Anyone who ever saw “Schoolhouse Rock” knows 3 is the magic number.
So it is with the impossibly successful Twilight film franchise, which finally - FINALLY - hits its stride with its most engrossing and charismatic chapter yet, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”
For the first time, those of us who haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s books get an understanding of why these characters have inspired such insane devotion.
Give credit to director David Slade, the third helmer in as many Twilight films. Many people probably assumed that the director of the vampires-in-the-cold horror pic “30 Days of Night” (adapted from Steve Niles’ graphic novel) would add some bite to the film’s action sequences – and he does.
But his greatest achievement is solving the conundrum that plagued the first two movies: translating the charisma and passion that encircle the story’s main trio from the page to the screen.
Drawing on his experience from directing 2005’s “Hard Candy,” Slade proves to have a better grasp on the material than predecessors Catherine Hardwicke and Chris Weitz. He kills the camp tone that ruined “New Moon,” zeroes in on the characterization, and draws out the best performances yet from Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and especially Kristen Stewart.
Someone’s piling up bodies in Seattle. The Cullen clan worries that someone is creating a Newborn Army of vampires and they’re coming to Forks, and after Bella. The Cullens put aside their differences with the Wolf Pack of the Quileute tribe to form an alliance.
The impending arrival of the Newborns adds a menacing overtone that was missing from the first two films. Slade’s rapid-fire editing lends a spark to the two furious action sequences that bookend the movie – especially the climactic, all-monsters on deck battle royal -- as well as a nifty training scene where the Cullens train the Pack to fight Newborns.
But monster mashes aren’t why people read the Twilight books or camp out for days to see the movies. Young love is the hook, and “Eclipse” delivers that in spades.
The movie could have been subtitled ‘How Bella Got Her Groove Back,’ because the story centers on Bella taking control of her life.
Just weeks away from graduating high school, Bella is ready to be Edward’s Forever Girl. Despite warnings from everyone that becoming a vampire is ripe with consequences she doesn’t realize, and with Jacob making a last-ditch effort to win her over, Bella sticks to her guns. Her stubbornness is a reflection of her maturity.
Stewart, who was maddeningly dour in “Twilight” and “New Moon,” here infuses Bella’s flannel angst with a winning ‘everygirl’ charm. She even cracks a few jokes!
As Edward, the vamp who’s old school in so many ways, Pattinson gets his moments to sparkle, too.
The chemistry between him and Stewart is palpable, which was confirmed by the squeals from the younger people in the screening I attended.
Pattinson also gets to show off a sense of humor. At one point, Edward and Bella walk up to a shirtless Taylor, and he grumbles, “Doesn’t he own a shirt?”
Edward wants to marry Bella, but he won’t seal the deal until the ‘I do’s’ are done. So much for that bad-boy image.
Lautner does his bare-chested best to capture Bella’s heart, but it’s obvious from the start he’s fighting a losing battle. Jacob tries to convince Bella that Edward is all wrong for her, and the irony is that Edward doesn’t really disagree. But it’s not up to either guy. The decision is Bella’s …and guess who she chooses?
[Answer: not as clear-cut as one who hasn’t read the books would think.]
“Eclipse” isn’t close to perfect. The film drags at times as the characters sit around in various locales talking a bit too much, planning, worrying, foreboding. And doesn’t anyone in Forks notice how pale the Cullens are??
Bryce Dallas Howard is recast as the vengeful Victoria, but she’s not terribly convincing as the Cullen family’s arch-foe. The cameo appearances by the bloodsucking aristocrats The Volturi offer little to the proceedings except a “Breaking Dawn” setup and a reminder that Dakota Fanning is getting creepier by the role.
But there are other touches that help “Eclipse,” such as flashbacks that reveal the back-story to Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed), and the early days of the Quileute tribe (although still no explanation why they insist on wearing jean shorts in this day and age).
A few laughs never hurt, either. The scene where Charlie (Billy Burke) tries to have ‘The Talk’ with Bella is as awkwardly funny as one would expect such a discussion to happen between a single dad and his teenage daughter.
The supporting cast of Twilight is bound to get short-changed, because the attention naturally has to focus on the Bella/Edward/Jacob triangle. But Slade smartly finds a way to give each their moment in the sun, however brief.
But when all is said and done, this is Bella’s story.
In one scene, Bella spells out her reasons for wanting so desperately to give up her normal life to become Edward's undead sweetie.
"I've never felt normal," she said. Bella's determination and clarity of purpose mirrors the movie.
It's nice that the rest of us finally get a chance to see what all the fuss is about.