Thursday, January 31, 2013

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “The Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 2”

It’s the end of an era…and after watching this steaming turd of a movie, it’s a farewell much appreciated

I ended up seeing the last installment in the “Twilight” pentilogy almost two and a half months after it was released in the U.S. My screening (which I caught, only because I was twenty minutes to late to get tickets for “Lincoln”) was on a Saturday afternoon, and despite the fact that film had been out for so long - in this day and age, a three month run is equivalent to a movie getting shown for eight months straight in 1988 dollars - the theater was fairly packed, the darkened room filled to the brim with tweens, their parents, and for reasons that I actually don’t want to know, more than a few middle-aged, childless couples.

It’s pretty much a national policy that everyone makes fun of the series, calling into question the franchise’s horrible acting, atrocious visuals, hackneyed plot and downright cruddy action sequences. That said, for something that’s (seemingly) universally loathed, it sure is quite the money-maker; Laugh (or cry) all you want about the series’ quality, the stone cold fiscal reality here is that the series is extraordinarily lucrative; the final film in the series has already grossed more than $800 million across the globe, making it - as of late January 2013 - the 34th highest earning movie of all-time. In case you were wondering, that makes the last “Twilight” movie more successful than “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” or “Spider-Man 2.” As a collective series, “Twilight” has also generated almost $3.4 billion dollars - a higher sum than the combined franchise profits of such heavy hitters as “Toy Story,” “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek” or “Transformers.”

You can go back and forth about why the movie is so profitable - some people say it’s because the same hardcore group of filmgoers keep seeing it over and over again, while others claim that it’s successful just because people want to ironically partake of its awfulness - but the points are sort of moot. It’s pretty much unavoidable now; the “Twilight” phenomenon, for better or worse, has become a hallmark of our pop culture, the sort of  iconic Americana on par with “Superman” and “I Love Lucy.” It’s stupid and crappy, but it’s emblematic of America’s special stupidity and crappiness. 400 years from now, anthropologists will probably have an entire field dedicated to the film’s import on American culture, with excavators unearthing long-forgotten trash heaps of Twi-tard memorabilia with utter jubilation.

Say what you will, but the impact of the “Twilight” series is impossible to downplay. With its Victorian-by-way-of-Mormonism tinges, the franchise has single-handedly resurrected the Gothic romance - and in a lot of ways, both directly and indirectly - the “romantic” genre altogether. Well, that is if you want to call stuff like “Fifty Shades of Grey” - derived from an X-rated “Twilight” fan-fiction site, by the way - “romantic.” There’s stuff coming out now that, had “Twilight” not proven successful, would have had zero chances of being green lit, let alone getting big studio backing and national releases. A decade ago, there’s no way in hell something like “Warm Bodies,” or “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” or even “Beautiful Creatures” would have gotten a go-ahead, and in a post-“Twilight” filmscape, we’re pretty much guaranteed at least one semi-“Twilight”-inspired national release per week.

For the franchises’ grand finale, you would think the producers of the film would have, you know, tried, but the end result is a film that is arguably several times WORSE than anything the series has churned out so far. As a guy that was particularly floored by how bad the last flick in the franchise was, I was literally aghast at how bad this movie was; not only is it significantly crappier than its already awful precursor, the film is even lamer than most of the watered-down knock-offs it’s inspired. Walking out of the theater, I declared the film to be even suckier than “Red Riding Hood” - a movie about Gary Oldman lugging a wooden rabbit through the woods while wearing silver finger nail polish, with Amanda Seyfried dropping lines like “there must be a god, because you’re the devil” for ninety minutes straight.

