Breaking Dawn Part One
Who better to review the teenflick of the year than a 30-something male?
It is fast approaching midnight, and the scenes in Victoria Square invoke memories of Dawn of the Dead. Boy flesh-starved teenage girls lumber along shopping mall lanes to make their way to the Odeon Cinema ticket office.
Would they make it in time? Would we all get a ticket? Would that cardboard cut-out of Robert Pattinson be left standing by night’s end or mistaken for a special guest appearance by the real thing?
The Twilight movie franchise is as lucrative and troubling as several national bank bailouts. At its heart is the moribund saga of a teenage boy’s enduring love for – wait for it – a plain girl. But nothing is as it seems in Twilight, for the lad in question is a moody vampire with great hair, and the plain girl, as flimsy mortal humans go, is actually hot.
The plainly attractive Kristen Stewart plays the haplessly 'plain' Bella, and the hopeless, stake-defyingly wooden Robert Pattinson plays the emotional eyebrow that is Edward Cullen. An airbrushed vampire with a range that runs the gamut from intense to constipated, Edward has been found in previous installments to be ‘different’, in that he really loves and respects this human girl, on her terms mind.
The disconcertingly chaste crux of the matter is this: he waits, dear reader, he waits. That is he holds off from putting out until he’s put a ring on her finger. This is ostensibly because vampire sex is a bit rough and all, and they respect each other and whatnot, but it also has the creeping moral whiff of the decidedly unvampiric Silver Ring Thing Pledge.
The promise of Breaking Dawn for hardcore fans (in both senses) is that Eddie and Bella get hitched and then, finally, we’ll get the Tea-Party approved pornography that anybody who enjoys such things will enjoy. But then a cynic would say that, wouldn’t they? The kids are, in fact, crying out for this hormonally capricious and perfectly bloodless version of the current trend for all things supernaturally hairy and ‘fanguine’ (as long as they aren’t Ricky Gervais, of course).
The obvious analogy isn’t hard to identify: a bloody territorial feud between the vampires in their fancy vestments and persecution complex and the bluff down-to-earth werewolves with their prosaic lifestyle, excellent work ethic and siege mentality. Yes, it’s exactly like the scintillating season three of True Blood.
The complimentary Twilight tote bag stuffed with undead Doritos and monstrous Pepsi Max makes for excellent buy-off for cynics not won over by the promise of vampire naughtiness and epic romance. My other half chides me for my jaded take on things. 'It’s just a nice wee love story,' she asserts, before remembering her years of studying English at Uni and adding the word 'enduring'.
But, although I disagree that the pernicious exploitation of muddled teen desire could really be innocuous romance, I concede that there is something universal and enduring about the story: boy meets girl, boy sees off girl’s would-be murderers, boy promises not to bite girl until they’re married, boy bites girl. How many times have we wearily trodden this well-beaten path before?
On with the show. Opening scene – brooding, buff werewolf Jake is seen getting an invitation to the joyous 90210-style wedding of Eddie and Bella. The angry young ham proceeds to rip off his conveniently half-buttoned shirt in choreographed fury and runs off into the woods. It’s the first of many emotionally shirtless sojourns into the dark that we’ll be witnessing.
Cut immediately to a pained Pattinson, who is – what else? – brooding on a balcony. Like a cute praying-mantis-next-door with a lot on his mind, he tilts his wide forehead to one side in reflection of the oncoming sex-fest he’s about to unleash on his soon-to-be bride.
There is much unintentional hilarity throughout, mainly because the whole thing takes itself so seriously. No True Blood style tongue-in-cheek playfulness or Being Human’s cheeky irreverence here. Instead we get: 'This is how I'm going to remember you, pink cheeks...' as moody, perma-shirtless love rival werewolf (to give his key attributes in descending order) Jake says to Bella on her wedding night.
Straight-faced lines abound, more horrific than any coven of vampires, such as when Edward says to his new bride: 'No measure of time will be long enough. Let's start with forever...' Or when he talks about the werewolves’ 'most absolute law', not to be confused with their raft of slightly less absolute and their tranche of absolute(ish) laws.
