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The Twilight Saga: New Moon Review [2]

November 22, 2009 | Posted by Trevor Snyder
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The Twilight Saga: New Moon Review [2]  

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (2009)

 

Directed by: Chris Weitz
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg
Based on the book by: Stephenie Meyer
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Michael Sheen
Rated PG-13 for some violence and action (allegedly).

In a way, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is a very comforting film. For almost all of my life I’ve been taught that werewolves and vampires are dangerous creatures to be feared. Now, thanks to author Stephenie Meyer, I know that not to be true. Turns out both werewolves and vampires alike are far too busy whining, brooding, and posing in slow motion to ever pose any kind of serious threat if encountered.

This brooding nature of theirs also helps explain why both sparkly-vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison) and newly-emerged werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) would fall for a girl like Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a character completely defined by her antisocial awkwardness and sullen demeanor. New Moon picks up a few months after the first Twilight tale, and the relationship between Edward and Bella is still going hot and heavy – if by “hot and heavy” you mean he barely looks at her while speaking and she does nothing but constantly nag him to turn her into a vampire. Her reasoning is understandable, somewhat – she pictures a future where she is a withered old woman and he is still a handsome young man. Although Edward assures her this wouldn’t bother him, she (perhaps rightfully) still finds the whole thing a little gross.

Bella’s argument for why she would be better off as a vampire seems to gain some traction when a birthday party thrown in her honor at the Cullen’s home turns disastrous after she accidentally cuts her finger. This throws Edward’s younger “brother” Jasper into an uncontrollable bloodlust. At this point you can’t help but wonder if this means she is never allowed to visit during that certain time of the month – but of course this play-it-safe series isn’t going anywhere near that question.

Still not wanting to give in to Bella’s “vamp me, please” demands, Edward instead decides the only way he can truly protect her is to pack up with his family and leave, telling her she will never see him again. He does this despite both of them knowing that the evil vampire Victoria (Rachel Lefevre) is still out there looking for revenge for the Cullen’s murder of her mate, James. It apparently never even occurs to Edward that Victoria might come for Bella in his absence (which, of course, she does), so you really do kinda wonder about his qualifications as a decent boyfriend.

Edward’s disappearance leaves Bella in a funk, which is kind of the understatement of the year. In the montage that follows, Bella spends the next few months either simply sitting in a chair staring out the window or curling up in bed and screaming, as if going through heroin withdrawal. I think a lot of guys would like to believe this is what girls do after they break up with them, but I don’t know – the whole thing looks pretty silly here. Anyway, Bella eventually discovers that she can catch ghostly glimpses of Edward if she just does life-threateningly dangerous acts (because he made her promise not to, you see), and so she becomes an “adrenalin junkie,” throwing herself into one mind-numbingly stupid activity after another.

Things start to look up a little for Bella, however, when her old friend Jacob comes back on the scene. Although she initially goes to Jacob only for help in fixing some old motorcycles (the better to cheat death with), the two are soon bonding more than ever before. Jacob, who has never trusted the Cullens, promises never to leave Bella like Edward did. At this point, most audience members will no doubt notice that Jacob does seem like a much nicer (and certainly more charismatic) guy than Edward, which make Bella’s constant rebuffs just a tad annoying.

But wait! Just when things maybe are starting to develop between the two, Jacob does leave Bella, exactly what he promised not to do. It turns out Jacob has a secret of his own – he’s a werewolf, of course. Although Jacob and his wolf-pack buddies are decent enough fellows (they don’t kill humans, and are actually charged with protecting the area from evil vampires), Jacob is still worried that the slightest mistake or moment of anger might cause him to lash out and hurt Bella. So, to clarify, at this point Bella has not only found out that both guys she likes are supernatural creatures, but they have both told her she’s better off without them. This girl is cruising to a suicidal breakdown, to be sure.

Then again, she might not have to worry about offing herself, since Victoria and fellow vamp Laurent (Edi Gathegi) soon arrive, looking to take care of it themselves. Jacob and crew rush to Bella’s protection, but a still-jealous Jacob has no problem intentionally misleading Edward into believing Bella has indeed perished. This sends a despondent Edward to the Volturi, an ancient sect of vampires located in Italy. Edward hopes the Volturi will grant his wish to be destroyed, as he believes he has nothing to un-live for anymore. When Bella gets wind of this from Edward’s sister Alice (Ashley Greene), she ignores Jacob’s pleas to forget about Edward, and instead rushes to Italy to try to save her former flame.

Quickly glancing over this plot description, I realize some of this sounds like it might actually be somewhat interesting. Let me just clarify – it isn’t. After sitting through all 130 tedious minutes of New Moon, it’s only natural to ask, “What is wrong with this movie? How does a film featuring warring vampires and werewolves end up so lifeless?”

