I Might Owe 'Twilight' a Small, Begrudging Apology

Breaking Dawn—Part 2 is certainly bad, but it cleverly addresses some of Twilight haters' many gripes with the franchise.

Summit Entertainment

Once upon a time in 2008, I started reading Breaking Dawn. I never finished it.

I had liked the first novel, Twilight; I had rolled my eyes through the next two installments, half-heartedly wondering why there wasn't a Team Carlisle. But by the time I cracked open the final installment, Breaking Dawn, I was a first-semester freshman in college. High on those first eight weeks of liberal-arts dopamine, I wrote to a friend of mine that I wasn't sure why I even bothered to keep turning the pages. "I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M STILL WASTING MY TIME ON THIS REGRESSIVE ANTIFEMINIST DRIVEL. IT'S INSULTING MY INTELLIGENCE AND IT GLAMORIZES THE DENIAL OF WOMEN'S AGENCY," I huffed.

So before even reaching the end, I closed the book forever. On principle. Quitting Twilight was the morally superior (not to mention trendy) thing to do, I thought—and thus, I abandoned Twilight. I've remained a scoffing Twilight skeptic ever since.

But then Twilight: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 happened.

I'll admit it: When I saw Part 2 earlier this week, I came prepared with a whole set of pre-selected bones to pick. Endorsement of passive, obedient femininity and creepy, controlling boyfriends? For sure I'd be able to go on the offensive about that. Infantilization of adult romantic relationships? Boom. Consider it pre-skewered. That awful exploitation of teen-girl hormones by way of persistent, manipulative shots of Taylor Lautner's abs? Easy target. But then the lights went down, and as the story unfolded, my little righteous-rage balloons were neatly punctured, one by one.

As it turns out, the final episode in the Twilight film franchise comes ready-made for scoffing skeptics. Director Bill Condon's last entry in the Twilight opus takes aim at Twilight haters—and hits, weirdly and kind of splendidly, right on target.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 begins where Part 1 left off. Bella (Kristen Stewart) has just become a vampire after barely surviving the birth of her half-human, half-vampire daughter Renesmee, and is adjusting to her new life among the undead. But it's not long before the Volturi, the iron-fisted oligarchs in charge of global vampire affairs, zero in on the destruction of Renesmee, whom they perceive to be an evil, unethically created "immortal child."

For starters, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella's newfound equal footing (both he and she are supernaturally strong, immortal vampires now) gives the story a new dynamic that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg shrewdly capitalizes on. New mother and newborn vampire Bella—that sad, slouching, weak excuse for a heroine—wrestles a cougar, squares off with guys twice and three times her size when the need arises, and goes into visible, teeth-bared Mama-Bear mode when her family's safety is in jeopardy. And that's in the first 20 minutes. Edward, meanwhile—controlling, suffocating Edward who robs Bella of any and all autonomy—gets rescued by his wife not once but twice, and then delivers a grateful, sincere apology for having underestimated her in the past. It seems Bella and Edward, now that they're parents, have learned to behave like modern, progressive grown-ups now and again.

And even where Part 2 can't atone for the sins of its predecessors, it can at least poke fun at them. Jacob (Taylor Lautner), whose often utterly random shirtlessness has become a much-loved and much-parodied part of the Twilight film franchise, gets naked only once in Breaking Dawn—and it's in an awkward, funny moment in front of only Bella's dad, who's magnificently uncomfortable with the entire encounter.

Even the melodrama and fan-pandering of the first four installments get their own send-ups in the fifth. Though its forerunners were ploddingly cheesy in their self-seriousness, Condon adorns Breaking Dawn—Part 2 in blaze-of-glory, firing-on-all-cylinders camp. Sight gags abound as Bella discovers her new physical strength; gleeful vampire-on-vampire and vampire-on-werewolf gore erupts spontaneously. Heads even pop off of bodies as Condon and Rosenberg mount a massive, book-defying plot twist that manages to both poke fun at and ultimately honor Meyer's limp, overly philanthropic original ending.

It's a little deflating, to be honest. Twilight-hating used to be so easy.

Now, does any of that save the last Twilight from being an awful film? No. Let's be clear: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 is crowded with useless, underdeveloped characters, held together by wooden dialogue, and decorated garishly with laughable CGI effects. Plus there's the glaring fact that Jacob's sudden eternal devotion to Renesmee, the toddler who's apparently his soulmate, never really becomes not-creepy.

But for all its stubborn mediocrity, the Twilight series has finished its run with a smirk, a happy ending, and for the first time in a long while, some actual bite.