So there’s this film series based on a popular young adult novel saga that we at Yakmala are just fascinated by. If memory serves, Justin, Louis and I all came to it from different directions, but all responded to the same scene:
Vampires playing baseball.
There was no twist. No bloodshed. Just vampires playing baseball. We were captivated by the odd notion and the rest of the movie didn’t disappoint on delivering more odd choices: Sparkly “vegetarian” vampires, the unacknowledged fact that the protagonist was actually the villain, Tthe awesomeness of Charlie Swan: Apathetic Cop. The movie aggressively ignored anything that might be interesting in favor of all the plot-killing nothingness it could throw up on screen.
Naturally, it would become a stalwart topic over drinks for years to come and with each new installment, we had more to enjoy … but all things end, even the Twilight Saga and with that ending, we induct Breaking Dawn – Part Two into the Hall of Fame. This is a distinction only the first Twilight shares and it might be worthwhile to discuss why.
Around the time the first film came to home video, the final book, Breaking Dawn was released and readers more adventurous than I were coming back with tales of absolute structural madness. Hundreds of pages devoted to 20+ new characters! Edward, the vampire hero, chewing his baby out of his bride! A drawn out conversation that resolves the final conflict! None were more infamous than this: a werewolf falls in love with a newborn.
Let me repeat that: a werewolf falls in love with a newborn.
Now, some may disagree with this interpretation and suggest that imprinting is more nuanced than loin-dancing, which is all fine and dandy until we get to the film in which the concept is introduced and its explained as nothing less than soulmates. Moreso as the death of one will grievously harm the other member of the imprinting.
And to get the joke out of the way: “Boy, does that werewolf imprint all over that infant.”
Well, “infant” is a questionable term in this case as the child rose from the very depths of CGI Hell. Its freakish, uncanny valley countenance is unsettling in every shot. As Justin pointed out in a recent Twitter posting, “The remarkable thing about Breaking Dawn 2 is that it makes you want to set fire to A BABY.” Oh, I suppose a file photo would be appropriate about now:
Of course, this is a second draft in the attempt to realize the precocious and vaguely supernatural Renesmee. There is some debate if their initial effect is more terrifying.
So, because of plot reasons, the X-Men assemble. Oh, I’m not kidding. Breaking Dawn Part 2 is filled with some twenty new character that all display amazing vampire powers that are rather similar to Marvel’s Mighty Mutants. Beyond that, a couple of character types are outright imported from that other film franchise. One of the new vampires hangs around and keeps telling people who doesn’t want to be part of their club. He’s gruff, mumbles a few words and works hard to convince everyone that he’s a broody loner too busy brooding to help out. Y’know, despite sticking around.
There’s a pretty rakish vampire who is presented as a dangerous — yet smoldering hot — addition to the team, but as soon as he meets a sweet petite, his passions override his need to rebel against whatever you got, man. Luckily, he isn’t doused in Cajun spices, otherwise Marvel might have cause to sue.
There’s plenty more, too. There’s a character who resembles Janice from the Muppet Show, the Oirish family we dubbed the “O’Shaunghnessies” from County Cork. Patriarch Seamus, wife Shannon, and young Ryan. They came with plenty of potatoes, because Oirish. Also, please don’t confuse them with the Kerry O’Shaunghnessies, even if Shannon is technically one. There’s also these Russian dudes who look like they’re in an industrial band 15 years out of date. Downright racist caricatures of native peoples appear in “traditional” garb. Even the fucking Avatar shows up!
Oh, so why are all these new characters massing around Edward, Bella, the warwilf and the devil child? Italian vampires, who apparently license and regulate the whole vampire thing worldwide, are threatened by Renesemee’s CGI satanic nature or something. They’re tipped off by Shannon from “Lost” that the new Cullen girl just ain’t right, so everyone starts marshaling for a big throwdown. Once again proving that Shannon ruins everything. She gets her brother killed, she ruins Sayid’s time on the Island, she even ruins his afterlife. Then, as an encore, she starts a vampire civil war because she’s Shannon.