Or how about: 'I know it seems scary, but it’s like a miracle or something' as Bella struggles to come to terms with the fact that she’s pregnant by her vampire spouse after one shag. More of which in a scarifying moment.
There are some rather unintentionally disturbing scenes also, as film-makers consistently try – with varying degrees of success – to crowbar earnest human drama into what is ostensibly a silly, sanitised monster fest. The most crazed 'what the hell’s going on?!' moment has to be the brain-wedgie that is the werewolf AGM.
A bunch of disembodied voices in conversation float, unsynchronised and unclaimed about the midst of a pack of dodgily rendered CGI werewolves. They’re presumably meant to nod their heads when they’re ‘mind talking’. The problem is, they all seem to be in various states of perpetual nod. Then there’s the incessant close-ups on moody and – yes – brooding faces.
No pained tic or tremulous twitch is left out of frame in the unending gallery of puckered, frowning, furrowed phizzogs. Everybody gets a fast-cut close-up in the pivotal vampire pregnancy scene. It’s an invaluable aid for us mortal audience members to ascertain how these inscrutable beings are feeling – which turns out to be pained and compassionate almost all of the time.
The main (ahem) thrust of this film, however, is all about the prospective transgressive Transylvanian tryst between Bella and Edward. The build up is excruciating, with teeth being frantically brushed, pep-talks issued in front of the mirror and clothes hesitantly shed. We share in Bella’s apprehension, as the improbably wet Edward has further dampened proceedings by waiting for her by standing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
I won’t spoil the graphic fun, because there isn’t any. Suffice to say, the next morning, amidst a broken bed and feathers everywhere, Bella has lived to tell the tale. But there’s a problem: tiny love bites on her neck mean that the impossibly sensitive Edward places an embargo on further rutting, despite Bella’s protestations.
Cue more hilarious/disturbing montage footage of them playing chess and him simultaneously keeping her at arm’s length whilst wistfully staring at her pert bottom. But it turns out she’s preggers with a vampire/human hybrid, so just as well they held off – a second bout of sex without procreation would be tantamount to frivolity.
It highlights the central fallacy here that Bella’s character is somehow empowered and a positive role model to girls. Rather, she seems like a helpless sex object, buffeted by the fates and whims of the self-absorbed (and resolutely male) vampires and werewolves about her. She’s not even allowed to enjoy sex on her honeymoon as it’s, like, wrong for a woman to want such things.
Not for the first time does the 'Twilight morality' live up to its shadowy billing. For all Edward’s protective cosseting of Bella and the unerring devotion she inspires in any entity in possession of XY chromosomes, it all still adds up to repressive male hegemony and fundamentalist Christian doctrine masquerading as considerate vampirism – isn’t it so often the way, though?
To be only slightly fair, this reviewer’s still-jaded ruminations don’t take into account the fact that eight cinema screens are full tonight of people lapping up the queer allure of this motion picture ‘event’ in all its full boil in the bag sentimentality, with free added bad sex education. In a final, pervy Old Testament kink, Jake the werewolf 'imprints' on a baby. Even if you’ve seen the other films and know what that means, it’s creepy.
In spite of all these ‘moments’, the film’s chief failing is that it’s dull. The action has been carved up to extend the franchise a la final Harry Potter, and where the action in previous Twilight films at least galloped along like a werewolf with a tiny vampire jockey, this is several baffling, yet undeniably striking set pieces interspersed by lots of pained expressions.
I won’t spoil the film by revealing much more – Breaking Dawn: Part One can speak for itself all too clearly. Suffice to add, by film’s meandering end, we’re left with two brooding men, one freshly minted vampire and a little lady hybrid called Renesme – a name straight outta Carnmoney. Act two to follow.
As it snakes towards a limp climax, a perma-glowering Jake emotes: 'I know how this ends and I'm not sticking around to watch.' I can’t imagine what he means...