Once upon a time, werewolves and vampires were actually scary. Then Hollywood turned the bloodsuckers all sexy and broody while the lycanthropes ... well, no one seemed to know what to do with them. Except maybe John Landis, whose An American Werewolf in London made good on both its monster's savagery and psychological underpinnings. That was, what, 28 years ago? Leave it to the Twilight films to reduce both sets of biters into sulky lovelorn fashion models.
All the sarcasm in the world can't stop this freight train from blasting through the box office. With its predecessor raking in $350 million worldwide, New Moon is a cinematic juggernaut that will flatten all critical opinion its opening weekend. After that? Well, maybe we'll have an iota of influence. The fact is, the fevered teenage girls who'll flock to the multiplex don't give a damn what I or any other pasty-skinned critic has to say about Stephanie Meyer's sulky goth romance novels turned silver screen phenomena.
In truth, if you saw last year's Twilight, you know what you're going to get. Visually this sequel lands very much in the same competent yet unspectacular territory (inexcusable really, when you consider the box office). Story-wise, however, New Moon elicits slightly more interest, digging deeper into its otherworldy mythology. Unfortunately, it's all too aware of its rabid fan base and calculated to within an inch of its life.
Mopey but precocious Bella (Kristen Stewart) is caught in a love triangle. On one side is the vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), her alabaster emo lover who frets over her safety and the integrity of her soul. On the other is Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), her childhood friend who has blossomed into a tortured hunk. You see Jacob, a member of Quileute tribe, is a werewolf, destined to war against the vampires. Needless to say it gets all unrequited and angsty.
Much of New Moon's first half is akin to watching paint dry on a wall. Bella's moody, distant and depressed after Edward breaks up with her, thus allowing her relationship with Jacob to blossom. But just when her funk starts to fade, wouldn't you know it, Jake goes natural, and Bella once again ends up the only human at the supernatural ball. Things pick up later when Edward goes Romeo after believing Bella has died. A visit with the Volturi — vampiric elders in Italy — brings us into the juiciest part of the film. With Michael Sheen camping it up as the head bloodsucker and creepy Dakota Fanning making an appearance as his icy enforcer Jane, the final showdown plays like something out of an Anne Rice novel.
But it's not nearly enough. While it's fine for a tent-pole picture like this to play to its fawning minions, there's simply no excuse for the sloppy, meandering narrative, clichéd dialogue and lethargic pace. Director Chris Weitz, who showed so much promise with About a Boy then followed up with the disappointing Golden Compass, slides further into his role as a gun-for-hire filmmaker who brings nothing new or interesting to his source material. Yes, there are some lovely and atmospheric set pieces, and Stewart and Pattinson have genuine chemistry. But Weitz can't break free of the middle installment, episodic nature of his drama, and remains stuck in dreary first gear. Worse, New Moon's soapy romantic aspirations have been trumped by its commercial sensibilities, undermining the engrossing longings in Meyer's novels. Twilight has become, first and foremost, a franchise. Let's hope that kinetic David Slade (Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night), slated to direct the next chapter — Twilight: Eclipse, turns out to be a better branch manager.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.