From the moment Bella Swan blinks those blood-red eyes of a newborn vampire, you just know that "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2" is going to be vampirrific. Which is not quite the same as terrific, but for the swooning series that made heartthrobs of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, it just feels right.
In its fifth and theoretically final film, the mega movie monster spawned by novelist Stephenie Meyer's phenomenon spends virtually all of its 115 minutes feeding the unquenchable thirst its fans have for all things "Twilight." To give "BD2" its due, it is the best of the bunch and will be much loved by Twihards, which should by no means be mistaken for praise.
The movie has plenty of romance, which is what first hooked the teen set. But it is a far more ferocious brand now that Bella (Stewart) can put all of her new vampire muscle into making sweet mush with dreamy undead hubby Edward Cullen (Pattinson). It also has ab-rrific werewolf Jacob Black (Lautner) baring his body as well as his soul — prepare to hear screams when this happens. And there are sexy new bloodsuckers like Lee Pace's Garrett (why, oh, why didn't they introduce him sooner?).
The action is completely over the top, warming up with arm wrestling and rock climbing, then going in for the kill with a head-ripping, body-burning battle that pits the Cullen clan against those world-dominating Volturi, fashionably led by Aro (Michael Sheen, as devilish as ever), with Jane (Dakota Fanning) delighted to handle the dirtiest dirty work.
And — this is an important one — "Breaking Dawn — Part 2" does not take itself too seriously. There are cheeky nods to the entire series throughout, with the tendency toward campy excess becoming an ongoing punch line. There is more humor in general, and our newly minted warrior princess is responsible for much of it.
The film, directed by Bill Condon and adapted by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who has been there from beginning, picks up right where "BD1" left off, so if you're new to the franchise, you have a lot of catching up to do ("Twilight," "New Moon," "Eclipse," "Part 1," whew).
Here's what you need to know: Bella has given birth to the half-vampire/half-mortal wunderkind with the weird name, Renesmee, and has just recovered from Edward's life-changing bite. Jacob and Edward have joined forces, or at least stopped fighting. The rest of the Cullens (Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone and Ashley Greene) are thrilled with the way things are turning out. And Bella's dad, Charlie Swan (Billy Burke), is still in the dark.
As "BD2" opens we see the world as Bella does now. Since vampire sight is really, really sharp, it gives cinematographer Guillermo Navarro a chance for a lot of Nat-Geo-style close-ups of the flora and fauna (a.k.a. food, Bambi beware). Bella wants to see her new baby, but there's a matter of that deadly thirst, so first she must feed. A race through the forest at warp speed shows off only one of many new powers that Bella has picked up. Her ability to create a mind shield — critical when the Volturi battle begins — looks like a CGI-lite heat wave that would barely make Aro break a sweat, but hey, it seems to work.
At the center of the controversy that drives "BD2" is Bella and Edward's fast-growing sprite (nicely played by young Mackenzie Foy once the filmmakers get past the creepy CGI versions of her baby days). Immortal children (Renesmee isn't one, but Aro isn't convinced) are a major vampire no-no; let's just say their terrible 2s are truly terrible. Meanwhile Jacob's werewolf genes have kicked in and he's imprinted on Renesmee, which means she's destined to be his soul mate when she grows up — at the current rate, that should be in a couple of months.
Really that's about it, except for all the battle rounds pre, midst of, and post.
The battle is epic and quite the spectacle. It is exceptional in its staging, although considering the number of vampires who give their life for the cause, you'll be grateful they don't bleed. According to "Twilight" lore, death requires heads be brutally ripped off. Stakes through the heart definitely will not suffice.
The dialogue remains spotty and sappy, the effects still haven't caught up to modern-day standards, but "Twilight's" popularity is such that even when it falls short, it doesn't seem to matter. Condon, who is usually attached to higher-brow projects -- "Kinsey," "Gods and Monsters," "Dreamgirls" -- was first brought in to class things up for "BD1." Although he seems to have let down his guard and had more fun with "Twilight" the second time around, the filmmaker's greatest challenge was not so much creative but ensuring he did nothing to damage the golden goose.
Under his direction, the acting of the saga's all-important threesome has gotten more polished. If you doubt that, the film's flashbacks will remind just how awkward the earlier outings were. There is also Edward and Jacob's massive sex appeal and their impossibly romantic notions about love, roughly drawn from the Victorian era.
But Bella has always been the belle of this ball. In "Breaking Dawn — Part 2," Stewart is even more luminous in holding the screen, breathing vibrant new life into her undead beauty queen. She's gotten better working in the "Twilight" zone, elevating each new chapter as it comes along. It almost makes you regret that this is the swan song.
'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Playing: In general release
Condon, who is usually attached to higher brow projects — “Kinsey,” “Gods and Monsters,” “Dreamgirls” — was first brought in to class things up for “BD1.”Although he seems to have let down his guard and had more fun with “Twilight” the second time around, the filmmaker’s greatest challenge was not so much creative but ensuring he did nothing to damage the golden goose.