There’s a moment early in New Moon where Edward walks up to Bella in painfully-extended slow motion for their morning “No, I love you more”s. Proto-werewolf Jacob Black materializes to wish Bella a happy birthday. As Bella and Jacob talk, Edward stands a few feet away, glowering; when Bella hugs Jacob goodbye, Jacob makes a face at Edward over Bella’s utterly oblivious head, as music pounds behind them all.
This pretty much sets the tone for New Moon, a sequel to last year’s angsty steamroller, Twilight. Twilight was unevenly acted, awkwardly constructed, and so blue-tinted it might have been filmed through a bottle of Windex.
New Moon is worse.
Part of this disaster, admittedly, is not the fault of the filmmakers. The pushcart plot that teetered along carefully in the Twilight novel begins to wobble off the rails almost immediately in New Moon, as the series removes the pivotal Cullens from Forks, introduces a werewolf pack, retcons a powerful coven of vampires who live in Italy (come for the pasta, stay…for eternity, muahahaha!), and pulls two of Twilight’s feral vampires back into the mix.
Even with all Twilight’s flaws (and oh, they were legion), Catherine Hardwicke did manage to catch the kernel of the story—the teenage obsession with something better, more devoted than what life usually provides—and build a film that didn’t exceed its scope. In Hardwicke’s hands, the story was about a girl who falls in love with the Best High School Boy Ever, with some bad vampires handwaved into the last twenty minutes just to coast through a conflict on the way out.
New Moon’s kernel is the story of a girl whose entire life revolves around having a boy in it, and when the one she loves skips town, she takes up with the one she knows is waiting in the wings, until she can convince the other one to reappear. It’s a pretty tough sell, so I can understand where director Chris Weitz tried to up the Epic Storytelling ante in an attempt to give the movie some scope. However, if you’re going to do that, you should be good at it, and the last epic Weitz made was The Golden Compass. (Awkwaaaard.)
Weitz peppers the film with dream sequences that look like perfume-ad parodies; he blasts the soundtrack under dull shots to try to establish mood; he paints his leading man chalk-white only to the jaw, then gives him a ghostly apparition that looks like a Scooby-Doo villain; he creates werewolves whose close-ups are expressive but who move like the Heat Miser. (As if to distract from their wolf forms, he makes sure each pack member has a limitless supply of cutoff jeans - and no shirts. Werewolf packs don’t give a crap about your fast-food guidelines, okay, McDonald’s?)
Once, by accident, Weitz stumbles on a cinematic sequence, in which vampire baddie Victoria gets chased through the forest by the pack of werewolves. The scene has an otherworldly quality that suggests the true scope of this conflict. Luckily, that never goes anywhere, so we’re in no danger of sitting through a good film.
Weitz’s birthday-party-magician efforts to impress are palpable; however, it takes nothing away from the essential repulsiveness of the three characters at its center. Bella gets dumped by Edward (for her own safety, naturally), and spends thirty minutes grieving via night fits normally seen in three-year-olds. Edward’s spirit appears at random intervals to scold her like she actually is one. Jacob wants her to be his girlfriend—except it’s too dangerous—except she’d better not go back to Edward Cullen or else. Thank goodness her vampire BFF Alice shows up to bring Bella back to poor Edward before Bella has to stand up for herself!
Sadly, that’s not even an exaggeration; the underlying misogyny of the first movie has dropped all pretense, and is backpedaling to 1550 full speed ahead. Bella is a cipher, defined entirely by whichever male character is currently trying to dictate her behavior. And it doesn’t stop there! Of the two female characters introduced in the film, one is vampire Jane, a baby-faced Volturi enforcer, and the only character who calls its leader “Master.” The other is Emily, girlfriend of werewolf-pack leader Sam, who bears a faceful of scars from a time she made Sam angry and he turned into a werewolf and attacked her. The anecdote is told with sympathy—for Sam, whose guilt is presented as the tragedy of the incident. (I don’t know what to tell you; I just report the news.)
There are some bright spots in the form of supporting characters like snarky Jessica, disgusted with Bella, and goofy Mike, mocked at movie night when he can’t handle excessive violence and gore (like a real man should!). Meanwhile, Michael Sheen (an excellent actor who has a bad habit of saying yes to anyone who hands him a check) swans through his scenes as vampire leader Aro with the finger-licking delight of a Tim Curry University alumnus who’s confident no one will hold this film against him. Normally he would be wrong; however, when the three leads deliver performances so stilted they’d get you kicked out of a high school play, Sheen’s gleeful hamminess is a welcome relief.
New Moon, an uneasy balance between small-scale love story and chapter of a larger vampire/werewolf arc, handles neither well; the good news is, it ends up the funniest movie of the year. Weitz, you’ve succeeded at last!
Genevieve went to the midnight show. The derisive laughter from the die-hard fans was music to her ears, and almost made up for the people who stampeded when the theatre opened.