Both ruffling feathers and sending hearts aflutter for over five years, Twilight's contortion of vampire lore finally arrives at an end with a sprawling, teary-eyed two-part finale, Breaking Dawn. Ever a revolving door for directors, but constantly penned by Melissa Rosenberg with the watchful input from the books' author, Stephenie Meyer, the series' quality has rendered an inconsistent train of gratingly passable supernatural romance, overdrawn and dramatically limp when looked at under any kind of inspection. Finishing off the slate of filmmakers brave enough to handle the material is Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon, who, based on his experience, knows how to navigate a larger production and handle tricky thematic material. He doesn't make a dent in the perception of the franchise, though, guilty of the same overspent mistakes as those before him as Breaking Dawn's two halves clumsily struggle against one another, one as drawn-out and sugary as a piece of taffy and the follow-up, while an improvement, a little too wacky and overpowered by comparison.
Breaking Dawn: Part 2:
The divide between the two books creates a disproportion of tones between Condon's films, leaving Breaking Dawn: Part 2 with a jarring perspective on Bella -- and her personal life -- that shifts the Twilight Saga from conflicted supernatural romance to essentially The Avengers ... with vampires. You get the idea of what's happened at the end of the previous film, which zooms in on Bella's (Kristen Stewart) revived body to reveal the opening of a blistering red eye. With her new vampiric form comes new abilities: strength, speed, and confidence, to which much of the film focuses on learning about her enhancements. She and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are posed with a situation where her powers will prove useful: they need to gather vampire "witnesses" from around the globe to attest that their hybrid child, Renesmee, isn't a threat, a young bloodsucker without perspective. If they're unable to demonstrate her innocence to the Italian Volturi, then Aro (Michael Sheen) and his minions will be forced to eliminate the young Cullen offspring.
Going back a bit: let's not confuse Bella's "learning" with genuine acclimation, because she's very quick to pick up on the ways of a vampire and toss aside her lost mortality and the need for human blood. In essence, the Bella seen in Part 2 is conveniently nothing like her previous persona; instead of meek and obsessive, she allows herself to be confident and capable with this shiny new skill set. She leaps and sticks landings across vast distances, scales mountaintops with ease, takes vampires down in games of strength and, yes, glitters in the sunlight -- yet, she doesn't experience much of an internal conflict about it all, something handled better in the likes of The Vampire Diaries. Bella has now become a force to be reckoned with, and that's before the Cullen clan plays around with her hidden "gift". Though the transition is filled with textbook superhero triteness, somewhere between Spider-Man and X-Men: First Class, there's something invigorating about this girl shedding her submissiveness and harnessing power.
While Edward and Bella are afforded some alone time to explore the shifts in their lives, notably in their new, cozy cottage that'll probably send fans' hearts soaring, Part 2 largely stays away from calculating romantic melodrama by focusing on self-referential ridiculousness, resolving the peculiar "imprint" situation with Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and convincing the witnesses. To be honest, discovering these new vampires from the corners of Stephenie Meyer's universe offers one of the more interesting, albeit cursory, experiences out of the Twilight woodwork; we get to know lithe, empyreal Northern vampire sisters not unlike the Cullens, while at the same time being able to experience Lee Pace as a Lost Boys-meets-Fright Night brooding revolutionary and a pair of bronze Amazonian mental projectionists. A huge host of characters, from Egypt to Ireland, file into the Forks location to observe Renesmee's lack of imposition, and while their presence feels nothing but forced, the strewn variation of their personalities -- and brand-new faces -- present a welcome change of pace. Speaking of "pace", I'd totally watch a standalone vampire comedy centered on the Pushing Daisies star.
Breaking Dawn: Part 2 can't break the trend of lackluster films in this franchise, though, despite a few intriguing distractions. Limp attempts at humor break up those scenes where Bella learns about her vampiness, screwing with the film's momentum from the beginning. Magic -- yes, superhero-like magic -- enters the picture in a relatively big way, where controlling the elements and manipulating minds clashes with the smaller-scale clairvoyance, shape-shifting, and mood control that has powered the series. An odd effects decision renders most of the shots of Edward and Bella's child when she's young into unconvincing digital manipulations, while the underlying oddness of Jacob's role in her life never really disappears. And murky, convenient plotting merely treads water so that the characters can interact with one another about immortality and love's perseverance. Oddly, it's easier to overlook these things to witness this more amusing and vivacious film of the bunch, largely because it plays fast and loose with its established rules for cinematic shock value.
The biggest shock arrives at the end of Part 2: that massive, relatively grisly battle you've seen in the trailers, pitting the Cullens, werewolves, and foreign covens against the Volturi. Director Condon orchestrated something pretty extravagant here, a big scene in the expanses of snowy wilderness created with practical photography and digital manipulation. Taken purely on its own, it's an exhilarating showdown with mingling superpowers, flying bodies, snarling wolves and mounting danger that takes quite a few risks with the loyal audience's emotional threshold -- a bold, zany way of capping off a saga with little of this kind of larger-scare conflict. Some will find the action a breath of fresh air; other, however, won't be able to hold back some cynicism once this somewhat daring diversion reaches its end. Ending on this note ensures that the Twilight Saga went out with a bang, though, certainly a substantial improvement over the inert blandness of the first half.
