The Twilight Saga’s New Moon is not terrible, despite featuring some excruciatingly lazy storytelling, atrocious performances, listless direction and a core storyline that is both uninteresting and somewhat disturbing. But, as I said, it’s not terrible. It is the sequel to a film that was terrible; sub-terrible even. Somehow, Chris Weitz’s adaptation of the second of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books overcomes its overwhelming flaws to be totally watchable and kind of entertaining. It captures something that its predecessor Twilight could not: the gut-churning sensation of completely irrational, stupid and narcissistic teenage lust. Again, I’m not saying that New Moon is a good film. But it does do something well, and if irrational, stupid and narcissistic teenage lust is what you are after, this is your movie.
The film begins with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), the heroine of our series, begrudgingly turning 18. This makes her a mere 91 years younger than her eternally-youthful vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). She starts to worry about growing old and being so unattractive that Edward will one day leave her. At this point of the film, I have to remind myself that this would be a legitimate concern when dating an immortal vampire and not just another anti-feminist metaphor. Edward’s family throws Bella a birthday party, during which she receives a paper cut and almost gets eaten alive by the bloodthirsty Cullens. Edward begins to wonder whether dating a human is a good idea after all. His family decides to move away and he tells Bella not to follow. Oh, and that he doesn’t love her anymore. She’s devastated. Her protector abandons her and she almost immediately gets herself accidentally killed. She’ll need another man to take care of her tout de’suite! Enter Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
Bella’s neighbour Jacob has clearly hit the gym since we last saw him in Twilight. The sweet-natured 16-year-old has biceps. Big biceps. Biceps so big they themselves have biceps. With Edward out of the picture, Jacob and Bella can spend more time together. He helps her recover from the depression caused by her Cullen-withdrawals. He is everything Edward isn’t. Funny, sweet, tanned. However, as the young Jacob transforms into a man, things begin to change. Hair starts growing in strange places. I mean really strange places. It turns out that Jacob is actually a werewolf and that his brood has had a long-standing feud with the vampires blah blah blah you get the idea. Who will Bella choose? The werewolf or the vampire? And why are these her best options? Why won’t someone introduce her to a nice accountant or something? If I were Bella, I would take a gap year after graduation and move to a town where the population is not entirely made up of mythological creatures.
Robert Pattinson once again reprises his uncanny imitation of a talking hat stand in New Moon, but he’s (mercifully) missing from the majority of the picture. The film primarily focuses on the burgeoning relationship between Bella and Jacob, and when it does, it works. Their friendship, and eventually their romance, is clumsy enough and imperfect enough to feel real. Although Taylor Lautner struggles with the more emotional sequences, he is a charming romantic lead. Kristen Stewart meanwhile proves her worth as one of the most exciting young actresses in Hollywood by making the borderline-psychotic Bella seem, believe it or not, likable. Stewart is intensely watchable in the role; this time she seems to embrace Bella’s madness and roll with it. Sadly, the script consistently betrays her. Nothing Bella does seems to make any sense at all, but at least Stewart sells it. If there is any real progression to be noted from Twilight to New Moon, it is that I actually cared for our protagonist this time around. Surely that counts for something.
However, this will be the extent of my praise. There are far too many problems here to call New Moon ‘good’. Director Chris Weitz does little to improve upon his predecessor Catherine Hardwicke, except to remove that drab blue tinge she smeared the first film with. Both films are as awkwardly paced and free of stylistic character as one another. Meanwhile, the storytelling remains distractingly amateurish. Bella writes (and narrates) endless emails to Edward’s sister Alice (Ashley Greene) about the exact feelings she has at every. single. moment. I can only assume that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg has lifted these letters directly from Stephanie Meyer’s original novel. Her Dan Brown-esque prose is as agonizingly bland as it gets and adds little to the film, except to provide exposition for even the most obvious of scenes. Finally, the saga’s overriding story is just a little too close to being an apologetic take on domestic abuse for me to ever really feel comfortable with. Too many female characters are beaten by their “monstrous” boyfriends, and each time the women will happily admit it’s their own fault for riling the men up in the first place. Once again, I’m sure I’ll be reminded by this franchise’s fans that this would be a legitimate concern when dating either a vampire or a werewolf. Sure. And Beauty and the Beast is really just about a woman dating a giant man-bear.
Those already a fan of the Twilight phenomenon will lap this installment up. Sadly, New Moon isn’t exactly the new leaf us non-fans were hoping for. Weitz is unable to breathe much life into the bland source material. Perhaps David Slade, director of the brilliant Hard Candy, will bring some much needed visual flair to the next film, Eclipse. However, there are enough elements here to make the film watchable. Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning have very small roles as members of the Volturi, the evil vampire lawmakers. They ham it up wonderfully and are easily the most interesting characters in all of Stephanie Meyer’s universe. The question is this: why are films not being made about them? Also, as I mentioned, Kristen Stewart transforms her formally personality-free cipher into an interesting hero and that alone is worth the price of admission. Team Edward or Team Jacob? I guess I’m Team Bella.