If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
For the first time the tale is centered firmly on the Batman himself or in this case Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and not on one of his over-the-top enemies. Now the non-comics audiences can witness--and understand--the sequence of events that led an orphaned billionaire to dress up like a bat and scare the bejeezus out of bad guys. Expanding The Batman's world beyond the claustrophobic confines of Gotham the film opens on a tormented and rudderless Wayne abroad in Asia recruited by hypnotic Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) to join the world-redefining forces of the enigmatic Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) by way of some serious ninja schooling. All the while Bruce flashes back on his parents' violent murder and his growing sense of impotence against injustice despite the attentions of childhood sweetie and future D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Unwilling to mete out Ra's extreme form of "justice " Wayne returns to Gotham City to launch his own unique campaign to clean up the city's corrupt and crime-plagued streets with three key allies: his faithful family valet Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); Gotham's only clean cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman); and tech-savvy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who provides the Batman's wonderful toys from Wayne Enterprises' experimental arsenal. Now trying on two different masks--Batman's crime-hating fury for the back alleys and a foppish playboy façade for the public--Wayne soon finds himself pitted against an inventive doomsday plot instigated by psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane better known as the sinister Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who uses fear as a weapon almost as formidably as The Batman himself. We're finally given a noble post-modern Batman who with compelling motivation will not resort to lethal force.
Bale leads the all-star cast making the best movie Batman since Michael Keaton's excellently eccentric 1989 performance. Whereas Keaton's slight intensely brilliant Wayne seemed to don the Batsuit to gain an edge of intimidation Bale's Batman is simply a dark emblem expressing the rage and fury roiling underneath the billionaire's surface. His is a ferocious Dark Knight indeed. He's also effective portraying two other sides of the character's persona: the silly randy public face of Bruce Wayne and the tortured real man underneath both guises. Of the potent supporting cast Caine imbues Alfred with the appropriate fatherly warmth and wit while adding a fresh element of authority and capability as well; Neeson's multidimensional Ducard leaves one guessing if he's a hero antihero villain or all of the above; and Freeman is clearly having a ball as Batman's own "Q." Holmes is comely capable and utterly superfluous; Tom Wilkinson tastefully chews the scenery as crime boss Carmine Falcone; and Murphy (once a close contender for the role of Batman himself) is tantalizingly creepy and villainous--the film could have used more of his off-kilter charisma. The only minor speed bump is Oldman's Gordon. His acting is always on the mark but the character so well-developed in the seminal comic book tale Batman: Year One is never utilized to its fullest potential.
Along the way every element of the Batman's back story is fleshed out in almost excruciating detail. Here's how he found the Batcave. Here's where he got the Batmobile. Here's why he has little pockets on his utility belt. Yadda yadda yadda. But some clever plot twists from director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter/professional comic book scribe David S. Goyer fuel the story's forward momentum. Nolan and Goyer work hard to inventively crib together a mélange of origin elements and plot points from influential comic book storytellers including original Batman creator Bob Kane unsung early writer Bill Finger Sin City's Frank Miller David Mazzuccelli Dennis O'Neil Neal Adams and others (even bits and pieces from a comic story penned by Ducard's creator Sam Hamm also the screenwriter behind Burton and Keaton's 1989 film). All these patches are effectively sewn into a clever quilt creating a cohesive original tale told with entertaining gusto. However the film does lack a certain knockout visual flair that defines the best comics--great imposing "money shots" of the fearsome Batman are few and far between--and the action sequences are a tad too choppy close-up and over-edited. Plus for a film about a dude dressed as a winged mammal it takes itself so darn seriously. The movie would definitely have benefited from a jolt of loopy outlandishness akin to Burton's undeniably quirky vision. And--despite the reigning notion that the previous films overdid the villains--a crazier more charismatic bad guy would have done wonders to liven up the stately proceedings. There's a reason the audience burst into wild applause in the screening I saw at a third-act allusion to one of Batman's more famous adversaries. Let's hope for a little more inspired lunacy in the sequel.