I went to see “Twilight 3” – excuse me, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” – the other night and, not having seen (or read) the first two installments of Stephanie Meyer’s rather popular series, I asked the teen-age girl next to me whether I might have trouble understanding “Eclipse.”
“Oh no, not at all,” she said.
And, in a way, she was right. The dynamics were immediately obvious, in terms of the relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her two antagonistic suitors, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Icy, formal boyfriend versus hot-blooded passionate one. Stand-offish versus needy. Vampire versus werewolf. What’s a girl to do?
But a lot of the politics of the vampire world – and the vampire-vs.-werewolf world – kind of got past me. So I went back and indulged myself in a double feature of the first two “Twilight” movies.
Which answered the question of why the red-haired vampire (who, when she slowed down long enough to get a look at her, turned out to be Bryce Dallas Howard, though she wasn’t in the first two films) was trying to kill Bella – and creating an army of newly minted vampires to help her. The newborns, as they are called, have a frenzy for killing that takes a while to control. So they’re stronger and more unpredictable than the troupe of vampires guarding Bella’s life in the town with the unlikely name of Forks.
If you drop the whole supernatural thing for a moment, however, “Eclipse” is just another teen-age soap opera about the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Everything else – even the attack of the army of newborn vampires – is just so much filigree on the story of a girl, her boyfriend and the guy who can’t take no for an answer.
There’s been much made about how little sex there is in the “Twilight” series; every kiss is an event, but only an isolated one, rather than the first in an unstoppable sequence of steps that winds up with clothes flying. Bella’s urge to become a vampire and be Edward’s mate forever – like, really, forever – is the rather heavy-handed metaphor for virginity.
Plotwise, the whole movie comes down to this: Bella has convinced Edward to turn her into a vampire himself. His one condition: that she marry him as a human first. On such minor disputes can a soap opera exist for a year or longer. It’s certainly more than enough to drive an entire movie.
Oh, there’s that other thing: the red-haired Victoria and her army of vampires: “Something terrible is coming,” someone says in a moment of premonition, though it’s not really all that terrible – or that hard to predict. Which leads to a whole vampire-werewolf alliance to learn to fight the bad vampires.
But really, “Eclipse” is about the Edward-Jacob push-pull, mostly because Jacob hates losing to Edward – and correctly observes that if Bella dies and becomes a vampire, it seriously diminishes Jake’s chances of grabbing her on the rebound. Mustering his arguments to persuade Bella to shift her romantic focus from Edward to himself, Jake says dismissively, “He’s not even human.” Dude, if that’s the best you’ve got, you’re in big trouble.
There’s a certain amount of humor in “Eclipse,” such as Edward’s line about Jacob, “Does he ever wear a shirt?” because Lautner flashes his eight-pack whenever possible. Apparently no one in this neck of the woods finds it odd that, though it’s late-winter Oregon, there are groups of young men who resemble each other physically, who dress like bare-chested surfers and sport the exact same ornate tattoo on their right shoulders.
Pattinson has expanded upon his James Dean impression for this third film, but not much. Lautner still has the swagger and subtlety of an overconfident frat kid. Stewart shows a stronger range of both emotion and wit in “Eclipse,” though I can’t imagine that she’s not eager to have this character behind her. Stewart makes Bella feel real, both in her bravado and her boldly open throttle on her own emotions. Even when the material isn’t subtle, Stewart is.
Critics have generally dismissed the “Twilight” movies, though I’ll admit that “Eclipse” is a stronger, more focused film than the first two. Put it this way: If there’s a teen-age girl in your life – or in you – she will get just what she needs from this movie.