From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars. To read my new feature on “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, click here.
In its waning moments, “The Twilight Saga” finally generates some genuinely surprising and memorable cinematic sequences that improve on Stephenie Meyer’s supernaturally popular book series.
With a twist that will likely take aback even “Twihard” fans who have read the saga countless times, the fifth and final film, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” emerges as the funniest, most exciting and most complete of the blockbuster franchise.
Despite its financial success — the first four “Twilight” films grossed $1 billion at the domestic box office and $2.5 billion worldwide — the series has produced few indelible movie moments despite Meyer’s intriguing variations on well-established vampire and werewolf mythologies. The movies have been tough to make cinematically interesting because the best part about the drawn-out vampire romance saga is the authentic way Meyer relates, in first person, the conflicted thoughts and emotions of her teenage protagonist, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).
While the focus remains on making a faithful adaptation that will please “Twihard” fans, director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg cannily amp up the lackluster ending Meyer penned for the saga. (A producer on “Breaking Dawn” — both halves of the two-film finale were shot over six months in 2010-11 — the author approved to the movie’s twist.)
Last year’s “Breaking Dawn — Part 1” ended with Bella opening her blood-red eyes after her long-awaited life-saving transformation into a vampire. The last movie starts in the next moment, as she adjusts to her supernaturally heightened senses.
Bella’s already-immortal husband, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), takes her on her first vampire hunt, and she impresses him with her self-control as she passes up a mountain climber for a mountain lion, in keeping with the Cullens’ practice of eschewing human blood.
Edward also introduces Bella to their half-human/half-vampire daughter Renesmee (then 10-year-old Mackenzie Foy, whose visage is digitally altered to represent different ages at different times), whose violent birth necessitated her mother’s vampire transformation. Like her father, Renesmee possesses talents beyond the normal vampire scope, including the ability to convey her thoughts with just a touch. Unlike most vampires, though, the girl is growing and developing at an alarming rate, leaving the family fretting that their newest member might be short-lived.
In addition, Bella is shocked to learn that her werewolf pal Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner, who shows off some nice comedic timing) has forged a special bond with her daughter.
Bella doesn’t get much time to adjust to motherhood or revel in her inhuman speed — an effect the filmmakers still haven’t satisfactorily mastered — before the ruling coven the Volturi and its wily leader Aro (Michael Sheen, who again proves the saga’s standout performer) accuse the Cullens of an unpardonable crime.
Aware that the bloodsucking rulers are en route with orders to execute, the Cullens assemble a group of their vampire pals to stand with them against the Volturi. Their allies include fellow human-friendly vamps Tanya and Kate (MyAnna Buring and Casey LaBow), nomadic Revolutionary War veteran Garrett (Chickasha-born Lee Pace, who rivals Sheen with his all-in turn), temperamental naysayer Alistair (Joe Anderson), mighty Amazon warriors Zafrina and Senna (Judith Shekoni and Tracey Heggins) and charming but powerful Egyptian Benjamin (Rami Malek), who can control the elements.
As the factions face off in a snowy field outside Bella’s home of Forks, Wash., Condon and Co. deliver a reasonably satisfying conclusion to “The Twilight Saga” that might even get non-fans’ blood pumping. Then, the runtime-padding end credits paying tribute to the franchise expansive cast brings it home for the “Twihards.”