25 November 2009

Bored Shirtless

There isn't an awful lot of commenting going on on this blog anyway, but in advance, here are some popular rebuttals I won't be accepting about today's post.

1. You're not the target audience.
2. By slating a film I and millions of others like, you're stifling my individuality.
3. You're jealous of the manly abs on show.

Point 3 is particularly amusing- like saying I must hate the Super Mario Brothers because they can jump higher than I can. But as you may have garnered, I've been to see New Moon, the second film in the apparent "Twilight Saga". As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion on here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

So this film being everywhere at the moment, you probably know the story. Bella Swan is a high-school girl who's dating the practically-neutered vampire, Edward Cullen. At the beginning of New Moon, an altercation with Edward's brother falling off the wagon leaves Edward fearing he can't protect Bella from his blood-sucking brethren anymore. He subsequently leaves Bella in a prolific sulk and he and his family move on. Enter the newly... how do you describe someone becoming more wild? Oh, that's a good word- enter the newly bewildered Jacob Black, Bella's best friend, who's gained a supernatural hang-up of his own since becoming more integrated with his Quileute tribe of Native American werewolves. That the film takes about an hour and a half to get to this most elementary level of plot may lead you to suspect that the film ain't that great.

The truth is, I can't hate the films just because of the hype. Twilight was nowhere near as bad as the worst films of last year and New Moon isn't nearly as bad as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's curious that it's so easy to make that comparison, given how this series has proportionately the same effect on the female filmgoer as Transformers has on the male filmgoer, and both are really nothing to write home about. And thus it would be easier to magnify the flaws of this film just to rail against it. While I'm not entirely willing to take that route, it is fairly clear that this is not the film that its more militant fans are claiming. The Mormon agenda of sexual abstinence remains at the fore throughout the film, but this is not a film that sends a good message to young women. The aforementioned sulk comes out of Bella feeling that she is worthless without a supernatural beau. Although she attends high school, she has no clear plans for the future except for going where her bloke goes. I'm no manner of feminist but that, to me, seems pretty bad.

So the next thing Bella does is go out and become an adrenaline junkie, undertaking reckless activities because they give her hallucinations of her departed ex, staring blankly and warning her to stop. I'm not a doctor either, but that also seems bad. I'm actually pretty sure that counts as some kind of schizophrenia. In the course of that, she grows closer to Jacob, which I presume has nothing to do with the fact that Taylor Lautner has spent most of his time since the last film in the gym, and not enough learning to act. While Kristen Stewart is a very capable actress with limited material, Lautner's idea of intensity, coupled with his canine nature, put me in mind of Dug the talking dog from Up. He could feasibly have pounced Bella at any moment and said "I have just met you, and I love you!" Even more goofy is the necessary adoption of Stephanie Meyer's self-masturbatory notion that these buff young men must wander around shirtless and wearing jean-shorts, making the tribe look like a werewolf boy-band. I hear they do a mean cover of "Bad Moon Rising".

With all this shirtless nonsense going on, there's little screentime for the female audience's pale and wooden idol Robert Pattinson. Edward's going-away is the impetus for the whole plot, so we're mercifully spared most of the Hayden Christensen School of Acting. He was an unproven actor before this, and he remains unproven. And worse, he occasionally does this tic when he's acting like he's in pain that's more akin to someone spontaneously ejaculating- where was Andy Samberg in this film? That's not to drub all of the cast- as I've said many times, Kristen Stewart is a remarkable actress who makes the best of what paltry amount of character development she's given. She's more watchable than any character as two-dimensional as Bella has any real right to be, carrying the film through much of its stultifying running time. Things only really kick into gear in the last half an hour, much like the first film, but with much more promising results.

For the last half hour is when the Volturi show up. The Volturi are vampire royalty based in Italy, and they're headed by Michael Sheen! Michael Sheen! Brilliant actor, and utterly brilliant in this as Aro, a kind of vampiric Tony Blair with no regard for human life. And he's in the film for... all of ten minutes. That, for me, was New Moon's biggest crime. For all of the angst and aimless wandering, there was nothing worse than seeing this character and this performance wasted in the way it was. Similarly, Dakota Fanning turns in her only performance to date that didn't make me cringe as a young but scarily powerful vampire charged with enforcing the family's will. The worst thing about their negligible screentime is that I'll actually look forward to more Volturi in the two films that are left to go, and I suspect they'll receive little prominence. Still, you can't judge these things sight unseen, and that was enough to get me in the cinema to see New Moon.

I've already said I didn't hate the film, but neither is it very good. While its predecessor was an indie film, Twilight also paid for most of Summit Entertainment's output for the next two years, and the glossy blockbuster look and marketing campaign for New Moon jars slightly. It's not an action film, nor should it be. Director Chris Weitz does bring more CGI eye-candy to proceedings than Catherine Hardwicke did, and the fight scenes that are included are a marked improvement upon what has come before. But that can't justify the film as what it seems to have become. It's a fantasy romance and it didn't seem comfortable as a low-budget indie film, nor does it entirely fit into the blockbuster mould. David Slade is taking the helm for the next film, due out in July, and with his credits I can imagine the film changing again, taking more of a horror slant. This kind of inconsistency can't really be good for a series that has weak source material to begin with, especially as screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg has resolutely plowed through two helm changes without changing her approach by one iota- "I'm not some car you can fix up, I'm never gonna run right" sounds more like a bad song lyric than a credible piece of dialogue.

The acting is largely wooden, the writing is vanilla and uninspired, and they still haven't got the tone down, but New Moon isn't any worse than its predecessor. It's definitely not going to convert anyone who doesn't like the series, to whom this will still be the film about the werewolf boy-band and their mortal enemies, the sparkly vampires. But I can honestly say I was expecting a lot worse. The fans of the books seem to enjoy the films, and fair play to them, but they could really hope for something better. The film's ending best summarises the polarising nature of this series- it's a cliffhanger that made several people in the cinema squeal in delight and everyone else rush for the exit. It's not out-and-out bad, but we're halfway through the planned four films and it looks doubtful this series will leave any lasting impression after it's over.


I certainly feel I've given much harsher reviews than that, but the day the Twilight series really gets me to sit up and pay attention will be the day it takes the central love affair a lot less seriously. I wish half the people who go to see New Moon would go to see An Education, a film that deals with the intensity of first love, and the loss of that love, with much more aptitude than Stephanie Meyer could ever muster. Still, if you've seen the film, and want to share your thoughts without telling me I'm out-and-out wrong, why not comment below?

Next up, it's coming up to Christmas, so I'll finally be taking a look at Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol and giving that a critique, as well as talking about various other festive films.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Okay, I know the rest of the film probably lowered your expectations, but Kristen Stewart? Not a good actress. God, she's got a weird face, too. Like she's staring down a clown.