The film picks up where the last left off. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted on her and Edward's (Robert Pattinson) child, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), and he will do anything to protect her. But one of their distant relatives, Irina (Maggie Grace) sees Renesmee and thinks she's an Immortal Child--vampire tots who have been banned from existence for hundred of years. She reports the Cullen's to the Volturi, the vampire governors led by Aro (Michael Sheen). When Alice (Ashley Greene) has a vision of their coming to kill all of them, the Cullen's must find some help to stand witness that Renesmee is not an Immortal Child and, instead, is a half-vamp.
I'm pretty sure this is the shortest film in the series at under two hours, but you know what? They pulled it off. By God, they took what is probably the worst section within the entire series of books and turned it into the best film in the series. I have no idea how that happened, but it did. Well, actually, I kinda know how they did it. They ignored most of the stupidity of the book and turned a lot of it into a guy-friendly flick. The romance is still there, but the gag-worthy melodrama romance and the constipation faces are kept at a minimum. There's only one short sparkling scene. Jacob keeps his shirt on for almost the entire movie, except for one really hilarious scene where he strips in front of Bella's dad. Similarly, there is a lot more legitimate humor in the film--yes, there's still some cheesiness to laugh at, but there are some actual, purposeful laughs to be had. And then... the ending.
I had the ending spoiled for me before I saw the film, though I'm not sure how I would have reacted had I gone in cold. I thought I'd be pissed. For those that are not aware, they add a huge battle sequence in the third act that isn't there in the book. And characters die--and I'm not just talking the little side characters they ask for help. I'm talking primary characters of the series. However, after the battle ends, you realize it was all a vision from Alice of what could come to pass if the Volturi decide to go through with an attack. They pull the "the whole thing was a dream" trick. In fact, it's very similar to the ending of this year's Savages that practically everybody hated. But somehow, and I'm not sure how (honestly, this time), they kinda sorta pull it off.
On the whole, though, the big battle sequence is pretty awesome. Had there actually been blood, this would have been one of the most epic vampire/werewolf grand battles on screen. But as it is, it's still pretty cool to watch, believe it or not. Everybody pretty much gets their moment to shine. And because a lot of the new vamps have powers, you get a lot of other cool visuals, too. I also still maintain that Alice is the best character in the series and the books should have been about her. She kicks some major ass in this movie.
This would be a good time to transition into visuals. Cinematography-wise, the film looked really good. This is probably the best of the films visually (in that regard). But then there's the CGI. I think the wolves have looked better in the past, and some of the extra powers could have used a little work. But the worst offense in this entire film, by far, is the CGI baby. Baby Renesmee is one of the creepiest freakin' things I've ever seen on film. It looks so bizarre and unnatural and seriously weirded me out anytime it was on screen. I couldn't help but feel that, even after she grew to her slightly older form, there was some weird CGI going on with her face. But maybe not... it could have just been the after-effects of seeing that baby. Ugh.
The acting is actually better almost all around. Kristen Stewart gives her best performance of this series here and actually smiles. Robert Pattinson doesn't do his constipated face very often. And Taylor Lautner really grasps just how stupid everything is, as he actually spends most of the movie trying to convince the other characters in the film what they're seeing isn't the most ridiculous or upsetting thing they've ever seen in their lives. Billy Burke continues to be the best part of the films, as Bella's dad Charlie is more engaging and believable than any other character (and he was criminally underused in this film). But then you have the other end of the spectrum. The one actor in this film who actually has acting cred--Michael Sheen--gives what is probably the most hilarious, cheesy, and over-the-top performance of the entire series. He's so goofy in this movie and adds a level of ridiculousness that fans who love to hate this series had previously only dreamed of getting.
All in all, the film is (somewhat sadly) actually good in quality. With some good humor, excellent action, and good directing, this film exceeds the other films by far (albeit not that difficult an achievement). That being said, this is still Twlight. The source material is stupid, the characters (with the exception of Charlie and Alice) are terrible, and the romance is beyond awful. Twilight is the bane of good literature--hell, it's the bane of cheesy romances. And the films aren't much better. But as far as they're concerned, this is the best and most legitimately entertaining of them all. But God, what were they thinking with that baby?
A Keanu 'Whoa'
(P.S. Just to clarify, that rating is mostly based on entertainment quality, not film quality. Though I almost dropped it a whole rating for one reason...that closing credits sequence was by far the cheesiest and most groan-inducing moment of the entire series.)