Summit and Lionsgate Home Entertainment bring the conclusion to the Twilight Saga to Blu-ray in a standard one-disc Blu-ray presentation, reflective of their current trend of blue-topped discs that include an Ultraviolet copy of the film. A nice, glossy slipcase has been included that duplicates the front and back artwork, which is a nice touch that keeps the theme consistent among the other films' releases.
Video and Audio:
Practically everything positive that's to be said about Breaking Dawn: Part 1's Blu-ray presentation can be carried over to Part 2, given that both films were shot around the same time, by the brilliant Guillermo Navarro, and that sticking the digital home-video landing is important for the die-hard fans out there. Summit and Lionsgate merely keep the quality running with this 2.35:1-framed 1080p AVC treatment, just in a more familiar setting: while the film bounces around to a few different "locations" in search of the witnesses, most of the content returns in and around the gnarled wooded expanses of the story's central area. That cold, yet rich presence of greens, grays, and soft blues command quite a presence here, while the different skin tones -- paleness of the vampires and the bronzed tint of Jacob's tribe and the Amazonian coven -- take turns being impressive against a rock-solid digital presentation. Movement remains sturdy, subtle details in clothing and in houses are suitably sharp, and contrast once again allows the visual tone to breathe.
Again, a 7-channel Master Audio track is made available, but Part 2 of Breaking Dawn is markedly more aggressive than its predecessor --- even before it approaches the raucous battle at the end. Aside from the rock-solid dialogue and elegant presence of Carter Burwell's musical accompaniment, which are just as potent and satisfying as before, we're also working with quite a few aggressive sound elements that'll engage the ears on a different level: the shattering of rocks, the zip of electrically-charged skin, and the crashing of water. These effects nimbly jump between channels, often bouncing to the rear for an enveloping presence. Once the film actually does get to the grand battle sequence, it brings these elements to the foreground, where the manipulation of elements, the snarls of wolves, and the punches of battle are nearly perfect, if a bit restrained on a few occasions when certain effects should command a fiercer presence. Overall, it's a pretty stellar aural experience. English and Spanish subs are available.
I'm going to be completely honest with you about this feature-length documentary, entitled Forever Filming The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 (1:33:17, HD): it's probably more enjoyable to watch than most of the films themselves. Separated into seven chapters with Bill Condon leading the charge from a technical standpoint, this piece hits an impressive, in-depth balance between interviews, behind-the-scenes shots, and before-and-after visualization comparisons. The discussion delves into the complexity of their choice to digitally render Renesmee's face across several points of age, chronicles how they handled a fan-favorite cottage and the scenes within, and fully fleshes out how they were able to create the snowy field battle with a mix of green screens in an agricultural venue and location shots. The thing that impressed me most is the candor during the interviews, and the participants' legitimate enthusiasm for participating in a phenomenon; it's not the kind of honesty where people dish on one another, but more about where the supporting actors were at before being cast in the film, how the crew kept the snow white and moral up during long shoots in a claustrophobic environment, and how Stephenie Meyer imprinted her creative perspective (and desired certain props on the set).
Really, the Blu-ray really doesn't need anything else outside of that documentary, but it does have a few other tricks up its sleeve. Director Condon once again sits in the chair for an Audio Commentary, which largely mirrors the tone and rhythm of discovery as the Breaking Dawn: Part 1 track: mostly technical, respectful of the source material, and focused on bridging the gap between films. He discusses dancing around the MPAA for a specific rating, resolving the Edward-Jacob-Kristen triangle in a cinematic form, and doesn't hold back in destroying the illusion created in the film by explaining how he and his production crew cleverly achieved certain elements -- the cottage, Billy Burke interacting with a digital wolf, and how they shots scenes that took place in one place while attempting to look like another. Along with a Jump To ... feature where you can access Jacob- and Edward-centric scenes, a brief featurette, Two Movies at Once (6:27, HD) reflects on the compounded shooting schedule of the Breaking Dawn narrative.
No, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 isn't a good film, not by a long shot. However, this Razzie-winning conclusion to the Twilight series is easily more entertaining and vivacious than Part 1, and arguably the most fun to watch among these indulgent, widely-knocked films about vampires, werewolves, love triangles and immortal love. Bella as a confident vampire badass! Magic! Widely diverse covens from across the globe! And a battle among immortals and werewolves that shows a caliber of gusto that I truly wasn't expecting from this series. Oh, there are plenty of problems -- unconvincing melodrama everywhere, nonsensical plot contrivances, rough computer-generated babies, silly themes, and awkward humor -- but at least the liveliness is handled with polished production design and a clear perspective on keeping a wider audience entertained.
Without the special features, I'd simply slap a blanket Rent It label on the review and be done; however, even not being a member of the series' target audience, the hour-and-a-half documentary in itself is rather satisfying to watch, offering a glimpse into the big-budget construction that's honest, enthusiastic, and thorough in how it navigates the behind-the-scenes shots and fans' expectations. I still can't go beyond saying it's only worth a Rental for the general public and a recommendation for the fans, but it was pretty close.