The Twilight Saga: New Moon abruptly ended with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) telling his girlfriend, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) that he will turn her into a vampire on the condition that they get married first. And so The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in a series serving as an extended metaphor for abstinence, begins with the two lovingly lying in a field of flowers, and you can sense the anticipation they both feel, especially Bella, who radiates with virginal longing. As bothersome as I found this twice before, this time around I found it oddly amusing, maybe because, after their painfully statuesque performances in New Moon, Stewart and Pattinson are once again allowed to emote. Stewart especially, who takes on a whole different energy when she’s given the opportunity to crack a smile.
Alas, it’s quickly hampered by a scene in which the metaphor turns literal; Bella wants to have sex with Edward while she’s still human, but his chivalrous standards kick into high gear and he refuses her advances. He then lectures her on how, back in his day, he would have courted her, taken chaperoned walks with her, asked her father’s permission for her hand in marriage, and so on and so forth. He then tells her that, while his soul is done for, hers is still worth preserving. What I find intriguing is that Stephenie Meyer wove such blatant themes into a fantasy, a genre created specifically as a way to escape reality. Even if sex before marriage is forbidden by Mormon doctrine, what’s to stop her from writing about it? If I were her, I would have had Bella and Edward go at it like dogs in heat, all the while remembering that my personal values haven’t been affected.
Complicating Bella’s situation is the hot-blooded, mostly shirtless werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who professes his love for her as well as his hatred of Edward, the Cullen Clan, and vampires in general. Does Bella feel the same way about Jacob? She’s not entirely sure. All she knows is that she needs both him and Edward to protect her, which means they will have to find some way to get along. It seems that, up in nearby Seattle, the evil vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) has been busy recruiting an army of young vampires, or newbies, for purposes of attacking the Cullen Clan and getting revenge against Bella; aware of this, the Cullens join forces with their blood enemies, the werewolves, in the hopes of putting a stop to the newbies, who are apparently much more lethal than their older counterparts.
Despite the preachy subtexts, Eclipse is an improvement – albeit a tepid one – from the previous two Twilight films. I appreciated the greater emotional range displayed by Stewart and Pattinson, I liked looking at the none-too-convincing visual effects, and I found the action sequences more exciting, sparse though they may be. All the same, it still suffers from excessive length and unreasonable pacing, and just like before, they’re linked to tedious conversations between the leads. I was especially fed up with Edward’s repeated attempts to talk Bella out of becoming a vampire, and likewise, with her insistence on going through with it. The more I hear the Cullens describe the required sacrifices, the less I’m inclined to side with Bella; aging and death are frightening, but soulless immortality is unthinkable.
Lautner is still a chiseled hunk for the girls to swoon over, which may adequately distract them from the fact that he spends virtually all of his performance angrily clenching his jaw. When Jacob isn’t romantically sulking, then he’s furiously confronting Edward. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a tent high atop a snowy mountain, in which Bella, her teeth chattering from the cold, lets Jacob embrace her for his body heat: “Let’s face it,” he tells Edward, “I am hotter than you.” As Bella sleeps, Jacob and Edward glower at each other, and they quietly but firmly discuss the fact that Bella still has to make a choice, and that, if she had been given enough time, she already could have made it. So I guess the question is simple, especially if you’ve been eating at Burger King: Is Bella on Team Jacob or Team Edward?
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse will almost certainly please the fans, just as they were pleased twice before. Non fans will have a rougher time of it, although I suspect it will be easier to win them over with this film than it was with the first two. As for myself, I recognize its progress as the third chapter of a series, but it’s still too slow, too overwrought, and too didactic for me to recommend it. You’ve got to hand it to Stephenie Meyer – she really knows how to sermonize. I might have gotten something out of it had the topic been less divisive, however. Aren’t there moral themes that we all more or less agree upon, such as treating everyone with respect or being charitable or something along those lines? If I’m going to be preached at, and if it has to be in the form of a vampire romance, at least make sure that the message is making good sense.