I'll spare everyone the requisite opening paragraph of this review. Specifically, the one where the reviewer dissects the Twilight franchise, discussing ad nauseum the differences between the undying fandom of teenage girls and 40-something spinsters the world over from the rest of human society, who generally find this franchise and the books it spawned from altogether insufferable. The argument's been made, sides have been chosen, and we know what the battlefield looks like. If you're a Twilight fan, congratulations: here is more Twilight.
Now, not only do you get to finally see (albeit briefly) the central heroine and her vampire boy toy have angry, jackhammering vampire sex (albeit in the most softcore way imaginable), but you also get to ooh and ah as Bella sits convalescing for long periods of time while the various men in her life mug angrily for the camera and brood endlessly about a baby vampire growing inside her that might kill everyone or do absolutely nothing or something in-between because nobody actually knows anything but holy shit look at Edward's dreamy eyes and Jacob's abs and wait, where was I? Oh, right. Twilight fans. You'll probably love every stupid second of this movie.
As for the rest of us, Breaking Dawn: Part I can essentially be broken up in to three distinct parts. First comes roughly 20 minutes of soft-lit, utterly idealized wedding porn, as we find Bella (Kristen Stewart, mouth-breathing her way through the movie as always) ready to finally marry her pale-skinned protector and annoyingly celibate boyfriend, Edward (Robert Pattinson, pensively staring as always). Everyone's there, including characters who have no meaningful impact on the story that follows, but are around to remind us that they still exist, and are very much under contract. The wedding is glamorous in a way that would make Kim Kardashian seethe with jealousy. Judging by the sheer number of muted sighs I heard from the largely female theater audience as Bella walked down the aisle, this scene had its intended effect.
What then follows is 25 or so minutes of surprisingly dull wish-fulfillment for Twi-hards who have ached ever so long to see Bella and Edward play chess, go skinny dipping, and have torrential, furniture obliterating vampire sex with one another. As it turns out, Edward's vampire brood has its own private island off the coast of Brazil, because of course it does. On it there sits a massive mansion that apparently no one uses very often, because of course there does. When they get there, Bella finally convinces Edward to make love to her while she's still a human girl, because of course she does. Edward remains cautious, but finally indulges, because of course he does. The end result is an aftermath that looks like Bella had a one night stand with the Tasmanian Devil.
The rest of the movie is a prolonged, annoying debate on abortion. Turns out, vampire-on-human sex is remarkably potent, as Bella is knocked up with a baby that grows about ten times faster than a normal baby. They go home, where Edward's J. Crew catalog of a vampire coven takes turns worrying about Bella, protecting Bella from angry werewolves (they're scared of the baby for some reason!) and saying words out loud like "If only I could see the fetus, I could figure out what it wants!" as if those were words that formed a sentence that made a single lick of identifiable sense.
Asking for sense in a film franchise predicated on the world's most boring girl somehow wooing a hunky hundred year old vampire and a double hunky Native American werewolf in between random threats from other vampires, other wolves, and sometimes high school kids is probably not reasonable. Everything in this series is more or less a foregone conclusion, because we know that the filmmakers are handcuffed to Stephanie Meyer's awful and completely insane storytelling. In the case of Breaking Dawn: Part 1's helmsman, Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon, that slavish dedication almost turns around and becomes self-parody.
Condon seems to have embraced the lunacy of this tale whole hog, to the point where his answer is not to try and ground the story in anything resembling reality, and instead up the melodrama to a fever pitch. Every dream sequence is like some kind of ill-advised acid trip, with psychedelic imagery and pulsing music that makes you wonder if you haven't accidentally wandered into a Timothy Leary symposium. Elsewhere, actors have been essentially tasked with taking the one most noticeable trait their character has, and dialing it up to breathless insanity. Everyone in this movie is so freaked out about everything that you half expect a crazy old South American woman to suddenly burst in and start screaming about "EL DIABLO!!!" growing inside Bella's belly. And then that actually happens.
And yet, for all this energetic psychosis, the story and the characters continue to lie dead (or undead) on the screen, still completely impenetrable to anyone who hasn't completely bought into this nonsense from the get-go. The biggest problem with these characters--namely the fact that all of them are solely defined by their particular attraction to Bella, who is in turn only defined by the men that are attracted to her--is left as broken as ever. And every time they do try to insert some kind of guiding ethos or dark history to any of these people, it comes off like a half-assed, throwaway piece of screen time that offers us nothing to grasp onto. Case in point: Edward's early film confession that like a hundred years ago, he stalked and drank the blood of serial killers and rapists, a fact of which he is ashamed. Bella is, like, "Oh, okay! No, it's cool. Let's still get married," and then the film is on about its merry way, as if that scene had never occurred.
Similarly taxing and, frankly, extremely creepy, is Jacob's role in all of this. Taylor Lautner hasn't got much to do here except stand tough as his pack of wolf buddies circle Bella's increasingly emaciated frame, and talk a lot about "imprinting," the thing wolves do when they basically decide that they've found someone to obsess over for eternity. Except not in that cute, John Cusack in Say Anything way. More in an unsettling, "I have decided to obsess eternally about Bella's baby and her weird CG face for the rest of my life," kind of way. Yes, it's in the book, but I don't care. Jacob "imprinting" on Bella's computer baby is supremely weird, and anyone who says otherwise is straight up demented.
Also, did I mention that the baby has a CG face sometimes? Because of reasons unbeknownst to rational society, Condon and crew felt it necessary to create a fake baby face to look all lovingly at Jacob, because apparently a real baby takes too long to actually look at the thing you want it to look at, or something. Never mind that the CG werewolves still look just awful. Clearly, the baby's head needed all the computer effects work to be just right. Personally, I'd have spent the time, money, and effort on that much-talked-about birth scene. You know, the one that's supposed to be gruesome and awesome, yet in reality is actually relegated to just a few cutaways and a lot of bad montage-y weirdness. What few moments of body horror we do get here are less grotesque than lazy, and while it's great that Edward does eventually perform his own c-section, we barely see any of it. Way to cop out on the one part of this movie the rest of the civilized world might have actually enjoyed.
I suppose I should try and acknowledge positive moments in Breaking Dawn: Part I. I did appreciate the hammy wedding party toast montage, in which Anna Kendrick gives a half-jealous, half-self-absorbed rant about Bella and Edward's relationship, and Bella's dad (Billy Burke) talks openly about being trained to track down and kill those who wrong him. And the sets are pleasant, in the way looking at a magazine about home decor is a pleasant enough distraction. And Jacob is shirtless within 30 seconds of the film's title card. So there's that.
What else is there to say about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1? It hits all the story beats you're expecting as ably as you would expect it to. It's exactly the film fans presume it is, and maybe not quite as hilarious as non-fans might be hoping for, should they find themselves forced to watch it out of pity or love or both. There is still one more of these movies to come, though hoping for anything to change much between now and next year seems pointless. Let us who are not of the indoctrinated lot simply celebrate that as of next year, this franchise will end, and we can finally wash our hands of the whole thing.
Unless Stephanie Meyer turns around and decides to put more of her vampiric wet dreams to paper, of course. In which case, may God help us all.