wedding makeovers, honeymoons and other such dramatic minutiae. The fans of the series argued that the meat of the novel would feature in the second part, now released, and certainly it is an improvement, with the final half hour a satisfying and surprising confrontation between the Cullen clan and their allies and the forces of the vampire lords, the Volturi. Unfortunately, this is tagged at end of ninety tedious minutes that could easily have been folded into a brief few scenes.
The opening titles are dramatic, scenes of epic scenery and the power of nature and the wild animals that inhabit the untamed lands, boldly filmed and tinted blood red, before giving way to a musical interlude as Bella and Edward snuggle, he mumbling the words “We’re both the same temperature now,” presumably meaning they are both fairly cold, before she sprints across a forest, hair artfully windblown behind her as she considers whether for lunch she will slaughter a rock climber or Bambi, though in deference to the rating of the film, she opts for a flying mountain lion, itself a predator and so presumably a more equal opponent.
Renesmee itself is a creepy computer generated homunculus in the charge of wereteen Jacob, who despite sustained abuse from Bella, the Cullens and his own tribe, has resolutely stood by her, and even now strives to protect the child from the hungers of its mother; Bella, a selfish cow in life and now a super powered selfish ubercow responds to this by attacking the one person who has shown her unswerving devotion. A particular point of ire is Jacob’s nickname for her progeny, Nessie – “You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?” Leaving aside the unlikelihood that Bella would even be aware of that strictly local mythology, having saddled her hellspawn with the name Renesmee, she is hardly in a position to comment.
There are moments of possibly unintended hilarity; to give the newlyweds their privacy, Edward and Bella are shown to a fully furnished luxury cabin, the remains of the previous owners presumably being buried in the deeper woods; Bella comments on the size of the closet, for a moment inspiring the hope that one of the characters might choose to come out of it; considering director Bill Condon’s resume, the hope is not unfounded.
Fortunately, Condon does pay back the expectation in the film’s best scene, the only overt expression of an undertone that many have observed in the films, when Jacob initiates Bella’s father into the dark knowledge that has been concealed from him. Rugged, masculine Charlie Swan, is chopping wood in his lumberjack shirt as Jacob rides up on his motorbike, swaggers over and says there is something he has to show him; as he peels off his jacket and shirt, revealing his toned and tanned body, Charlie is surprised and confused, brushing the sweat through his hair with his strong hands as Jacob unfastens his slacks and drops down, inviting Charlie to watch him as he poses in his loose grey boxers.
Unfortunately, Jacob just wants Charlie to witness his werewolf transformation rather than joining him in alfresco shenanigans; despite director Bill Condon’s teasing, the film is reassuringly heteronormative, and as the Cullen’s gather their forces, including Pushing Daisies’s Piemaker Lee Pace, soon to be seen as Thranduil in The Hobbit and The Crazies’ Joe Anderson, they all conveniently pair off with members of the opposite sex. A strong emphasis is placed on Edward and Bella’s marriage – numerous times throughout the film, as they embrace, the focus is not on them physically, but on their wedding rings, their spiritual bond as blessed by God the abiding message of the film.
Though the introductions of the supporting cast are the primary cause of the padding of the film, an extended globetrotting family meet and greet and establishment of supernatural powers prior to facing the manufactured crisis of the Volturi confrontation, in some ways it is to be commended as other than Michael Sheen, who believes that he is performing as a pantomime villain, perhaps rightly considering his costume, they are better performers more invested in the situation.
Of the leads, once again the secret weapon is Taylor Lautner, his presence and most specifically his smile brightening every scene, and on this outing his role is more central, though perhaps if Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart ever learnt to smile, he would not be so necessary. Their emotion is as artificial as the show houses the characters live in, manufactured and sterile, and every scene is signposted, with little sense of danger or urgency until the final bloodless battle. The only surprise in the film is that vampires – and babies – burn so well.
It must be said that the film is well balanced; it opens with a musical interlude, there is a musical training montage midway through as Bella learns of her powers, and the film closes with a musical montage reflecting the four previous films, and certainly it will satisfy the fans of creator Stephanie Meyer and those who have followed the films, but it emphasises that this was a created franchise, a glorified Mary Sue tale. Contrast this with Buffy Summers, who in seven years suffered and sacrificed and lost loved ones and learnt to be strong despite all that the world did to her. Bella Swan was the girl who whined and pouted until she got what she want, and still wasn’t happy.
Breaking Dawn part 2 is now on general release and in IMAX