A little levity, self-awareness, and long-overdue back stories make the latest Twilight installment not only watchable but (dare I say it?) actually enjoyable.
The date is set. Once Bella (Kristen Stewart) graduates, Edward (Robert Pattinson) will turn her into a vampire… if she marries him. Jacob (Taylor Lautner), on the other hand, is determined that if he can convince Bella to admit her feelings for him, he might still have a chance with her. Meanwhile, an army of newborn vampires is amassing in Seattle while vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) is nowhere to be seen. As the Cullen clan tries to determine the next move of their enemies, everyone is left wondering: how long before Jane (Dakota Fanning) and the rest of the Volturi become involved again?
Whether the ‘tweens know it or not, that weird thing happening to their precious Twilight saga is something called “maturity.” Even the first Harry Potter film or two suffered from the younger cast members still finding their acting chops while leaning on the seasoned veterans in the film to make it work, but Twilight has been leaning on its three leads from the start. Fortunately, Robert Pattinson’s Edward is starting to look less smug and more dependable, Taylor Lautner’s Jacob is showing more moves than just forgetting where he left his shirt, and Kristen Stewart’s Bella is actually shaping up to be a responsible adult instead of merely a brooding must-have emo teen.
Some have called this “the best installment so far,” and that’s an agreeable description; in fact, it’s too bad they didn’t start with this one. Not only has the acting stepped up, but the flow of the film and the exposition has grown beyond Ed and Bella silently eyeballing each other. The Cullens have begun revealing more of their individual back stories, giving Bella plenty of counterpoints to argue against her decision to be turned (you can almost hear the vampire Lestat whispering “… the choice I never had.”) This installment also appears to have resolved the long-standing Victoria problem, leaving only the red-eyed and (thus-far) one-note Volturi as enemies.
Not having read the books and only seen the films, the stage is set for a wedding and the end of Bella’s human life. Agreeing with Bella’s father, Charlie (Billy Burke), the most likable Cullen is Alice (Ashley Greene), but the entire Northwestern vampire clan (in spite of hair product, button-down collars and cardigan sweaters) have become tolerable, even to the local tribe of shirtless shapechangers. But like the kids from Harry Potter, will Twilight continue to be this popular once Edward and Bella start settling into their happily-ever-after?
(a three skull recommendation out of four)