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Better than the first one. Still sucks.
That’s the distilled version for those who are sick and tired of hearing about “The Twilight Saga” and vampires (other than True Blood, of course) and debates over which side you play for — Team Edward or Team Jacob.
Everything about New Moon, the second film based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book series, screams self-awareness. The first time Edward (Robert Pattinson) appears on the screen, he’s walking across a parking lot and a slow, knowing grin crosses his face. It’s like he can hear the girls screaming at the top of their lungs in the theater. Boys are all that’s needed to make New Moon‘s audience come back for more — and the film delivers in spades.
The story begins a short time after the anticlimactic action in Twilight. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is turning 18 and starting her senior year of high school. She’s plagued by nightmares of growing old and wrinkled because she has surpassed her vampire boyfriend, who was 17 when he stopped aging more than 100 years ago. When Bella almost becomes dessert at her own birthday party, Edward and his pale family of vampires fly into the night to protect her from their bloodlust.
After wallowing in self-pity, accompanied by overwrought emo-ballads as the soundtrack, Bella takes comfort in the company of her childhood friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who is ”like, buff,” as Bella puts it. He also happens to be a werewolf and mortal enemy of vampires. When Bella realizes that Edward appears to her in moments of danger, like a transparent guardian angel, Bella takes more and more risks to achieve that high of seeing him. When one goes awry, suddenly it is she who is racing to save him.
From a sociological perspective, New Moon is fascinating in its mixed messages. It’s a clash between the book’s self-righteous morals and movie marketing. Anyone who has seen promotional materials about the film has inevitably been subjected to shirtless pictures of Lautner and his band of wolf brothers. The objectification of men in the movie is possibly unparalleled outside gay porn; Lautner (who is still 17) and Pattinson are little more than sex objects. Lautner and his friends are forever wearing only jorts (jean shorts), and Pattinson’s pants ride dangerous low in the front. But the resounding message – clanging like a crashing cymbal – is wait, wait, wait. The thinly veiled allegory between changing Bella into a vampire and having sex for the first time is in stark contrast to the nearly naked men who fill the film. It’s a ”look but don’t touch” message that probably has a success rate equal to that of abstinence teachings in Alaska.
Back to the film as entertainment, which is far less interesting than the cultural examinations, it’s pretty bad. However, the bar was set so low by the first film that anything had to be better. Director Chris Weitz manages to avoid some of the pitfalls that Twilight‘s director Catherine Hardwicke fell into headfirst. Fortunately writer Melissa Rosenberg improved upon her Twilight script and there are far fewer groan worthy lines. The plot is still ridiculous – sure, Bella, jump on the back of a random biker’s motorcycle and roar off into the night – but the dialogue doesn’t trigger the gag reflex as often. While the vampires aren’t wearing as much pancake makeup as last time, everyone does still look like they have permanently chapped lips.
Weitz is way too big a fan of the overhead aerial shot, spiraling downward in dizzying circles and looping around Bella in moments of angst. He seems to be trying to replicate the round moon by filming in circles, and it’s more disorienting than zero gravity. Counting the number of times he pans through tree branches would make a great drinking game. It’s his go-to shot and that much nature could trigger an allergy attack. Another game is to spot the corporate sponsor product placement.
None of the three main actors will ever win an award for this work. If they had to act their collective way out of one of the Burger King paper bags that litters the movie, they’d never make it to the set. Fortunately, Pattinson just has to bring his hair, Lautner his new muscles, and Stewart can remain a blank slate onto which teenage girls can project themselves.
There are a few good action scenes crammed into the end of the film, a much-needed reprieve from the angst-filled first 90 minutes. The wolves aren’t bad (in human and animal form) and the climactic vampire fight is well choreographed. Yet, in the final moment of the film, every positive thing that could be credited to New Moon is wiped away and all that’s left is a full frontal of the film’s mores. And it’s not pretty.