It’s tempting to blame the listless performances, but perhaps a bit unfair. To be sure, none of the film’s leads are going to win any notable acting accolades for their work here (although I’m sure some MTV and Teen Choice Awards are in their future), but the only truly bad performance is from Pattinson, who shows none of the (very) faint charm he had in the first film. This time around, he plays every scene like some sort of morose automaton, his constant pained expression doing nothing to help explain why Bella would find this guy so captivating. Lautner, on the other hand, is likable enough – but it’s doubtful more people will be talking about his dramatic skills than they will his new chiseled six-pack abs.

Then there’s Kristen Stewart as Bella, who might just be one of the most unappealing heroines in pop-culture history. I’ve seen a lot of people blame this on Stewarts jittery, nervous performance (which isn’t that far off from her real-life personality), but I don’t think that’s the case. Stewart’s problem is the character she is playing. Bella is, quite frankly, an unlikable brat. Besides her constant nagging of Edward to turn her (despite his logical arguments against it) and her condescending treatment of Jacob, let us also consider the way she treats her well-meaning father (Billy Burke), constantly ignoring his demands to stay home and out of trouble. Whenever she rushes off to one of her purposeful near-death experiences, I was wondering if she ever once thought about the pain she would cause her father (not to mention her mother and other friends) if she was to be killed. Seemingly, she just doesn’t care – as long as she gets to see that split-second flash of Edward, everyone else can go to hell. Well, let me just say – grow up, Bella.

So, there is the real problem, then. Stewart is simply playing the character the way Meyer wrote it, and that exposes the true problem with these films – the source material itself. Now, I haven’t read New Moon, but I did read Twilight. I know, I know – but, in my defense, I work in a bookstore, and I wanted to see what all the hype was about (and this was before it got really huge). What I found was appallingly awful. Terrible characterization, trite dialogue, and a central relationship that seems to promote abusive relationships (that’s right, mom and dad – these books do suggest that the perfect guy is one who breaks into a girl’s room at night to watch her sleep, and who is seen as “romantic” because he is constantly fighting a strong urge to kill her). I’m not kidding around here; I think it’s legitimately alarming that this series has gotten as big as it has with an audience of impressionable young women (to say nothing of the even creepier middle-aged mom crowd, who have no problem tsk-tsk-ing men who leer at young girls, but can themselves be seen swooning over posters of a shirtless 17-year-old Taylor Lautner).

Now, with New Moon, director Chris Weitz becomes the second director (after Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke) to crumple under the crushing blandness of Stephenie Meyer’s books and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s equally insipid screenplays. Weitz tries hard; I’ll give him that. With a few clever montages and 360-degree shots, he brings a visual flair to the sequel that the first film never captured. But he also falls right into some of the same traps – not all of which are necessarily his doing (the constant hilariously melodramatic dialogue), but some of which probably are (frustrating over-usage of slow-motion, which at times feels like it’s stretching this movie out by about 30 minutes).

Is there anything worth recommending here? Well, yeah, a little. Michael Sheen, not surprisingly, is a lot of fun as Aro, leader of the Volturi – he brings the same kind of zealous overacting flair that he previously showed as head werewolf Lucian in the Underworld films (now we just need Sheen to play Frankenstein’s monster, in order to hit the classic movie monster trifecta). In the same sequence, I also enjoyed the appearance of Dakota Fanning as the evil Jane – not because her character was actually important or anything, but because I found it humorous how she was so blatantly included just so that the audience would go, “oh, look, it’s Dakota Fanning!” Meanwhile, there is one legitimately exciting scene – a nifty battle between Victoria and the werewolves in the forest. This sequence is the only time the movie even comes close to delivering on the potential of the whole werewolves vs. vampires thing, and it’s admittedly pretty cool (no doubt helped, I should say, by being set to Thom Yorke’s excellent contribution to the soundtrack).

Three faint compliments for a two hour and ten minute movie, though, is nothing to get too excited about. The biggest praise I have heard from Twilight apologists about this movie is that it’s “at least better than the first one.” I am here to tell you that it is not. The first film, while equally corny, at least felt like it had some actual forward momentum in its storytelling. New Moon is little more than unlikable characters standing around in the woods, pouting at one another. It has no idea how to bring any excitement to the plate, despite setting scenes in lush Italian castles and featuring werewolves as big as minivans. There are still two more of these films on the way, and unless both Bella and Edward receive emergency charisma transplants, I can’t imagine things getting better anytime soon. Then again, the early box-office numbers on New Moon confirm that it doesn’t really matter what I say. The audience has spoken, and clearly what they want is not a captivating story with memorable personalities, but rather a wish-washy soap opera with monsters so wimpy they’d probably get picked on by emo kids. It’s really pretty sad, if you stop to think about it…although I would suggest you don’t.

The 411: For a film all about werewolves and vampires, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is remarkably bloodless - a largely glum affair sunk by melodramatic posturing, impossible to like characters, and a slow-as-molasses narrative. Maybe young girls and some of their moms will eat this stuff up, but there is almost nothing here to get excited about. This is one of the more disheartening examples of a pop-culture phenomenon in recent memory, to be sure.
Final Score:  4.0   [ Poor ]  legend

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Trevor Snyder
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