Fans will be relieved to know that Eclipse is a vast improvement over its two predecessors, Twilight and New Moon. Director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) manages to elevate almost every aspect of the film. There is a decidedly darker and edgier tone this time around, and it is a welcome change. It’s not a great film, but it is a lot more enjoyable than the first two.
For the uninitiated, let me quickly bring you up to speed on what has previously happened in the story. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is in love with a Vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson.) He is part of a Vampire clan who will not feed on humans based on principle. They are “good” Vampires, if you will. In the same town there is a Quileute tribe who can shape-shift into wolves.
They have been sworn to protect their town from Vampires. One of the wolves (Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner) is in love with Bella, thus setting up a love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Got it?
Slade immediately establishes that this is not going to be the same teeny-bopper fare with a brutal opening sequence that is worthy of any horror movie. A teenage boy is walking by himself at night and is stalked, assaulted, and murdered. There has also been a rash of murders in Seattle that carry the markings of Vampire killings.
The Cullen Vampire clan discovers that the conspicuous killings are the work of “newbies” or brand new Vampires who cannot or will not control their primal impulses. As luck would (not) have it, they are coming for the Cullens, and more specifically, Bella.
The urgency of the situation requires the Cullens to call upon Jacob and the wolf tribe to band together with them in order to protect the city of Forks, and Bella, from the marauding Vampires. Bringing the two warring factions together for the greater good allows for some new character dynamics, and some well placed comedy.
Also new to the series are back-stories. We finally get some insight into the origins of the Quileute Wolf tribe and a few of the Cullens as well. Bella discovers why Rosalie (Nikki Reed) seems to hate her so.
Rosalie is jealous of Bella’s life, and believes that Bella is squandering that life by asking Edward to make her a Vampire. Rosalie is bitter because she never had the choice, her life was taken from her involuntarily. It’s a melancholy and effective tale, almost causing Bella to take pause regarding her decision.
Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) has an equally sad story that explains why he has such a knack for fighting. He takes it upon himself to prepare the Cullens for their upcoming fight with the newbies.
Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (who has worked on all the movies) thankfully tones down the truly awful dialogue from the last movie. There are still several cheesy moments, but they are fewer and farther between.
The humor in this movie felt good, particularly in a scene in a tent where Edward and Jacob verbally spar over a sleeping Bella. Twilight purists can be assured that Rosenberg is very faithful to the book.
The acting here is also a notch above New Moon. I’ve always felt that Kristen Stewart perfectly encompasses Bella. The fact that so many people despise her onscreen character is testament to that. Bella is an extremely unlikable character in the books as well. She’s sullen, moody, and stubborn.
Taylor Lautner was surprisingly good. Gone is his wooden delivery from New Moon. Here he seems confidant and natural, and he has really grown into the character of Jacob. Lautner has a lot of charisma, and when he hosted SNL this past season, he seemed more than willing to poke fun of himself. I think we’ll start seeing more of him in the future.
Then there is his chiseled physique, which is on full display throughout the movie. It should get a separate screen credit. It’s mesmerizing. If you fellows are having a hard time understanding what all the squealing is about, let me help you out. Taylor Lautner’s torso=Salma Hayek’s boobs. I see you are all nodding your heads now.
The same cannot be said of Pattinson. I find him harder to watch with each subsequent movie. He plays Edward as overly effeminate, and with his wispy voice and wimpy frame, I am having a really hard time swallowing the notion that he is such a perfect and desirable specimen of Vampire. Most of the scenes I found unintentionally laughable were his. I will be shocked if he has a film career after the franchise is wrapped up.
Billy Burke continues to quietly steal every scene he is in as Charlie, Bella’s exasperated father. The audience really seems to connect with his character. He is sweet and sincere as he grapples with his daughters burgeoning sexuality.
Victoria makes an appearance in the final showdown, with Bryce Dallas Howard stepping into Rachelle Lefevre’s shoes for the role. Her screen time is brief but powerful. Hell hath no fury like a Vampire avenging her lover’s death.
The supporting cast consists of mostly returning cast members. Xavier Samuel is a great addition as newbie Vampire Riley. I actually think that he would have made a better Edward than Pattinson. Dakota Fanning once again plays the sadistic Vampire torturer Jane. She doesn’t have much to do, in fact none of the Volturi really do. They easily could have been left out of the movie with little consequence, but that would be veering off course from the book.
The final confrontation between the Volturi, the Cullens, the newbies, and the wolves is the finest action sequence of the series thus far. It is savage and violent.
The CGI is greatly improved, particularly when it comes to the wolves. Their faces look realistic, and their fur has a richer texture and fluid movement. They actually look like giant wolves, not the cartoonish impostors from New Moon.
I am impressed with Slade’s ability to salvage the franchise. I despised New Moon, but I liked this quite a bit. The Edward/Bella scenes are dull, but outside of that there is a fresh feel to everything. The man did the best that can be done, considering the weak source material.
There are the same flaws that we have seen before with the characters (controlling Edward, co-dependent Bella), but that is not the fault of the movie. Die hard fans will love this movie, and others might find it to be a pleasant surprise.