Dawn isn?t the only thing that gets broken in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn ? Part I, the latest and best of the movies about a girl, her vampire and their impossible, ridiculously appealing ? yes, I surrendered ? love story.
Marked by a canny mix of violence and chastity, the franchise has always had plenty of broken heads to go along with its pure thoughts, but here it also features a marital bed reduced to kindling after a rough night.
If that doesn?t sound like the series that has kept millions of prepubescent viewers virtuously rapt, you?re right. But little Bella is all grown up now, and while Edward is still more zomboid than juicily predatory, this time not everything else on screen is dead too.
With only four books in Stephenie Meyer?s chart-busting series (as opposed to the seven Harry Potters), the people behind the Twilight movies can be forgiven for stretching out the screen experience for as long as possible.
And, after all, so much does happen in this movie, which takes the arc of human experience ? birth and death and everything in between ? and works it up into a rich, sudsy lather.
In the past, Bella (played with increasing confidence by Kristen Stewart) has been almost eclipsed by Edward (Robert Pattinson), his bloodsucking brood and their battles. Here, though, she returns as the emotional and psychological cornerstone in a series in which the center of gravity has shifted from frenzied action and reaction to love.
The movie opens shortly before Bella and Edward?s wedding at his family digs ? a luxe affair decked in white and foreshadowed by a nightmare steeped in red ? which reunites many of the principals, with the exception of Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who?s off sulking, having lost his claim on Bella.
Poor wolf never stood a chance; vampires aren?t just hot, they have, in recent years, also become the favorite go-to romantic male lead, the last, possibly sole defense against the nice-guy tide embodied by the Apatowesque freaks and geeks and their bromantic brethren. The vampire, in other words, is the only man (other than George Clooney) who can still sweep a woman off her feet ? so what if he?s actually dead?
Being dead, in truth, gives the male vampire a great romantic advantage, because it allows him to engage in the kind of old-fashioned dash and derring-do ? with one arm around the girl and the other smacking away foes ? that might be laughed or scolded off the screen.
One of the complex pleasures of the Twilight movies is the absolute sincerity with which they?ve revived the unironic romantic male lead, an ideal that works (when the movies do, anyway) because it?s Bella who actively, even desperately, desires Edward. He?s her choice, not that of her parents or anyone else.
First came kissing, now comes marriage, a surprisingly rollicking honeymoon and, almost immediately, a horrendous pregnancy that the director Bill Condon makes so palpably disturbing that it might cause David Cronenberg, the master of body horror, to wince.
Mr. Condon handles the little bit of action in Breaking Dawn capably, but it?s his work with (and sometimes around) the actors and his ability to translate ideas visually that lifts this movie above the rest. When Bella first appears, she enters wobbling in uncharacteristic towering heels, an image that instantly suggests her unsteadiness before her wedding, and, as she moves toward the altar, Mr. Condon further telegraphs her unease by filling the screen with red rose petals that turn into a sanguineous hallucination.
Crucially and as important, Mr. Condon, whose earlier films include Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters, can also offer up, and without a suggestion of filmmaker embarrassment, the sight of Mr. Lautner ripping off his shirt. As Jacob, Edward?s long-suffering, oft-rejected rival for Bella?s affection, Mr. Lautner has plenty of reasons to strip angry: he can turn into a wolf, for starters, and Jacob?s musculature has long been one of the most special of the movies? effects. That?s reason enough for Mr. Condon to get the character?s shirt off, as is the unavoidable truth that Mr. Lautner, whose pumped physique and flat affect bring to mind one of those friendly pizza delivery boys in a pornographic movie, remains a dish best served with as few words and clothes as possible.
Though he smolders well enough (if no longer sparkles), Mr. Pattinson is scarcely any better than his brother in beefcake. If that doesn?t matter, it?s because Mr. Pattinson?s heaviest lifting is over.
His character is already well sketched in, and now all that remains is for the actor to play the part of the passionate, potentially dangerous vampire husband, which he ? or, rather, his smart director ? conveys with the startling image of Edward?s hands clenching the honeymoon bed until it explodes under his powerful touch.
This image of sexual rough play is further capped the next morning by bruises now tattooing Bella?s body, branding that ? along with her smiles (a private reverie reminiscent of Diane Lane?s post coital raptures in ?Unfaithful?) ? shifts the story into another world.
Mr. Condon works in that world fluidly, gilding it with a necessary sense of humor ? Bella and Edward?s white honeymoon bed glows as portentously as an altar for a sacrificial virgin ? and imbuing it with a love and a gift for melodrama.
He slathers on the music (?melodrama? comes from song or music drama), lets Ms. Stewart rock and the emotions roil. He resurrects the awkward teenage yearning that enlivened the first Twilight movie, but also transforms that initial, crude hunger into something deeper.
Mostly, he brings Bella toward her happily-ever-after by giving this movie over to her, her dreams and her desires, as in a cosmic montage sequence worthy of The Tree of Life, but, you know, shorter. Edward may finally change Bella, but it?s Mr. Condon who resurrects her.