Posted on Friday, November 20th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
Every fifth or sixth word in my notes on The Twilight Saga: New Moon is ‘mope’. If there’s a more listless, disengaged piece of film this year I hope I don’t have to suffer it. (Actually, there is, and I did right after writing this. The guys’ flipside to New Moon: Ninja Assassin.) This second Twilight film is not a dreamy, thorny gothic romance; it is a stereotypical, unimaginative caricature of depressed teens expanded into 120 minutes. By comparison, Catherine Hardwicke’s creaky first film looks like a wise and knowing glimpse into youthful distraction and obsession.
There’s another thread that dominates my notes on New Moon, and which is really the crux of why the movie is so lousy: ‘heroine’ Bella (Kristen Stewart), who in this chapter is reduced to sub-character statues. She’s less substantial than tissue paper, but is featured in nearly every scene. Bella is listless and empty, devoid of any notable characteristic. She has no opinions and nothing interesting to say; her only characteristic is that she wants. But the object of her desire, the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, pale and grim), is equally as insubstantial. They’d make a perfect pair, if you were looking for a couple to fill out the deep background of a better film.
We open a short time after the events of the first film. Bella has been generally accepted into the ranks of the vampiric Cullen family. But her status as a human — that is, potential food — is underlined when an innocent paper cut leads to a violent family showdown. It’s one thing when your new girlfriend doesn’t fit in with the fam; quite another when she’d fit all too well on the dinner menu. There’s also the lingering spectre of rival vampire Victoria (the briefly-seen Rachelle Lefevre, to be replaced in the next movie by Bryce Dallas Howard) who, having been defeated in the last film, earnestly want to get her fangs into Bella.
So the Cullens, not to put too fine a point on it, fuck right off. Edward brushes off Bella in the way a confused teenage kid might (ironically making his action one of the few recognizable human moments in the story) and she’s left to mope around for months. Finally her eye lands on the newly beefed up Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who hits werewolf puberty just as he and Bella are about to really hook up. Their friendship develops as she uses him to take her mind off Edward; she’s playing him along, and he’s too smitten to see it.
It’s a classic romantic setup, but new director Chris Weitz doesn’t get it. He knows that Bella and Edward represent grand romance to a legion of teens, so he smashes them together in the frame. But there’s no spark. He knows that Bella is meant to be distracted and wooed by werewolf Jacob, so he shoots Jake and his wolfpack brothers with their shirts off and pecs glistening, seemingly unaware of how laughable the crew is. Nothing genuine passes between any of the characters; you could mistake the film for a feature-length parody of the Twilight phenomena if you didn’t already know better.
Melissa Rosenberg wrote the script. She’s already a Twilight vet, having scripted the first film, and has plenty of experience with obsession thanks to her day job on Dexter. I’m told that her script is very much a direct adaptation of the novel, so I’m left pinning the blame for this snoozefest on Weitz’s perfunctory direction. At most, perhaps Rosenberg has to answer a seemingly truncated climactic sequence where Edward tries to end his life at the hands of the Volturi, a clan of bloodsucker royalty. (He basically attempts the vampiric version of suicide by cop.)
The craft in Catherine Hardwicke’s effort was definitely more rickety than what’s on display here; from any technical perspective this is a far more competent film. (Which generally means: more traditional, which is not necessarily better by any means.) OK, the effects here are better, thanks perhaps to extra dollars in the budget that were spent on shirts for the entire cast in the last movie. But when it came to the feel, Hardwicke got it and Weitz doesn’t. In Twilight, scenes between Bella and her father were touching, and Bella’s alienation was easy to understand. It gave her a reason to be drawn to Edward Cullen. In New Moon, there’s no reason at all.
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson both struggle against the content vacuum that sucks the life out of the movie, but neither is even vaguely strong enough to put up the necessary fight. As Jacob, Taylor Lautner is marginally better, but he also gets the best material; he’s the only active, non-depressed character of the core trio. Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning offer a little juice as Volturi elders, Sheen even channeling a bit of Christoph Waltz energy, but it’s a futile effort. So too with Anna Kendrick, who genuinely earns a laugh or two. But after seeing her sparkle in Up in the Air this is like catching her sneaking in a bored weekend of community theatre.
/Film Rating: 2 out of 10