The Twilight Saga, an up-to-now-entertaining set of films about a love triangle between a vampire with a quiff, a dour-faced schoolgirl and a werewolf who can’t act, has always attracted an unreasonable amount of bile. Unusually, it hasn't come from critics, so much as the droves of young, straight males with a broadband connection who resent that a popular movie series has the gall to pander to an audience other than them.
Crowds largely made up of teenage girls and their approving mothers have so far spent £1.13 billion watching Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) brood and mumble their way through three increasingly well-made films that authentically captured the misery of being a love-struck teenager.
But this fourth and penultimate film, in which Edward and Bella marry and finally consummate their relationship, takes an Olympic-pole-vault-sized leap backwards. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have adapted Stephenie Meyer’s awkward source novel into a formless, gormless soap opera: it’s a humourless, incoherent bore that lives down to the very worst stereotypes associated with the franchise.
After a brief prologue in which the cast receive their wedding invitations and Jacob gets so angry he takes his t-shirt off – don’t question it, it’s what he does – the film opens with Edward and Bella’s long-awaited nuptials. These are admittedly well-mounted and the bride’s Pippa Middleton dress is very on-trend. They also give the unsung heroes of the Twilight cast, Billy Burke as Bella’s father Charlie and Anna Kendrick as her friend Jessica, their once-per-film chance to show off: in this case, in an enjoyable after-dinner speech montage that recalls a scene from this summer’s sleeper hit comedy Bridesmaids. The happy couple then jet off on their Brazilian honeymoon, during which the groom’s enthusiastic lovemaking demolishes their four-poster bed – well, after 200-odd years of abstinence, it would do.
At this point, Bella falls pregnant and finds her human womb struggles to cope with a foetus that’s 50 percent vampire. She tells her father that she’s fallen ill and is checking into a Swiss clinic – which must have put his mind at rest – before she returns in secret to the Cullen house, where Edward’s family do their best to make sure she survives to full-term, making her drink human blood in an attempt to feed the baby (Edward thoughtfully decants it into a fast food cup first). Meanwhile, the local werewolves swear revenge on the Cullens, firstly because Bella’s life has been threatened, and also because they take a dim view of human-vampire procreation generally.
As the above paragraph shows, it’s almost impossible to make the plot of Breaking Dawn sound sensible, but it would have been nice if the film made a token effort to do so. Instead, Rosenberg’s screenplay foregrounds the book’s loopiest ideas while burying anything that might have made for compelling drama: Edward’s anxiety over fathering a child that’s killing his wife and Jacob’s strained loyalty to his revenge-hungry pedigree chums, for example, go almost completely unexplored. The script is often startlingly lazy: in one confused scene, Edward explains the nuances of werewolf behaviour to no-one in particular, just to give the audience a fighting chance at comprehension. Earlier, Bella croakily reveals that she wants to mix her and Edward's mothers’ names together and call their baby Renesmee. The line is presented without a flicker of irony and was deservedly greeted in the critics' screening with gales of scornockery.
The special effects sequences are equally bad. Unlike the superb werewolf-on-vampire battles in Eclipse, the David Slade-directed third installment, Breaking Dawn’s action scenes are muddled and gloomy. They’re also not particularly easy to take seriously thanks to the wolves speaking with bizarre half-human, half-canine voices that put me in mind of Scooby Doo.
Sadly, it’s unlikely that Breaking Dawn – Part 2 will be any better than this (both films were shot back-to-back by the same director), but an incongruous mid-credits teaser, featuring Michael Sheen as the camp vampire king Aro, hints that it might at least have a sense of humour. We can but hope. At least that way, some of the laughs might be intentional.