Beauty and the Beasts
By now, most Twilight fans have made up their minds about New Moon. They're certainly a passionate lot, defending their prized property to the death. Not one to lob claims of bunkum sight unseen, I gave New Moon, this self-declared saga's latest addition, a fair shot. Although it's a step up from the last movie, this is praise as faint as its heroine's good sense.
Our story begins on the 18th birthday of high school senior Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). As you may recall, Bella previously went gaga for Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the resident brooding hunk and full-time vampire. The two remain committed to one another, though a skirmish with his bloodsucking brood forces Edward to skip town to protect his beloved. Without her chisled beau around, Bella snaps into daredevil mode and develops a taste for danger to occupy her mind. She also starts nuzzling up to Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), an old friend with a beastly side of his own (let's just say you wouldn't like him when he's angry). Bella's infatuation slowly turns into a budding romance, though it's one that becomes tested when Edward prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The best and worst of what sequels have to offer can be found in New Moon. Now that the initial shock of seeing the emasculation of vampires as we know them has passed, it's easier to see what fans enjoy about the series on clearer terms. The mood seems a bit lighter, which is a relief, and though it amounts to a couple of corny one-liners, there's some humor to be found. But New Moon depends almost entirely on a romantic foundation that, for me, is virtually nonexistent. Even after two movies, I still don't buy Bella and Edward's love, and no amount of wailing tantrums or dead-eyed gazes will change that.
Plain and simple, New Moon emerges as Twilight warmed over, and the taste is no less reminiscent of cheese. There's plenty of the same stilted drama that wouldn't fly on daytime TV, lousy special effects, and even another wrestling match of the damned during the climax. The story does add a grand vampire council (led by a graciously hokey Michael Sheen), and director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) conjures an appealing visual scheme, but the real wild card is Jacob. Lautner's performance appears iffy, but the character is drawn well enough to come dangerously close to earning the viewer's interest. I can't say the same for Bella (every bit as dense as she was in the first film) or Edward (stuck in a state of perpetual posing). The writing really isn't up to par, though the actors share some responsibility for never being more than cover models with a coat of pixie dust.
Following New Moon's midnight show, I chatted with a few fans who had to raise their eyebrows at some of its content. I applaud them, for they're perfectly aware of how hilarious these flicks have become. It's high time their creators owned up too, but with New Moon and its attempts to peddle Shakespearean symbolism, a place in horror royalty will probably continue to elude the Twilight empire's grasp.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Summit Entertainment and rated "PG-13" for some violence and action.)