'Breaking Dawn' fails to meet high expectations, lacks character development

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Review

(Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

After three films, there is no middle ground for the “Twilight” franchise — you’re either Team Edward or Team Jacob. The first film was a hilariously awful disaster, and things have been ever-so-slowly improving with each consecutive film, but the “Twilight” franchise remains saddled by its overwrought source material and weak principal actors.

While “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” is full of potential for campy ridiculousness, the decision to split the film in two makes for a slog of a film that’s a distinct step down from the very nearly passable “Eclipse.”

Picking up where “Eclipse” left off, “Breaking Dawn” starts with the elaborate wedding of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), and quickly moves into their honeymoon. After an extremely carefully shot sex scene (after all, a little side-boob could forever scar the malleable young minds who are busy swooning over a 108-year-old soulless monster), Bella finds herself pregnant with a creature of indeterminate origin.

Easily the greatest weakness of the “Twilight” series is its main characters and the unfortunate souls tasked with portraying them. Kristen Stewart has done her best to inhabit Bella Swan, a character that’s essentially a blank slate (and has done good work in other films), but the film’s attempt to have her play seductive — or, really, anything but angsty, — fail miserably.

The two romantic leads haven’t fared any better as the series has developed. Pattinson has always been “Twilight’”s weakest link and here, he’s characteristically stiff and mopey to a fault, bringing little personality or charm to a cardboard cut-out character. Meanwhile Taylor Lautner, probably the best of the main three, brings a tiny bit of likability to the similarly starchy role of Jacob, but still crumbles under the weight of his character’s dramatic arc.

Splitting a book that would have been insipid but entertaining in one breakneck rollercoaster ride of a film into two prolonged installments proves to be a fatal mistake, especially when this film seems to conclude Bella and Edward’s story rather definitively — that is, until a mid-credits one-off creates a new conflict for the next installment. If there wasn’t a second part already announced, it would be easy to close the proverbial book on the “Twilight” franchise with the last shot here.

Instead, the first half of “Breaking Dawn” is a mess of a film, all too happy in allowing itself to get bogged down in flat dramatic tension. Much of the film’s back half centers on Lautner and his werewolf tribe — thankfully more clothed and looking much less like the Village People than they have in previous films — struggling to decide how to proceed with the issue of Edward and Bella’s procreation, and just as the film reaches its tepid climax, the conflict is explained away via the arbitrary invention of a rule that just so happens to render the battle null and void.

“Twilight” films don’t all have to be disasters. Director Bill Condon’s restraint here proves to be the biggest of “Breaking Dawn’s” many flaws, never clearer than in the many scenes Edward is fully in view of the sun but there’s nary a sparkle to be found. What is a “Twilight” film without sparkling vampires, campy performances and situations, and boatloads of hilarity? More than anything else, it’s boring, and that makes for a truly disappointing addition to the series.

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Fourth installment lacks character development