Sequels are seldom necessary. Occasionally, though, they expand plot elements and themes in such a way as to make the original film a richer experience. New Moon is not one of those sequels.
Tagline: The Next Chapter Begins
More Accurate Tagline: Necrophilia or Bestiality: One Girl’s Sexy Choice
Guilty Party: Stephenie Meyer. Of course. Once again, the interesting choices are there for Meyer to make, and yet she makes none of them. Somehow, this film manages to have less conflict than the first one. The plot can be summed up thus: Bella gets everything she wants. The End.
Synopsis: Previously on Twilight: Surly bitch Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) falls in love with undead douche Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Edward belongs to a “family” of vampires that is sort of like the Manson Family minus the endothermia, led by Dr. Acula (Peter Facinelli). In defense of Bella, the Cullens kill an evil vampire and now his girlfriend Victoria (Rachel… aw, fuck it. She’s barely in it and gets recast in the next movie), is stalking Bella.
As we begin, newly asthmatic Bella has finally realized the catch-22 in dating a vampire: she’s going to die someday, and he’ll be free to trawl for teenage ass for the rest of eternity. In her defense, that’s his MO. The Cullens host a birthday bash at their place for Bella, presumably to rub it in. Everything is fine until Bella gets a nasty paper cut from some wrapping paper (despite this never having happened anywhere in the history of time) and starts bleeding like a Romanov. Jasper, Edward’s “brother,” freaks the fuck out and attacks. In the process of trying to protect her, Edward hurts her much worse. With all the blood, Edward’s stated desire to kill Bella should kick in, but of course it doesn’t because that might actually be dramatic. Instead, Edward dumps her and leaves town. He also suggests she fuck off (you know, for old time’s sake) and in a final dick move, he does all of this in the middle of the woods.
Because Bella has no sense of self-worth and thus needs constant male validation, she uses Edward’s absence to cocktease Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Jacob seems like a sweet kid, but he’s in the grips of super puberty or possibly ‘roid rage. He’s leery of a shirtless cabal of Native American cliff divers, but before long, he joins up. This consists of cutting his hair short and getting a tribal tattoo; he’s a drunken lesbian experience away from being a typical Seven Sisters freshman.
Muttering a cryptic worry that he might hurt her, Jacob breaks up with non-girlfriend Bella. Hey, that sounds awful familiar! Anyway, this makes Bella wander in the woods alone, because that’s what she does after break ups. Before long, she runs into King Willie, the leader of the evil vampires. Right about when King Willie is about to murder Bella, a pack of gigantic wolves come out of the forest and kill him right the fuck dead.
Turns out that Jacob and the Shirtless Cabal are werewolves who defend the local humans against vampires. They have a treaty with the Cullen family, but if a Cullen bites a human, even to turn one into a vampire, that breaks the peace. This does not really figure into the plot until the last five minutes.
Toward the tail end of the film, Alice shows up and takes Bella to Italy to save Edward from being a drama queen. They meet the Volturi, an ancient society of vampires, but what could have been an interesting plot is shoved into the end and accomplishes nothing. Bella and Edward return, but only after double-pinkie swearing that Bella will become a vampire. But only when she and Edward are married! No, seriously.
Life-Changing Subtext: Men are dangerous and uncontrollable creatures. When they inevitably lash out, they should be forgiven if they say they’re sorry, because it was a woman’s fault all along.
Defining Quote: Edward: “I don’t want you to come!” First, let’s examine the quote in context. This is during the break-up scene. Edward tells his girlfriend that he’s leaving, she tells him she wants to tag along, and he delivers this zinger. The logic in the movie is that he’s terrified he’ll do something bad to her (despite the fact that if she went along, he could turn her and wouldn’t be breaking the werewolf treaty, but whatever). Victoria gets mentioned, but he never seems to realize that Vicky might want to hurt Bella. Totally out of context, it speaks to the film’s dread of sex and Bella’s implied rape fantasy. Yes, an attraction to vampires is a form of rape fantasy. Deal with it.
