After an unfortunate near-death incident at Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) 18th birthday party, vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) vows to leave his true love for her own good. Bella is devastated, but the help of her friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) helps her through. But Jacob is dealing with issues of his own…
Let’s assume that you’re going into the second episode of Stephenie Meyers’ vampire saga with an open mind, having been pleasantly surprised that the first film didn’t turn out to be Vampire High School Musical. If that’s the case, you’ll probably enjoy this slice of high melodrama. If not, stay away. This is a series almost entirely lacking in irony, one that takes its central tortured romance too seriously to waste good gazing-soulfully time on filling in the background or winning over naysayers. There’s moping to be done, after all.
That’s not entirely a criticism. To berate the Twilight saga for indulging in moping would be like suggesting that perhaps John McClane and Hans Gruber could have sat down and talked their differences out. This is a series about the all-encompassing, deadly seriousness of first love, and judged on those terms the first Twilight did convey that feeling of mad romance and the second film picks up that theme and snogs it senseless. But in the same way that most second superhero movies are about our hero trying to give up the cape, this sequel is about the heartbreak that almost certainly follows such unthinking passion.
Robert Pattinson’s upright, buttoned-down Edward gives up Kristen Stewart’s Bella for her own good (as it seems to him) and disappears from her life. After turning into a virtual zombie as a result, the heartbroken Bella finds some comfort in the friendship of Native American Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), himself afflicted with a searing crush on the self-effacing heroine. Unfortunately, it turns out that that’s not the only thing Jacob’s afflicted with, as he starts turning furry and lupine and also abandons Bella for her own protection.
Amid such masculine faffing about, Bella’s character is the only constant, and she comes across as a little stronger this time around, gradually pulling herself out of the fog of depression and fighting to keep both men in her life – if only in hallucinations in Edward’s case. Stewart still relies a little too heavily on the tactic of blinking a lot, but then the same could be said of the male leads’ reliance on slight frowns, and all three are doing a good enough job to win over the fans and convey the high drama of the novel. Incoming director Chris Weitz, taking over from Catherine Hardwicke, is more reserved and perhaps slightly less attuned to his teenage stars, but handles the action and the effects well despite the breakneck production schedule.
While there’s only a tiny and very occasional hint of humour from the love triangle members, however, the addition of Jacob’s fellow Wolf Pack members and more traditional high vampires the Volturi allow for a little looseness and the opening up of the Twilight world. The Wolf Pack are given, at best, momentary character sketches but receive just enough attention to establish them for future instalments, while the Volturi threaten to romp away with the film in just moments onscreen. Then what can you expect when they’re led by Michael Sheen’s deliciously dangerous Aro, and boast a psychic torturer played by an immaculate Dakota Fanning?
The plethora of shirtless men (sometimes shot in – god help us – slow-motion) and general fetishisation of Bella’s love interests may raise a giggle or an eyebrow in audiences more accustomed to seeing women in their scanties, and the pace does sometimes slow to a crawl, but this is another faithful and largely successful adaptation of Meyers’ old-fashioned love story.
If you buy in to the central romance, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll swoon. Otherwise, the lingering glances, lip-chewing and regular de-shirting may cause uncontrollable giggles.