Alternate Take: The Twilight Saga Eclipse

Nothing much has changed in the Twilight universe and if there’s a problem with Eclipse that’s the biggest one. I’m told repeatedly by fans that the next movie gets really crazy, but for now we’re sort of stuck rehashing the same story we saw in the last movie. A depressed, awkward girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart) is in love with a vampire (Robert Pattinson). Her vampire feels terribly guilty about this and wishes she’d stop. Meanwhile, Bella’s being politely stalked by a roid-raging werewolf named Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who hopes to steal her away from the other guy before he finally gets around to sucking out her blood. This is a job I’m fairly confident any other slightly self-respecting vampire would have gotten done before the end of movie one, but here we are in the third film still debating the same old blood sucking issues.

Maybe that’s not all bad. The best thing about Eclipse is that it at least attempts to treat complex emotions in a complex way. Any other love story would have had these two married and honeymooning in Vegas long ago, but Eclipse, even more so than the other two films, is determined to examine their feelings and their relationship possibilities from every angle. It addresses difficult questions without resorting to easy answers and spends a lot of time wondering whether a teenage girl is capable of making the right decision when she’s besotted. It forces its male characters into hard romantic choices, and asks them to wonder whether being in love with someone is enough.

Eclipse’s best scene happens in a tent where permanently shirtless Jacob and permanently pale Edward, bitter enemies till now, finally lay their cards on the table and find common ground in their love for Bella. It’s a scene which could have been filled with romantic platitudes, but instead it’s laid out with a kind of naïve honesty in which both characters confess their failings and decide the girl they care about is more important than whatever prejudices they hold against each other. It’s also the place where Twilight finally establishes that Bella, till now mostly a bland pawn, actually has some say in things. Both potential lovers agree they’ll let her decide between them, as if had they wanted, they could have made the choice for her. Would Bella mind if they did? She protests, but somehow I don’t think she would.

Still the complexity with which Eclipse attempts to address these issues is in its own way admirable, but at some point maybe it’s also too much. The biggest problem here, as it was with the other two movies, is the material on which it’s based. The thing is, at least in the broader strokes, these just aren’t very good stories. Individual moments sometimes work but there’s never really a big picture beyond Bella’s obsession with Edward that seems to matter or make any real sense. There’s some attempt to set up a broad vampire conspiracy, but all of that seems utterly out of step with all the romantic pondering going on through the rest of the movie. It feels like it’s only there as an afterthought, because the author knew that even teenage girls can only take so much romantic introspection.

And maybe that’s the real problem. A lot of Eclipse plays out like filler. At times it indulges in flashbacks, which do nothing to move the story. Bella goes to graduation, but it plays no real role in the narrative. Her human friends make another cameo, but they have no impact on her life other than to take up space next to Bella at a party. There’s a big battle, but it feels like it’s only there for the sake of having a big battle.

At least this time the action sequences make some attempt to be entertaining. They’re not particularly well staged, the final fight takes place in an open field which we’re told gives the outnumbered Cullen coven a tactical advantage. Except standing in an open field waiting for superior forces to walk out of the forest and slaughter you was sort of discredited as a legitimate tactic somewhere around the Revolutionary War. Yet while the tactics are bad and some of the special effects aren’t perfect, they’re still a big step up from the previous movies. Director David Slade has a lot of fun pounding the diamond-constructed vampires of Stephanie Meyers’ world into literal dust. It’s not the hardcore fanged killing of Slade’s last vampire movie, 30 Days of Night, but lost in the Twilight wilderness, it’ll do.

Yet even those battles are just sort of there to break up all the endless talking about Edward and Bella’s relationship. Twilight: Eclipse is fairly well acted and directed, but what is it that all this effort is being put into creating? Twilight: Eclipse works well enough, but what are we watching? It’s really just an endless conversation about an immature, moody, generally unlikable, teenage girl’s feelings. In a world without money to be made, maybe that wouldn’t have deserved three full movies. Please Bella, grow up.