So let's start with the first movie, shall we? And admittedly, things get off to a bit of a rocky start, as the first one is by far the clumsiest movie of the lot, with lots of clunky forced exposition and laughably jarring editing. But then, our main character from whose perspective we witness these movies, Bella, is portrayed early on as being somewhat of a total klutz herself. So in that regard, the fact that this first movie is so clumsy is almost fitting. And as the series progresses in later movies, she even acknowledges this about her, that she's been stumbling through life, and notes how the path she's chosen makes her feel balanced for once. And this, too, is reflected in the general filmmaking, which does feel a lot more streamlined as the series moves forward. But still, despite such filmmaking flaws, I actually felt that these elements gave the movie a certain charm, and made it especially enjoyable in a "so bad, it's good" sort of way.
One editing technique the first movie executes in particular that I've heard some criticisms over is its use of blue filter. However, I actually really liked this. They only use a blue filter over the images when it's supposed to be overcast outside, meaning the vampires are able to go out. And anytime the sun's out, they refrain from using the filter, so it really shows us in a way that stands out on a visual level when we can and can't expect for vampires to be out roaming about. Sadly, though, this element was never used again after the first movie, so it oftentimes just looks like the vampires are able to go out in the sun all the time, which just felt sorta silly, like the entire aspect of them "sparkling" in sunlight was almost a non-factor.
And speaking of which, here's another element that gets loads of hate, and at first, I too thought it sounded sorta stupid and ridiculous, the idea that vampires "sparkle" in sunlight. However, having now actually seen the movies and now seen this element played out with context, I gotta say, I think it's actually a unique and clever take on the vampire mythology. The idea isn't that they "sparkle", but rather, that their bodies are hardened and cold, like stone. And when they step out into the sun, their stone bodies don't so much sparkle so much as they shine in the sunlight. And I actually grew to like this aspect after witnessing it with proper context applied, and it only grows stronger when we're later on introduced to the werewolves, who, in stark contrast to the colder vampires, have bodies that are constantly pumping with heat. It's a simple concept, the cold as ice vampires versus the hot as fire werewolves, and even plays into the ways the various characters are portrayed, but I thought it worked here nicely enough.
But anyways, I feel we're getting ahead of ourselves here a bit, let's bite into the meat of this thing, the story. And here's where most of my issues would typically arise. On the outset, most of our main cast who we follow through these movies are not likable people. They're very frustrating a lot of the time in fact, making terrible decision after terrible decision, and oftentimes just being terrible people in general to one another. We have Bella, who is head over heels for the vampire Edward, despite the fact that he's a creep who stalks her and watches her sleep, and who generally is just very mentally and emotionally abusive to her on many occasions. He's a bad influence on her, and yet she's completely infatuated with the idea of not only being with him, but becoming a vampire like him as well.
And on the outset, especially with the first movie, I can take away a couple of things from this abusive relationship of theirs. I can totally understand how this can be taken as sending a terrible message to younger, more receptive minds. And I thought that too, at first. But then, especially as the series goes on, something I noticed stood out. Though Bella is our main character, and this is her story, the movies themselves don't actually condone her actions. All throughout she is constantly being criticized for her decisions by just about every single character she comes into contact with, being told that her way isn't necessarily the right way, and that she doesn't have to pursue this path of hers.
And really, I've seen other movies that have terrible messages that are highlighted as being the right path, such as Limitless' disgusting pro-drug message, where that movie's hero wins in the end because his drug use made everything work out just fine and dandy in his life. But that's not what happens here. Bella is not a role model, and the movies openly acknowledge this. So, as terrifying as it may seem, if there are receptive minds out there taking Bella's examples to heart, then that's on them, because those individuals aren't paying attention to the full picture at hand here.
But on the other hand, though the movies don't condone the characters' actions in these movies, that doesn't mean that those actions are entirely without merit all the same. Because, let's face it, we all know people like the characters in these movies. And the absolutely stubborn way in which they're portrayed is frighteningly realistic in that regard at that. So yeah, there's some disturbing stuff in these movies, but is that necessarily a bad thing? After all, all things considered, I can totally see the appeal in these movies, and certainly think that there's a place for a story like this that shines a light on these sorts of people in this manner. And besides, considering one of my favorite movies of the year so far is The Neon Demon, which is also one of the most fucked up movies of the year at that, I really can't say anything about anyone who might find enjoyment out of these Twilight flicks.
Twilight contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 0
And as we move onto the second movie, New Moon, in which Edward is placed more in the background and we're more properly introduced to Jacob, the third person in this little love triangle, we see a whole new set of disturbing character traits come to the forefront. Initially, I actually started to side with Team Jacob, as he certainly appeared to be a lot more caring and levelheaded, genuinely having Bella's best interest at heart. But while he had the better first impression than Edward, the more we become acquainted with Jacob, the more he shows himself to be carrying his own load of emotional baggage.