Standout Performance: For symmetry’s sake, I feel like I should pick Taylor Lautner’s abs, but that ignores the entirely different movie that breaks out in the last third. Michael Sheen comes out of nowhere to deliver a performance that makes his work in the Underworld movies look restrained. He plays Aro, the leader of the Volturi, and his entire vocabulary consists of variations on the word “interesting.” I’m pretty sure he’s still passing chunks of his thesaurus in his stool.
What’s Wrong: An essential problem with Meyer’s characters is that they only interrupt their blandness to be unappealing. First off, there’s Bella, self-obsessed to the point of solipsism. She accepts a date from a boy while his girlfriend (ostensibly her friend too) is sitting right next to her. Twice, she forces characters to drive her home in her truck, making the poor driver walk home. Then, there’s Edward, who claims to love Bella, yet rejects her at every turn. Even the once sympathetic Jacob comes off as an embryonic wifebeater.
Meyer’s better characters are relegated to the background and end up being interesting mostly in their potential. Let’s take Jasper as an example. Had he been Bella’s principal love interest, the movies would have the danger they so desperately need. Sure, we’re told that Edward wants to kill Bella, but never once do we see the danger (in this film or the last). It comes down to a basic storytelling rule: Show, Don’t Tell. We’re told that Edward wants to kill Bella, but we’re shown that Jasper does.
Making Jasper the leading man would cause conflict, which is a necessity in good writing and anathema to Meyer. The film makes explicit reference to an obscure play called Romeo and Juliet to highlight the idea that Bella and Edward are star-crossed lovers from different worlds. The problem with drawing that parallel is that Romeo and Juliet actually has negative consequences for the titular lovers. There are characters with power over the leads that disapprove of the relationship and blood is actually spilled. The New Moon equivalent would be to have Tybalt and Romeo face off, shirtlessly glower at each other, then go their separate ways. Oh yeah, and Mercutio wouldn’t have died because he only had one line. Why not have Jasper pursue Bella into town and Jacob has to violate the treaty to protect Bella? But no, then Jacob and Alice would have to fight and something bad might happen.
The lack of conflict extends to the lack of villains. Victoria serves as something of a bad guy in the first 90 or so minutes, but she’s in one scene and has no lines. The Volturi show up in the last part, but though they’re menacing and weird, they’ve been absent from what I’ll charitably call a narrative for over an hour.
Flash of Competence: When Dakota Fanning’s character appears, it’s a little jarring. She actually has screen presence. And talent. And you don’t want to drop something heavy on her.
Best Scenes: After Edward shoves Bella through a table, Dr. Acula has to sew up the huge gash in her arm. Kristen Stewart and Peter Facinelli have such crazy chemistry in this scene I thought that they might fu— um… that is, get married. Right there on the table. It’s the one time Bella shows a real, recognizable human emotion, and why I have a t-shirt emblazoned with “TEAM DR. ACULA.”
There is a montage (representing three months of movie time) of Bella moping, screaming in her sleep and sending emails to Alice that inevitably get bounced back. I’d like to think that Alice just blocked Bella because she couldn’t handle any more of Bella’s constant whining about her awesome life.
The pro-domestic violence subtext comes to us in a scene in which we meet lead werewolf Sam’s fiancée, a beautiful woman with a facial scar that Jonah Hex would describe as excessive. Sam did this to her and she forgave him. Why couldn’t Stephenie Meyer have written What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Transcendent Moment: For some reason, the third act of the film takes place in an entirely different movie, specifically, a cross between The Da Vinci Code and Blade 2. I’m assuming that they do this to show you that the movie didn’t have to suck for an hour and a half. As long as you ignore that Edward is deciding to use the world’s dumbest method of suicide – if he needed a vampire to kill him, there’s one named Victoria who’d be only too happy to help – the Volturi are fairly cool, if clichéd elements. Sadly, as soon as Bella arrives, they realize they’re in a Twilight movie and become obsessed with Bella’s awesomeness, and at that point lose any remnant of fang cred.
So what did we learn? The supernatural wants Bella dead. Can you blame them? I really hope that in the next movie Jessica turns out to be a witch or Angela becomes a mummy.