'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2' Review: With Nothing At Stake, The Oh-So-Serious Franchise Is Free To Play

In the final act of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, as primary characters face horrific fates and a Highlander film's worth of decapitations flickered on the screen, I struggled to wrap my head around a realization: I might have to convince some of my friends to see this movie. For someone who has sat through — I might even hyperbolize "endured" — the previous four films, this was new. Enjoyment. Enthusiasm. The battle scene hinted at in the image above is exactly the sort of thing films such as the entire Underworld series have struggled to create. Here, it's tossed off with seemingly little effort.

But then there's the movie wrapped around that sequence. This is still Twilight, full of gravely serious vampires far better at posing with faces full of concern than than they are to be at actually sucking blood. Is this, the last film in the series, any good? No, not really.

But this time  – and this is important – everyone involved, from director Bill Condon on down, finally seems to be in on the joke. I'd swear that Michael Sheen, playing the leader of dire vampire enforcement clan the Volturi, was running lines from Rocky Horror in his head. A pair of Transylvanian guys (or are they characters cut from Sprockets?) throw so much Lugosi into their voice that they're nearly unintelligible, to oddly funny effect. And a CG baby is used when a perfectly normal human baby would have worked just as well. Seriously: a CG baby. That alone nearly merits a curiosity viewing.

This second chapter of Breaking Dawn is an atypical Twilight film. (Had to be a qualification here, right?) Gone are the odious sexual politics and relationship didacticism of the first four films. Those elements, a warped set of rules binding the core romance, are what Twilight truly is. Without them, this chapter is only a coda, a goof. Free of Big Story requirements, it toys with old-fashioned "Good versus Evil" monster movie melodrama, coiling up into a modern action payoff with bad guys just begging audiences to hate them. And we do. It's easy, and fun.

Twilight, as a series, focuses on the love triangle between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and Jacob the Shirtless Werewolf (Taylor Lautner). That story came to a close at the end of the last film, as Bella and Edward married and bore a child, which Jacob "imprinted" on (i.e. fell in love with) as Bella became a vampire able to exist for centuries alongside Edward.

Now, as Bella, Edward, and friends prepare for a showdown with the Volturi over the fact that their kid isn't quite normal, we can't pretend that anything is at stake. There's no way everything crafted in the last four movies will be risked. This installment is like a TV show pilot as it brings a load of far-flung vampire clans to the Cullen homestead. Soon it turns into a Twilight/Marvel Comics mash-up, as many of the new arrivals boast special powers that would be ideal X-Men recruitment criteria.

Despite the fact that the imminent battle is the only point to this part of the story, in Stephenie Meyer's original novel it is defused before the violence starts. Here, things are a bit different. Condon & Co. deliver a battle sequence that pays off all the time spent cramming the frame with wanna-be superheroes. After four films in which the most exciting thing was the decibel level of audience screams when Taylor Lautner took off his shirt, it's a shock to see characters in motion like this. Cut the battle sequence out of the context of a Twilight film, and it would be many a superhero fan's favorite movie scene of the year.

But then Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg do something that shows balls: they tell us just how little the battle means. Doing so provides one of the heartiest laughs of the film, for me. Because in crafting the battle Condon beats a great many mainstream genre filmmakers at their own game, and then shows that he doesn't care about the game at all.

And while the movie as a whole is silly, frivolous, and empty, there are moments of slightly-aware comedy, such as a couple jokes about Jacob's relationship to Bella's infant daughter, and pure camp that dominates every time the teeth-gnashingly evil Volturi are on screen. Condon sets a sex scene set to a tender Feist song, and flashes back to a medieval village where a vampiric child decimates an entire population. He casts Lee Pace as a rakish vampire who seems to know exactly what sort of movie he's in, and doesn't mind a bit.

Twilight is what it is — romantic fantasy escapism tainted by a weird, ugly attitude towards sex — and at this point there's no changing it. But Breaking Dawn – Part 2 suggests that even the people pushing that fantasy tire of it. Watching them play around provides only a fleeting pleasure, but that's more than the rest of the films in the series can boast./Film score: 5.5 out of 10