It goes without saying that fans of Stephenie Meyers' wildly successful Twilight book series will devour this movie the same as they did the first two, Twilight and New Moon. But with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, those who get dragged to the theater by "Twihards" looking for their fix of shirtless werewolves and dreamy vampires may end up finding something to stick around for. While Twilight and New Moon were primarily concerned with the romance that engulfs Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the 108-year-old vampire, and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), the clumsy 18-year-old girl who also happens to be best friends with werewolf and vampire-enemy Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), Eclipse does a much better job of balancing the teenage angst with some action.
From the opening scene, Eclipse sets itself apart from its predecessors: The film opens on a vampire attack that does not kill its victim but transforms him into a vampire; similar attacks occur throughout the first third as the numbers of newly formed bloodsuckers grow. Fans of the books will understand that evil vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre in the role) is forming a rival group of newborn vampires—whom, we learn, are at their most powerful (and most uncontrollable) in the first three months of their new life. She intends to use her dangerous army of newborns to kill Bella, thus exacting her revenge on Edward, who destroyed her lover James in the first movie.
Outnumbered and outpowered, the Cullen clan must join forces with Jacob and his werewolf pack in order to protect Bella and destroy the bloodthirsty brethren who, by recklessly feeding on the people of Seattle, have drawn the attention of the Volturi (the ruling class of vampires who have made it their mission to control outside knowledge of their kind). While in town, Jane (Dakota Fanning) and the rest of the Volturi take advantage of the opportunity to see if the Cullens have made good on their word to transform Bella, an outsider with too much knowledge, into a vampire.
Bella would love to join the Cullens in the ranks of the undead, but Edward stands firmly against the idea, believing it would be a mistake to leave behind not only her family and normal life, but her very soul. It is the one point on which both he and Jacob, his rival for Bella's heart, agree. Trying to maintain relationships with both her boyfriend and her best friend, Bella must bounce back and forth between the two, whose respective tribes have an agreement that precludes them from lingering in each other's territory. Most of the film's conversations—between Edward and Bella, Jacob and Bella, and Edward and Jacob—revolve around the choices she must make: Will she go to college? Will she become a vampire forever? Will she marry Edward? Will she even choose Edward? Jacob, realizing that he may lose Bella forever, spends every moment desperately trying to prove to her that she does have feelings for him, even if she won't admit them to herself. He promises her a better, fuller life, one where she wouldn't have to give up her humanity or the people she loves. As Bella realizes that every choice—even the right one—has difficult consequences, she must learn to stop trying to please other people and discover who she truly is and what she really wants.
This entry into the series significantly improves on its predecessors on many counts. Gone are the professions of total, self-absorbing, undying (or is it undead?) love that bogged down the first two films. Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner all show improved depth with their characters in what is the meatiest material of the four books, and many of the minor characters—particularly Billy Burke as Bella's father Charlie, and Anna Kendrick as Bella's friend Jessica—make the most of their limited screen time. New director David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) does a much better job of balancing the teen angst with real suspense and action, steadily building the dual plots (the love triangle and the vampire threats) to their climax in the big battle scene. The special effects were still pretty cheesy—Edward still glitters, the lumbering werewolves still don't look quite right, and in battle the vampires' limbs break off like icicles—but the battle scenes had a real pop and edge.
The famously chaste romance remains unconsummated, though not for Bella's lack of trying. On multiple occasions, she tries to convince Edward that they should have sex, but he rebuffs her advances—he is not willing to risk hurting her with his vampire super-strength. Instead, he leverages her desire to become a vampire by promising that they can have sex after she has become a vampire, which he has insisted will not happen until they are married. He hopes this will delay her transformation, because she adamantly refuses to get married so young; when he explains, "Where I come from, marriage is the way to say 'I love you,'" she retorts, "Well where I come from, it's the way one says, 'I got knocked up.'" Though the movie's view of marriage is not particularly Christian, it does hold the institution with high regard—a rarity for a teen movie.
If the first movie was about the thrill of first love, and the second was about the pain of first love lost, then this movie is about the difficulty of sustaining love. One consistent criticism of the books and films has been its unhealthy portrayal of romantic relationships—the first two constantly emphasized Bella's physical weakness, and she often required rescuing by the strong, perfect males. She and Edward seemed to completely lose each other in their relationship, declaring that they would have no reason to live without each other. At times this film veers into this uncomfortable territory—because a treaty clearly defines the boundaries between vampire and werewolf land, Edward and Jacob must meet up halfway to literally pass off Bella, each trying to get under the other's skin with over-the-top displays of affection as she says good-bye to one and greets the other. But Eclipse offers a more confident Bella who is learning to make her own choices and own up to the consequences—a character that's worth sticking around another movie to watch enter the final chapter of her story. But fans will have to be patient: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn will release in two parts—in November 2011, and a TBA date in 2012.
- Bella faced some tough choices that required her to hurt people she loved; did she make the right choices? Could she have handled the situation better?
- We see multiple examples of people being manipulated by those they thought loved them. What does true love look like? How can we tell whether we really love someone, or if we're just using them because they can do something for us? See 1 Corinthians 13.
- In her graduation speech, Jessica tells her fellow graduates, "This is the time to make mistakes." Was this good advice? Why or why not? Are there types of mistakes that are okay? How do we know?
- Bella and Edward spend a lot of time discussing marriage. What are their reasons for and against it? Are these good reasons? What are good reasons for marriage?
The Family Corner
The Twilight Saga: Eclips is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. Vampires attack and bite innocent people, who in turn infect others. The final battle scene involves many deaths, though there is virtually no blood, as vampires are bloodless. There is no sex, though Edward and Bella do discuss it and a few times she tries to push their kissing further, to no avail. Bella and her father discuss her sexual activity, and, thinking she is having sex, he encourages her to use protection. In one scene, Jacob and Bella share a sleeping bag—the intent is to keep her warm so she can survive a cold night—but the scene looks far from innocent. There are a few mild swear words thrown in, but the language is mostly clean.
Photos © Summit Entertainment.
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