Bill Condon is the best thing that could have ever happened to the “Twilight” franchise. After two paralytically humorless sequels that pleased little more than diehard fans, the acclaimed director of “Kinsey” and “Dreamgirls” unexpectedly took the reigns on the series’ fourth entry and effectively restored the original’s endearing fusion of teen film romance and creature feature theatrics. Condon’s unique combination of campy, B-movie sensibilities and considerable filmmaking talent proves even more critical to the success of the fifth and final installment, “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” in that the film’s plot-heavy arc and battle-dominated third act could have easily made for a lumbering bore had the tone been darker and the pacing less fluid.
“Breaking Dawn: Part 2” is, however, a departure from Condon’s “Part 1” and the rest of the series in that the story is no longer based around sexual tension. Having finally married and copulated with vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) in the previous film, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a full-functioning vampire herself, meaning that werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) no longer has a chance with her. But rest assured: that doesn’t mean Jacob is done hanging around shirtless, as he imprints on Bella and Edward’s newborn daughter Renesmee when they’re off hunting, meaning he will be the girl’s protector forever. This turns out to be a hefty responsibility, as the powerful Volturi coven are incorrectly led to believe that the girl was turned into a vampire after birth, a forbidden offense necessitating her killing. A battle in which the Volturi square off against the Cullen family and Jacob’s werewolf pack seems inevitable.
Detractors who argued that the series’ frequent hilarity was unintentional when critiquing past entries–a claim that admittedly holds water for the second and third films–will have an impossible time trying to do so for “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” as it overflows with deliberate cheesiness. An early scene in which Bella screams at Jacob for imprinting on her daughter and nicknaming the girl “after the Loch Ness monster!” (he shortens Renesmee to “Nessy”) sets the gleefully exaggerated tone of the entire film. To call this a big-budget soap opera would be an understatement. The cast, having played these parts for four movies, seem excited to enliven the experience by cranking their theatricality up to 11, delivering lines and behaving with more gusto than even Shakespeare could handle. The action-packed final half-hour is the physical embodiment of all this passion.
And yet, for as over-the-top as “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is, it never becomes tiresome in the way that deliberately campy films often do because Condon always keeps the production value high. At just over 100 minutes sans credits, the pacing is impressively breakneck, moving from Bella’s first vampire experiences to her initial feud with Jacob to the Cullens’ globetrotting attempt at Volturi-appeasing diplomacy to the climactic battle with very little extraneous content. The battle itself is nicely choreographed and easy to follow, avoiding overdone CGI that the $120 million budget would have allowed. Not to mention, it’s capped off with a perfectly executed twist that not many will see coming. Also enriching the experience is Guillermo Navarro’s pleasant lensing, which takes full advantage of the frigid British Columbia landscapes that once again stand in for Washington. Certainly, the “Twilight” films are not for everyone–and very few who aren’t already fans of the series will take a chance on it now–but “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is as well-done as a cornball teen vampire drama has any right to be, a fitting conclusion to the saga.