The reviews are in for Twilight: Eclipse, which opens today, and critics are declaring it the best film of the series. But that may be faint praise, considering that they generally hated the previous installments.
Plotwise, you know the drill: It's the classic girl/vampire/werewolf love triangle. This time Bella (Kristen Stewart) decides she wants to take her relationship with the sexy vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) to the next level, as in actually having sex, rather than just looking at each other longingly for 124 minutes. But Edward's not into sex before marriage, because this series is aimed at teen girls who mustn't be corrupted by illicit inter-species boning. Also complicating matters: Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a similarly sexy werewolf, who also wants to get in Bella's pants. Bella is being pursued by evil vampires (again), which necessitates hiding out in a tent with her two suitors. Awkward!
Reviewers say thanks to director David Slade, the film "neatly balances the teenage operatic passions from Stephenie Meyer's novels with the movies' supernatural trappings." Stewart and Pattinson are "allowed a wider range of emotions than we've seen before" in Eclipse, but Lautner and his infamous disdain for shirts steal the show — which is a problem, since (spoiler alert) she's going to pick the SparkleVamp.
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The good news is that all that tension helps "Eclipse" eclipse its predecessors. There is a new tenderness and sweetness that Stewart brings to her relationships - more playful with Pattinson, more affectionate with Burke (especially when Charlie tries to have "the sex talk"), and more intense with Lautner. Bella doesn't want to let down anyone, and Stewart makes sure she doesn't. But it's Lautner, in particular, who has grown, giving Jacob an emotional interior nearly as hard-packed as those abs, which are very much on display.
"Face it," Jacob deadpans, looking right at his wan, shirt-wearing rival for Bella's affections, "I'm much hotter than you." And judging from the noise and temperature in the theater where I saw "Eclipse," a lot of "Twilight" fans (including the 14-year-old girl I took with me as an expert witness) agree. Maybe I was in a Team Jacob stronghold, or maybe the whole goth-emo-bloodsucker craze is starting to wane, but the producers of the "Twilight" movies may face a bit of a dilemma in the next two chapters if audience sentiment turns against the eternal love of Edward and Bella in favor of the slightly more conventional mammalian match between Bella and Jacob.
Those who mock (or praise) the pro-abstinence message of "The Twilight Saga" tend to miss the way the movies in particular embrace the sensuous pleasure of sublimation with the kind of fervor you usually find only in old Hollywood or present-day Bollywood entertainments. The consummation of Edward and Bella's love - which will come after their marriage, at Edward's insistence and in spite of Bella's plea for earlier action - is likely to be a big disappointment. Maybe not for them, but I suspect for whatever Team Edward diehards are still around by then.
Most important, Bella and Edward are allowed a wider range of emotions than we've seen before; as a result, Stewart and Pattinson finally appear fully comfortable in their roles (though Lautner once again proves the standout, working hard to make Bella's decision a difficult one).
The movie contains violence and death, but not really very much. For most of its languorous running time, it listens to conversations between Bella and Edward, Bella and Jacob, Edward and Jacob, and Edward and Bella and Jacob. This would play better if any of them were clever conversationalists, but their ideas are limited to simplistic renderings of their desires. To be sure, there is a valedictory address, reminding us that these kids have skipped school for three movies now. And Edward has a noble speech in which he tells Bella he doesn't want to have sex with her until after they're married. This is self-denial indeed for a 109-year-old vampire, who adds a piquant flavor to the category "confirmed bachelor."
This is definitely the most romantic of the films, although some of these scenes are set in flower-filled meadows that bring to mind feminine-hygiene commercials. The action sequences are harder-edged, and occasionally exciting, especially the scenes of vamps who sprint and run in mid-air, as if in flight. But it's still hard to see what all the fuss over ordinary Bella is about. And that inexplicable fuss is at the core of a love triangle introduced in the second film and drawn out in this one.
In the meantime, Bella's horniness seems distressingly neutralized by her pending wedding to Edward. He valiantly withholds his mind-blowing vampire sex until they're married. (The allegory is compelling, but, morally speaking, remains comically cruel.) Bella just wants to set a date, nonetheless, despite her feelings for the other guy. As Plan B, Lautner has come from behind as more than watchable. Yes, he has the body of bachelorette-party entertainment and a face Chester Gould might have drawn. But he's the one person here who seems to mean it when he says his heart aches. Stewart still wears an expectant snarl that says, "I wanna know what love is,'' but increasingly she and Bella feel marginal to the proceedings. Her own speech about who she is and what she wants isn't convincing. Hasn't Bella always known this? Hasn't Jennifer Love Hewitt given the same talk in her Neutrogena ads?
It took three films, but "The Twilight Saga" finally nails just the right tone in "Eclipse," a film that neatly balances the teenage operatic passions from Stephenie Meyer's novels with the movies' supernatural trappings.
Where the first film leaned heavily on camp and the second faltered through caution and slickness, "Eclipse" moves confidently into the heart of the matter — a love triangle that causes a young woman to realize choices lead to consequences that cannot be reversed.
Eclipse is being presold as the best Twilight movie so far. Faint praise, indeed. And also misleading. The first Twilight movie, released in 2008, is still the most bearable because director Catherine Hardwicke dove into the adolescent angst of Stephenie Meyer's novel without an ounce of condescension. Last year's The Twilight Saga: New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), took the camp approach. And Eclipse, directed by David Slade who covered vamp territory before in 2007's 30 Days of Night, commendably tries to move things along when the romantically overheated script allows, which isn't bloody often.
Regardless of whom you're pulling for, this third film installment maintains a sturdier, faster pace than its predecessors while still rewarding its teenybopper disciples with swoony Tiger Beat–worthy moments: Look at Edward, being so sensitive and chaste! Watch Jacob, carrying Bella up a mountainside while shirtless! To say that this is the strongest of the Twilight films, however, is to pay Eclipse wispy praise; viewers who value the little things, such as passable acting and dialogue not stolen from a sixth-grader's diary, will once again walk away dazed, dumbfounded and partially deaf from all the surrounding squealing. Director David Slade (30 Days of Night) knows his way around an action-horror sequence-dig those bad guys crumbling like plaster statues-yet is at a loss when it comes to the human elements and the achy-breaky heartstring-tugging.