It begins with a nightmare and ends with a proposal. Two hours of mostly uninvolving sequences bookend these two equally lacklustre cinematic moments. Ultimately, it adds up to yet another lousy vampire vs. werewolf movie.
Believe it or not, New Moon is actually slightly better than its tedious predecessor, Twilight. Both films are based on the popular Stephenie Meyer novels and are just the first two installments in a multi-picture franchise. God help us all.
As you may recall from Twilight, the dour, pale-skinned beauty, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), falls madly in love with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a tormented old vampire who spent much of the first hour of that film alternating between friendly and borderline criminal behaviour before finally making up his mind. The film ended with this awkward couple dancing outside in the dark oblivious to everything and everyone else around them, including their own lack of chemistry.
At the start of New Moon, Bella has become insecure about her mortality. She dreams about looking like her grandmother while ever-devoted Edward doesn’t age a day. She’s just turned 18 and is still pleading with her unattractive boyfriend to transform her into a vampire already. Edward consistently refuses.
Meanwhile, hunky, long-haired Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is eager to spend more time with her. The ripped 16-year-old finally gets his opportunity after an incident at Edward’s family home leads to a contrived, sudden break-up and a most welcome disappearance. However, the terminally morose Bella wastes three months of her young life sitting in her room motionless and wordless, not to mention staring into nothingness, before she finally starts hanging out with him.
One of the weirdest elements of the film involves Bella continually seeking adventurous thrills (mostly of the motorcycle variety) in order to conjure up the scolding Obi-Wan-like spirit of her disapproving ex. (Yeah, that’s hot.) Even weirder is how she sends email updates to Edward’s psychic sister, Alice (sexy and sweet Ashley Greene) even though her address doesn’t exist anymore. Wouldn’t it have made more sense just to think those same messages? (Alice is a mind reader, right?)
Meanwhile, a couple of the bad vampires are seeking vengeance for events that happened in the earlier picture, some hikers have been mysteriously murdered in the woods, and Jacob is quickly turning into a romantic rival for Bella’s affections.
Here’s the good news about New Moon. It actually has a sense of humour from time to time. When Bella decides to be social again, she goes to the movies with her pal Jessica (cutie pie Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick from Up In The Air). As they exit the theatre, Jessica goes on a bit of a comic rant about zombie movies that features one very pointed satirical dig at New Moon. (The character actually comes to life in that humourous scene.) Bella’s third romantic interest, Mike (Michael Welch), gets queasy over an intense action scene he’s watching during another trip to the cinema. The cheesy dialogue of that fake movie (not seen, only heard) is also funny as is Jacob’s reaction to his unmanly behaviour as he high-tails it into the can. These lighthearted moments sure beat the unconvincing, slow paced melodrama that suck up most of the running time.
While watching those particular scenes, I couldn’t help but wonder if William Shatner served as a consultant to some of the actors. The dreaded pause acting he perfected from John Wayne might explain why the film is 2 hours and 10 minutes long. If Bella and Edward would just get their thoughts out quicker this damn thing would surely finish a half hour earlier. If their romance was unbelievable in Twilight, it’s even less so in New Moon. Honestly, on a superficial level, it’s hard to fathom Bella instantly preferring the underwhelming Edward over the chiselled Jacob. My God, the latter is constantly shirtless, tanned and in fantastic shape while the former looks like he’s been living in silent German horror films for centuries. He’s both colourless and charmless.
However, on a deeper level, it turns out that Jacob is just as big of a knob as Edward. When he finds himself getting very close to Bella, he starts to pull away. He refuses to return her calls and in a scene where she drives out to visit him, he bluntly tells her they can’t be friends anymore. Then, the shirtless wonder runs off with his fellow shirtless tribe which makes you question his sexuality. But then, like Edward, he changes his mind and wants to see her again. Unfortunately for him, Bella’s stupid teenage brain (she’s a little slow to learn Jacob’s secret) is made up. No matter how warm Jacob is, no matter how "sort of beautiful" she finds him and no matter how often she sees him half-naked, she’ll always pick the pasty douche who suddenly bailed on her. She’d have better luck with Mike. At least, he’s not confused about his feelings.
Michael Sheen does a nice job playing Aro Volturi, an aristocratic vampire who, along with his two brothers, serves as sort of a bloodsucking Supreme Court Justice. (The threesome have the legal right to rip body parts off of vampires who willingly expose their true identity to mortals. Nice work if you can get it.) It’s a small role but he delivers a smooth, understated performance (although he keeps his eyes a bit too wide at times which can be distracting). Lovely Dakota Fanning, however, is pretty much wasted playing one of his employees. She’s not given enough screen time to establish her character.
A big misunderstanding leads Edward to the conclusion that maybe this immortality business is overrated and inevitably he ends up making his case in front of the Volturis who don’t think he’s very persuasive. How emotionally involved you are in his romance with Bella determines how much you care about this third act storyline, especially the puzzling final scene. When you’re eagerly rooting against this pretentious Romeo & Juliet scenario, it’s clear the film isn’t working.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 14, 2010