To quote Detective Roger Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, “I’m getting too old for this ****.” In just eighteen months, the Twilight saga has subjected us to one atrocious film, one (barely) passable film, and a film which makes ‘passable’ seem like a dream objective. Eclipse, the third instalment of the series, is the latter. It takes us from the “meh” of New Moon, to complete “ugh”. Whereas the previous entry seemed to have learnt some lessons from the unwatchable first film of the series (namely: having character arcs, embracing the rampant angst of undersexed teens), Eclipse is content to fall back on the saga’s bad habits. It wastes the time of all the talent involved, not to mention that of the audience. It is a sequel that not only picks up exactly where the previous movie finished, but concludes there as well. It is a film so ideologically devoted to abstinence that it denies its viewer any kind of satisfaction. I kind of feel like Bella, begging her vampire beau Edward for some nookie. “Will you please just give me something already?!”
Actually, if you’re looking for a plot synopsis, the above sentence kind of covers it. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is our protagonist, a delightfully-devoid-of-personality teenage girl who has but two thoughts running through her head at any one time. The first: I want to have sex with my undead boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson). The second: I want to spend the rest of my life with Edward, but I can’t bear to break the news to my lycanthropic neighbour Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The extent of Edward and Jacob’s characteristics and actions – beside their individual supernatural burdens – are limited to dealing exclusively with Bella’s almost hilariously uninteresting conundrums. Edward won’t sleep with her until Bella marries him; Bella won’t marry him unless he turns her into a vampire; Jacob will be very sad if either of these things happen. Meanwhile, evil vamp Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) is gathering up an army of bloodsuckers to wage war against Bella, Edward, Jacob and their families, for reasons I do not care nearly enough about to recount here.
I thought that director David Slade may have been the perfect fit for the Twilight films. At the very least, he was an interesting choice of helmer following the totally bland Catherine Hardwicke and Paul Weitz. His debut film – Hard Candy – was a deliciously confronting film about the power relationship between a paedophile (Patrick Wilson) and his deceptively smart teenage target (Ellen Page). His second film – 30 Days of Night – was a disappointing, but visually sumptuous vampire flick with plenty of blood. He must have been so bored working on Eclipse. Why would you hire a director with genuine credentials in depicting weird sexual relationships and crazed vampire armies, and then simply force them to acquiesce to the screenplay’s sub-interesting clichés? Excuse the pun, but Slade has been defanged.
I mostly feel bad for the film’s talented actresses. Kristen Stewart is doomed to embody one of cinema history’s least empowered heroines. Howard’s villain is given so little screen time, most audience members won’t even realise that she has replaced Rachelle LeFevre, the actress who played Victoria in the first film. Meanwhile, Nikki Reed and Anna Kendrick (who gave an Oscar-worthy performance in Up in the Air) must be cursing their agents, who have tied them to teensy roles that are, yes, eclipsed, by their immense talent. Combine all this with the shame of having to share scenes with Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson as they “act”, and I can offer them nothing but my pity.
Everything about the film is so inoffensive, which in itself offends me greatly. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with making a film about vampires and werewolves accessible to young teens. We don’t need to see a 30 Days of Night-style bloodbath every time. What bothers me is that this film is disturbing on such a fundamental level; its understanding of sexual relationships borders on the hateful. Edward refuses to sleep with Bella until they are married. As with the other films, Bella is chastised for wanting to break this sacred bond (women who want to sleep with vampires are yelled at, whereas women who want to sleep with werewolves have their face clawed off – the women accept blame in every situation). All other depictions of pre-marital relations are used as evil manipulation or (no joke) leads directly to gang rape. Yeah, this isn’t instilling any weird perception of sexuality in its audience. All this rubbish about family groups complaining about young minds being corrupted by the violence of (the satirical) Kick Ass. Meanwhile, Eclipse makes Antichrist look like a relationship ‘How To’ guide.
But the film’s ideology is not its only bad trait. The film’s construction is generally terrible. There are no stakes here. The great army that Victoria builds up – the same army that Edward’s weird family spend the entire film preparing for battle with – turns out to be comprised of 8-10 vampires, tops. None of the main characters lives are ever in any kind of danger. So, if the action cannot be relied on to entertain us, all we’re left with is the romantic triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Of course, this triangle was raised and dealt with (I thought!) in New Moon. Eclipse is essentially Bella coming to terms with decisions that she made an entire film ago; decisions which are never even remotely implied that she will change her mind on.
The Twilight fans assured me that this was the film to be excited for. My hatred for the first film, (although not encouraged) was said to be somewhat understandable. “You’ll change your mind when Eclipse rolls around. That is the book where everything happens.” Supposedly, the third book in Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga has all the meaty conflict. If that is true, then wow. Stephanie Meyer should watch an episode of Breaking Bad sometime. I suspect it might make her head explode. But perhaps the fault shouldn’t lie with her. I’ve not read the books (and based on these films, I never shall), so maybe it was screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg who should shoulder the blame.
There is no doubt in my mind that any tension and potential violence and drama have been excised to ensure the film’s classification is low enough for all those tweenage girls to be allowed into the cinema. Eclipse is afraid to even show a hint of something terrifying, or even remotely erotic, despite the inherent terrifying eroticism of its supernatural subjects. If the producers of Twilight were given permission to remake Casper the Friendly Ghost, they’d probably have his ghostly apparition dress in some three-quarter jean-shorts, just to keep his modesty intact. Somebody has to think of the children, right?