You get the sense that the folks at start-up movie studio Summit Entertainment didn’t really know what they were getting into when they picked up the film rights to Stephenie Meyer’s incredibly popular vampire romance book series Twilight, and thus handed off last year’s eponymous first film to middling hack Catherine Hardwicke to direct, cast whatever pretty young actors walked into the office and made something they could sell on DVD. Twilight, however, made half the money in Hollywood in 2008, and its fanbase has grown ever more rabid, turning stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (as well as any number of forgettable supporting players) into obsessed-over heartthrobs. The sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon has been one of the most anticipated movies of this year.
So for New Moon, Summit execs have wisely given Hardwicke the boot and brought in more seasoned director Chris Weitz, who has experience with the big-budget supernatural epic (his 2007 The Golden Compass was a flop, but it was suitably grandiose), and kicked in some extra resources for more convincing special effects. Too bad, then, that they’re still stuck with wet-blanket stars Pattinson and Stewart, along with dopey Taylor Lautner, who goes from background hottie to full-fledged co-star in this installment—not to mention Meyer’s terminally goopy source material, a pro-abstinence romance novel that’s an endless series of tortured glances and mopey pouts.
New Moon, of course, will be an ecstatic experience for the undemanding Twi-hards, who merely want to see their favorite chastity fable reenacted on the big screen. But it remains a terrible movie, worse in some ways than Twilight, better in others, and no doubt baffling to the many who don’t spend their time fantasizing about being swept off their feet by Pattinson’s controlling vampire Edward Cullen or Lautner’s petulant werewolf Jacob Black. Lautner’s newfound prominence is probably New Moon’s greatest flaw—while the young actor has effectively bulked up his physique to swoon-worthy proportions, his acting muscle is severely deficient, and the long middle stretch of the movie—in which Edward has skipped town to prevent potential harm to human Bella (Stewart), who starts making doe eyes at Jacob instead—is intolerably tedious, full of Meyer’s trademark purple prose delivered either with a resigned sigh (from Stewart) or a stupefied smirk (from Lautner).
Bella herself is somehow even more pathetic and contemptible in this installment than she was last time, reaching new heights of codependency and neediness in her months of anguished screams following Edward’s departure from the gloomy town of Forks, Washington, and then literally grabbing onto one guy after another in complete helplessness. She nearly commits suicide to get Edward’s attention again, and whines incessantly about her desire to be turned into a vampire (I just hoped that someone would rip her throat out and put both of us out of our misery).
Then, somewhere around the eighth or ninth hour, the movie suddenly perks up for 15 minutes or so and delivers a modicum of genuine suspense and supernatural intrigue, when Bella and Edward’s vampire “sister” Alice (Ashley Greene) head to Italy to stop Edward from killing himself over Bella’s apparent death. There’s lush scenery and creative production design. There’s a sense of danger and scope beyond the romance of two assholes. And, look, real actors! Dakota Fanning, all grown up, is seriously creepy with only about four lines as one of the Volturi, the ancient vampire ruling council (or whatever), and Michael Sheen (who gained valuable vampire/werewolf experience in the Underworld movies) hams it up delightfully as the group’s malevolent leader.
But after a decent fight sequence and some offscreen bloodshed, it’s back to Forks and the world’s most chaste love triangle (Bella and Jacob’s almost-kisses are comical in their resemblance to the non-romance of Troy and Gabriella in the High School Musical series). New Moon, unlike its predecessor, actually takes some time out for humor (Anna Kendrick gets in some good bits of series self-mockery as Bella’s oblivious human best friend), but the central love story is still deadly serious, and deadly dull. Weitz does his job of making New Moon look like a big Hollywood production rather than a direct-to-DVD throwaway, but the special effects (mainly in the depiction of Jacob’s werewolfy brethren) remain a little wonky. The movie ends with a laughable cliffhanger, and no real plot movement or resolution. Fans will quiver and sigh; everyone else will shrug, and move on.