It begins in battle. Newborn vampires on the attack. And for an exciting moment you think that maybe The Twilight Saga: Eclipse will stop already with vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) mooning over a human teen, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), like they did in the first two Twilight movies. You'd be wrong.
Eclipse is being presold as the best Twilight movie so far. Faint praise, indeed. And also misleading. The first Twilight movie, released in 2008, is still the most bearable because director Catherine Hardwicke dove into the adolescent angst of Stephenie Meyer's novel without an ounce of condescension. Last year's The Twilight Saga: New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), took the camp approach. And Eclipse, directed by David Slade who covered vamp territory before in 2007's 30 Days of Night, commendably tries to move things along when the romantically overheated script allows, which isn't bloody often.
That's a shame since Slade made something combustible of 2006's Hard Candy as Ellen Page went medieval on the ass of a sexual predator. Eclipse plays it PG-13 safe, as do all the Twilight movies. It'd be easy to blame Melissa Rosenberg, who scripted all three Twilight movies, but it's clear from her duties as head writer on Showtime's acclaimed Dexter series that Rosenberg is both talented and audacious. Are the movies too faithful to Meyer's novels? I wish. The books have fire. It's the lucrative audience of pubescent girls that is being coddled. You want vampire sex with bite, try HBO's True Blood of the CW's underrated The Vampire Diaries. Twilight is catnip for fraidycats.
What's up in number three? Bella has to choose between Edward, the dreamy vampire who never bears his fangs, and Jacob, the ab-fab wolf who never wears a shirt. As if everyone doesn't know it's KStew and RPattz all the way. The acting in Eclipse is so soap opera breathless "tight close-ups suck the air out of every scene" it might as well be called The Young and the Undead Restless. The big moment in a tent while the snows of the Pacific Northwest rage outside involves a naked Jacob warming up Bella in a sleeping bag to protect her from frostbite while cold Edward glares at his rival. Actually the heat here is unintentionally homoerotic as Jacob and Edward admit they'd probably like each other if they both didn't love Bella. Suddenly, it's an eyelash-fluttering Brokeback Eclipse, and quite hilarious.
Even funnier is the scene in which Bella nuzzles up to Jacob, now transformed into a wolf, and whispers sweet nothings into his fur. These digital wolves generate all the terror of Rin Tin Tin during puppy day at a kennel.
Which brings us to those newborns. Led by Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard replacing Rachel Lefevre), a lady vamp out for vengeance against Edward and his family for killing her lover, the newborns do indeed ignite a few scares. As do the Volturi, a coven of vampire enforcers led by the angel-faced Jane. Dakota Fanning underplays Jane with delicious wit and menace. "Decisions, decisions," she says, musing over whether to let the rebel vampires kill themselves or end them Volturi style. One of these newbies, Bree Tanner (Jodelle Ferland), is the subject of a new Meyer novella, The Short, Second Life of Bree Tanner, which shows real film potential by the nature of its focus and brevity. Meyer's larger Twilight novels suffer onscreen by having so many characters squeezed into a two-hour running time. It's hell on actors. Peter Facinelli as Edward's doctor father, Ashley Greene as his precog sister Alice, Nikki Reed as the tragic Rosalie, Anna Kendrick as Bella's friend Jessica, and newcomer Xavier Samuel as Riley, Victoria's love slave, could really let it rip if Hollywood didn't reduce their backstories to snippets.
Maybe the Oscar-winning Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) will have better luck when he turns Breaking Dawn, the last of Meyer's four Twilight novels, into two movies. We can always hope. For now, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is just one more walk on the mild sides for tweens who dream of being penetrated by cold flesh that will keep them young and cute forever.