The Italian vampires are led by Aro, a distinctly non-Italian elder played by the fabulous Michael Sheen. I love this over-the-top performance. Sheen, above any other member of the company, knows what level this movie should by pitched at and plays his part accordingly. I’ve loved him since his first appearance in the second film of the series and waited for his return. He did not disappoint:
You must understand, I worked for a decade to create a character as deliciously foppish as the one Sheen wills into existence in an afternoon slumming it so his kid can go to a good school. This would be a master class on par with Michael Caine if not for the fact that you cannot teach a laugh like that. It is the definition of talent. The very heart of true acting. I love it to pieces and it fills with me despair each night that no matter how hard I work to perfect my doily-flick, my poise in a frock or holding my vowels in the the most positively deeeeelightful manner, I can never attain this epitome of dandy-ish perfection. I bow before his terrible might.
So anyway, when the X-Men and Brotherhood of Italian Vampires meet on the snowy plains of Washington, Aro is convinced that the child posses no threat besides winning the film a bad special effects award, but he still wants to fight anyway because bringing the whole clan from Italy is expensive, yo.
Which actually led to a discussion during the Best of screening on just how the Italian vampires fly across continents. One theory suggested they wear typical touristy garb while going through the airport and then quickly switching back to their satin and velveteen robes as quickly as possible in the limo. We also thought they might maintain a private fleet to minimize the time they waste in the airport, cause y’know, sparkly secrets and all that.
Did I mention the elder Fanning sister is part of the Italian clique? Yeah, means about as much in the movie as well.
So, because Aro wants to make good on his travel expenditure, we get a huge battle scene, complete with the Avatar cracking the Earth’s crust so vampire and worwulf alike can be swallowed up in the magma of an angry Gaia. It’s almost exciting, except, as Aro nears his own destruction, we learn the entire fight was a projection courtesy of Renesmee and vampire fortuneteller Alice. That’s right, gentile readers, IT WAS ALL A DREAM!
And despite the fact that the ending would usually send me into a screaming, burbling fit … I’m kind of okay with it here. The Twilight series never concerned itself with parochial notions of structure, characterization or even conflict — as evident in Bella’s vampire power turning out to be the Ultimate Nullifier; an ability to cancel out all other abilities and conflicts in a three mile radius. Considering how the rest of the series went, it’s hardly surprising that our heroes win by doing nothing. Same as it ever was. Equally so, it’s hardly surprising that the film series would commit one of the most egregious storytelling sins. It was backed into a corner: in the book, all they do is talk. This is supposed to be a motion picture, so faking a fight is as good a solution as anything.
Meanwhile, Charlie Swan, Apathetic Cop, went fishing with his new squeeze and a case of Old Milwaukee.
Oh yeah, Charlie’s got some standout moments in this flick. Like Michael Sheen, actor Billy Burke knows what time it is and has pitched each appearance by Bella’s seemingly lazy father perfectly. In this film, he’s menaced as Jacob the worweelf undresses in front of him and turns into a CGI doggie. The reaction is priceless and just one of the reasons why we love this character so much. He’s constantly flustered by having to expend even a single calorie of concern for his daughter and her weird friends. He’s just awesome and as a reward, the film spares him from the climatic climax by literally sending him on a fishing trip. During the screening, we couldn’t help but imagine that Charlie busted a Canadian border drug smuggling ring by the sheer awesome force of his napping.
These are just a few of the things we love about Breaking Dawn – Part Two and it roughly matches our enthusiasm for the rest of the series. But something else makes Twilight a worthy part of Yakmala: intent. We’re suppose to empathize and identify with Bella, a pale outsider (despite being surrounded by friends and suitors both human and supernatural) who never fit in anywhere (despite fitting in pretty damned well from word one) who comes to love an abusive monster filled with self-loathing and only becomes empowered to do simple tasks like drive a car once she marries the oafish, yet pasty, Promise Keeper.
That, friends, is a simply amazing thing we’re supposed to identify with and the Twilight Saga does its darn’dest to make you ignore anything that might be interesting in favor of this single-minded and childish viewpoint. Consider that for 1000 words I’ve barely mentioned the three principle character in favor of all the other potentially cool ideas and certifiably great performances buried under the surface.
It is glorious misguided, woefully constructed and features one performance of staggering genius. If that ain’t Best of Yakmala, then I should go into commemorative spoon collecting.