By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn November 17, 2011 at 8:34AM
I'm not about to make any sweeping claims about the aesthetic mastery of the fourth entry in the "The Twilight Saga," clumsily subtitled "Breaking Dawn Part 1," and unquestionably conceived with the same glossy and thematically conservative mindset that made the books into a teeny bopper hit. However, those familiar with the series know that the shit really hits the fan in this one, and to see it happen temporarily clears away some of the series' more obnoxious qualities. It's right there in the plot: Vampire Edward marries human sweetheart Bella, carts her away for a luxurious Brazilian honeymoon, de-virginizes her with uber-rough horny vampire fornication, and accidentally knocks her up. (Does vampire seed pierce condoms? If so, ouch.)
Because many people attending the movies also read the books, the "Twilight" series contains a lot of faithful aspects. I haven't read "Breaking Dawn," but those who have assure me this one is no exception. It doesn't get quite as brutal although surely it comes close, and not just with sly innuendo. I have no doubt this is the first commercial movie in recent memory featuring a sex scene that actually elicit screams of shock from the audience, and it's even stranger when considering that said shock entirely involves how hard this vampire is fucking the shit out of his human wife. Their room is a literal wreck. Things fall apart.
Of course, those annoyingly cheesy moments of blunt romanticism haven't gone away, nor has the general didacticism about young adult responsibility (nobody ever says the word "abortion," and Bella hardly considers it herself). But individual flashes of self-awareness sometimes shoot down the lamer ingredients. When Bella waxes poetic about her life with Edward to her werewolf pal Jacob, he doesn't hesitate to speak up. "You can spout that crap to your blood sucker," he says, "but you can't fool me." Team Jacob, right over here.
Director Bill Condon has undoubtedly delivered the best of the series since Catherine Hardwicke's first installment a few years back, but he cleverly overstates the silliness where Hardwicke skillfully downplayed it. They both avoid heavy vampire mythologizing in favor of the freakish sexual dynamic at work. The second and third films felt overwhelmingly amateurish and bland, rarely smart enough to keep up with the subtext involving real human relationships. But the franchise as a whole successfully infected the typically dismissible teen romance genre with kinkier qualities it would otherwise never touch.
"Breaking Dawn" achieves that on a visceral level alone. Bella's pre-wedding jitters come across in a dream she has featuring her and her vampire hubby standing atop a grisly pile of dead party guests. Her climactic birth sequence constitutes a few bloody moments of concentrated medical intensity rivaling "The Fly" and everything "Rosemary's Baby" hints at. (But it has nothing on "Inside.") That scene in particular caused someone sitting behind me--whose other shrieking moments outed her as a major "Twi-hard," if I've got the lingo right--to mutter by the end, "That was intense." The effect is nearly radical when you consider the screaming contingency that would go to this thing in droves even if it only featured a shirtless Robert Pattinson grinning repeatedly on a two hour loop.
On that note: As romantic male heroes go, Pattinson's Edward Cullen is simply not a good person. When it turns out Bella's expecting his baby, he never stops to calm her down about the demon sperm afflicting her womb that might kill her. In fact, he jumps on the phone with his doc and packs their bags, promptly leaving her out of the conversation. Not that Bella, or the movie's chief demographic, can look beyond his piercing stare, even in this infuriating moment. His spell applies to the franchise in general: The brief moments of genuinely thrilling entertainment value will eventually fade in the overall glow of the fervor surrounding them, but at least it was crazy while it lasted.
I would be remiss not to link to Devin Faraci's hilarious piece on the mayhem of the "Breaking Dawn" book, which got me thinking about these issues a while back.