The most surprising thing about New Moon, the second film in the Twilight series, is how much worse it is than the first. Saddled with a low budget and a cast of thespians better suited for catalog work than the rigors of emoting, Twilight nevertheless had a certain charm. The unfairly maligned Catherine Hardwicke seemed to get the joke, that the massive angst felt by Bella and her mopey undead beau Edward was silly, and she played it with a certain deadpan straight-faced quality that both empathized with and deflated it. The film was deeply problematic, beginning with the exceptionally uninspired source material, but there was a life to the teen romance that is almost totally missing from New Moon.
In the few moments where new director Chris Weitz finds that life the movie threatens to become watchable. But then he and the idiotic script conspire to kill the moment, to smother any natural charisma the actors might be tempted to display and to get ham-fisted and obvious. What’s worse is that there’s no movie here – the film is without any sort of real throughline and just meanders through non-event after non-event. I’m sure this shoddy structure comes from the novel, but this isn’t exactly holy writ being adapted here – screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg should have found a way to give this ‘story’ (and I’m seriously using that term loosely) form.
In this shapeless installment heroine Bella is turning 18 and getting all worked up that she’ll get old and Edward never will. The best way to sum up this film is to explain that it opens with a dream sequence that perfectly explains this dilemma using heavy handed symbolism and the proceeds to cram in ten minutes of scenes where Bella just keeps on saying what we have already come to quickly understand. The film is a nightmare of exposition, filled with montages that have voice overs where Bella explains exactly what is happening and how she feels about it, and then followed up by scenes where Bella tells other people what is happening and how she feels about it. This story and these characters are not very complex, so why did Weitz and Rosenberg feel the need to deliver exposition for every single plot point and emotional moment.
What’s even worse is that this exposition will come at the end of long, boring sequences where absolutely nothing happens and will replace actual story or suspense. The film will spend ten minutes with Bella and her new potential boyfriend, the shirt-allergic Native American Jacob, as they do fuck all and then will have another character walk into the scene and cram in a mouthful of exposition. At two hours long this is baffling – the movie surely has enough time to show us stuff, but Weitz never comes realized that we’d like a story told here.
Speaking of Jacob – he’s the one redeeming factor in this film. Especially if you’re a pedophile; Jacob and his buddies spend approximately 90% of the movie topless, exposing their supple boyflesh. Larry Clark would watch this movie and feel it was over the top. But Jacob has two things over Edward, when it comes to being a boyfriend: he doesn’t mope all the fucking time and he turns into a huge, hilarious looking werewolf. All of his buddies do – they become monstrous CGI wolfboys who patrol the forests and kill evil vampires. The CG wolves are awful, but in a delightful way, and a scene where two werewolves tussle recalled the epic CGI polar bear fight from The Golden Compass; maybe unconvincing animal fights are Chris Weitz’ trademark. But even though everything about them is terrible they’re at least interesting and have some sort of energy, unlike the morose and boring Cullen clan of vampires. Taylor Lautner (who looks sort of like Matt Damon’s FAS brother) may not be a great actor, or even a passable one, but he’s got some kind of screen presence, quite unlike the seemingly two-dimensional Robert Pattinson. I guess this puts me in Team Jacob.
Twilight felt tiny in scope and scale; New Moon supposedly widens the world, bringing in werewolves and a poncey ruling board of vampires in Italy, but it still feels claustrophobically small. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a fantasy world filled with less imagination or ambition. It’s like Stephenie Meyer had one original idea – the truly ludicrous concept that vampires sparkle in the sun* – and then just gave up. The mythology of this world is so lackluster and unoriginal that I can’t understand where it grabs legions of women. This is vampires and werewolves for people whose interest in werewolves and vampires usually dries up on November 1st. But even the ‘global’ nature of this story – the film’s ho hum climax takes place and was shot in Italy – feels small. Weitz managed to take a crew to Italy and capture nothing that looked like it couldn’t have been created on the Universal backlot.
So if the mythology is paper thin, it must be the characters that keep drawing people in. Except that Bella is barely a character, and it’s embarrassing watching Kristen Stewart have to play this absolute zero of a human being. Defined only by the men in her life, unable to do anything on her own, completely helpless in every way (there are a bizarre number of scenes where men drive Bella’s truck for her, as if she’s incapable of such an indelicate task as hitting the brakes), Bella is a retrograde nightmare. If the Twilight books had been written by a man many of the grown women I know who love the series would have been disgusted by the appalling misogyny on display. Other, better writers have covered the series’ Cro-Magnon take on sexual politics better than I could, but I will say that as it relates to New Moon these sexual politics essentially sink the movie. Bella’s only emotional modes are horribly needy and annoyingly depressed; spending time with this character is torture. That anyone could relate to her on any level frightens me; I have to assume that it’s Bella’s utter blankness and emptiness as a character that allows girls to project themselves into her hollow shell.
Edward’s entire story arc is dictated by a plebian reference to Romeo & Juliet early on in the film, and Robert Pattinson continues to show that he was gifted with nothing that makes him appropriate as a screen actor. Other actors enter the fray and are similarly mauled by the material; Michael Sheen should just get a weekend gig as a barista if he needs money this badly. He plays the leader of the Volturi, the vampire ruling group, and while he’s at least seemingly having some fun by hamming it up, it’s still a career low. And this guy has been in the Underworld films.
New Moon just sort of meanders along for most of its running time and then it suddenly tries to pull off a suspense scene and a climax, both of which fail in simply objective cinematic terms. And then it sort of peters out, slowly grinding to a halt on a ‘cliffhanger’ moment. By the time the movie was over I simply couldn’t care what would happen next; I was bored and irritated by this movie in equal measures. The budget is bigger and the endless series of montages were slicker, but New Moon is a film without a soul, just like protagonist Edward fears about himself. Twilight was scrappy and silly and endearingly po-faced; Weitz brings some ‘humor’ into New Moon but never injects any life into the proceedings. I’m sure fans will be happy to watch actors pantomime the scenes from the books but they’ve already proven themselves to be among the least discerning consumer since the people who bought Mountain Dew Code Red. Summit has learned that these girls will eat up any old shit, and they’re content to give them any old shit.
By the way, Chris Weitz has announced his intention to retire from directing. After this and The Golden Compass the only sane reaction to this news can be ‘Good.’
* spoiler I guess: In this film Edward plans to force the ruling vampire council to kill him by breaking the vamp law of exposing himself to the world by walking in sunlight. Real question: Why would anyone who saw him sulking about sparkling in the noon sun think he was a vampire? They’d just think he was an extra in a Lady Gaga video.