After thinking about it for some time, I’m pretty much convinced that the director of the last two films - Bill Condon - actually made the movies intentionally atrocious out of spite. I recall thinking the first film in the series was bad, but it was an innocuous, rudimentary kind of bad - i.e., the work of an inexperienced filmmaker that just didn’t know how to make a better movie. With these last two entries, however, it’s quite apparent to me that Condon - a guy with a suspiciously decent looking resume, outside of the “Twilight” films - probably went out of his way to make the flicks as hokey, bland and sarcastically unctuous as he could, just to piss of the world for the fact that the series even exists in the first place. Far beyond a self-parody, “Breaking Dawn 2” feels more like the world’s most understated, satirical critique of the series’ stylistic failings. This film isn’t just awful - it seems to me to be subversively awful, as if the director made the movie so shitty on purpose as some sort of political slight against the source material’s hetero-centric, pro-“family values” leanings.

The series just goes into all-out, cuckoo-bananas mode for its final chapter, with Edward and Bella - now an immortal bloodsucker herself - shacking up with their suspiciously Latter Day Saints-resembling extended family to take care of their half-human, half-vampire child, which just so happens to have an accelerated aging disorder. And with that little plot point in mind, perhaps we can screen this alongside failed Robin Williams vehicle/Francis Ford Coppola tax write-off  “Jack” and the Eric Stoltz-y sequel-to-a-remake “The Fly II” as part of a made-up, rapid-aging -syndrome triple feature of sheer suck.

Hey, did I mention that the Mormon stuff in this movie is incredibly heavy-handed? Castigated by the rest of society, the Cullens decide to pick up their stakes (get it? It’s because they’re VAMPIRES!) and haul out into the middle of nowhere, where their newfound peace and tranquility is shattered by the arrival of a bunch of “Italian” (read: Catholic) illuminati types that want to cut up Bella and Ed’s daughter because they think she’s evil incarnate. Yeah, I’m describing the plot of “Breaking Dawn Part 2,” but that same summary could just as easily be used to synopsize the latest episode of “Sister Wives.”

Everything that sucked about the last four movies is here in full force, multiplied a couple of times over thanks to a mildly increased budget. That said, the special effects in the film remain inconceivably underwhelming, with some green screened sequences - especially the opening scenes of the film, with Ed and Bella “running” through the Pacific Northwest woodlands - look about as amateurish as a made-for-SyFy movie.

The dénouement is particularly unimpressive, with the Cullen clan assembling a ragtag group of Mormon…I mean, vampire…mercenaries to go into battle with those Roman nosed evildoers. By the way, Camp Cullen now includes a couple of borderline-racist super-heroes, including an Arabic dude that can “manipulate” the elements and two Afro-Brazilian tribeswomen with mind control capabilities. Outside of “Street Fighter II,” I don’t think there’s a larger accumulation of super-powered stereotypes anywhere to be found in popular culture.

The climactic scene - an illusory “battle” sequence - is just about the crappiest climax you could imagine. It’s not just unsatisfying, it’s literally a non-event, with the two warring tribes just standing out there in the snow, looking all aggressively at each other until they decide to let each other live and let live. Cue a completely unneeded montage/retrospective scene that recaps the entire franchise, and thankfully, this one is done for good.

The day the very last first-run screening of “Breaking Dawn: Part 2” is shown in America, it ought to become our next federal holiday. Alike the day smallpox was eradicated, we should all celebrate, knowing that our cinemas and theaters will never again have to bask at Ed Cullen and Bella Swan’s forced, plastic and emotionless facsimile of what human feelings look like. Never again we will have to watch Kristen Stewart strain her way through performances with the vivacity of Keanu Reeves doing his best impersonation of an ice cube. Away with the semi-bigoted depictions of Native Americans (complete with the heroes of the film calling their scents “repugnant”), and that atrocious-looking werewolf CGI, and those long tracking shots of Dakota Fanning, just standing there, wearing blue and red eye shadow and not saying anything.

As horrible as the franchise’s ending may be, it at least a guarantees us that we won’t be inundated by such insincere, artificially-flavored and blatantly-misogynistic Puritan-sex-fantasies - targeted at junior high schoolers, no less - for quite awhile.

…well, at least until “The Host” comes out, anyway.


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