One, he's got some serious anger issues, which only grow more out of control as the movies progress. But on top of that, his crush on Bella grows into a full blown obsession over her as she toys with his emotions throughout, keeping him on a tight leash firmly in the friend zone, yet still keeping him around for admittedly selfish emotional reasons. And that combination of anger and obsession issues definitely turn Jacob into quite the monstrous character himself, and I'm not talking about his werewolf state.
New Moon contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 5
So yeah, by the end, I honestly wasn't actually rooting for anyone to end up with anyone, and was just enjoying sitting back and watching all the drama unfold without any real partiality one way or the other! But though it was the main draw to this series, the romance stuff was only one aspect of these movies. In the meantime, there's an underlying story that's a bit more in the background at first, but does come more to the forefront as the series goes on, and which I actually found to be pretty interesting, ultimately culminating in the vampires and werewolves teaming up to take out the threat of a growing vampire army in the third movie.
Speaking of, before moving forward, I'd just like to mention how I thought the third movie, Eclipse, was by far the best in the series. It had a great self-aware sense of humor to itself, and really felt like a full culmination of all the various plot threads that had been brewing until now. And not only that, but it's also the one movie where all of the characters are at their most likable, so much so that I quipped that, had the prior two movies not existed, I might actually kinda like some of these characters!
Eclipse contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 6
But then we get to Breaking Dawn, and that's where things start to fall apart. For one thing, as with many YA adaptations during this time, this final installment was broken up into two movies, and you can definitely feel the padding here, so much so that, despite none of the first four movies featuring any opening credits at all, the fifth movie opens with a full blown opening credits sequence just to pad out that timing just a little more (though it also closes with a sequence that highlights every single actor who played every single character in the whole series, including those who weren't even in these last two movies, which I'm not sure I've ever seen before, but just thought was kinda interesting).
But basically, these movies are where things get especially batshit crazy, and as I had mentioned earlier, a lot of my defenses for this series sorta start to fall apart, but stay with me here! I would say that Breaking Dawn: Part 1 honestly feels more like the series' epilogue, as if this is the final cost for all of Bella's actions up to this point, this is the price she has to pay for all her decisions. It starts with the wedding of Bella and Edward, which honestly was really beautifully filmed, and moves on to their honeymoon, in which Edward impregnates Bella, and now, carrying some sort of human-vampire hybrid child, she begins to die.
And, though this isn't what literally happens, I would like to theorize for a moment here. What I believe should have happened, was that perhaps, Part 1 of the movie actually did happen all the way through till Bella dies giving birth. Because it's everything that happens after that effectively horrifying scene where things really go off the rails, but what if none of that did happen? What if, perhaps, that was all just a vision Bella had, a dream, of what could have been, had she survived the childbirth? And it makes more sense when looked at that way, because let's face it, everything that happens after that moment is totally a full blown wish fulfillment fantasy, and feels like something straight out of a fever dream, one much like the kind Bella might be experiencing in that moment, visualizing before her eyes, in her final moments before she passes on forever.
And we even see an example of this in work in Breaking Dawn: Part 2, in which we see a full blown climactic action sequence play out, where several main characters lose their lives in the most horrifying fashions, only to discover after the fact that literally none of that had actually happened, but rather, it was a vision played out to our main villain in order to dissuade him from moving forward with his plans. And sure, this scene is quite possibly the most hilarious copout that I've ever seen in my entire life, but what if it actually served a purpose beyond just wussing out on actually adding stakes to the series' finale? After all, what would it hurt to kill off all those characters at this point, the series was about to wrap up anyways. But what if the reason they survived there was because not only did that big action scene not happen, but none of it did? After all, that would go right in line with the whole wish fulfillment theory, that everything ended in the most clean, clear cut, and happiest of ways for everyone, no harm no foul.
But yeah, that's just my theory, and it's really the only way that these last movies really work with the rest of the story up to this point. Because otherwise, it sorta drives a stake right through the heart of my "not condoned" argument, seeing as they all lived happily ever after, no lesson learned. And otherwise, we also have to accept that ridiculous crap that they do with Jacob falling in love with an infant, which sure, just hearing about it sounds bad enough, but actually seeing it? Yeah, just, no, dude. I mean, sure, I get what they were trying to do with that, in theory. But in execution... yeah, I'm not even gonna touch that, moving right along!
Breaking Dawn: Part 1 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1
So yeah, the movies do sorta start to fall apart by the time we get to Breaking Dawn, which totally feels like nothing more than an overly-convenient wish fulfillment fantasy, if not by the characters themselves as I've theorized, then certainly by the author, and to the story's detriment at that, quite frankly. But then, on the other hand, Breaking Dawn is just so batshit insane that it does leave me with a lot more to think about after the fact, much more so than the first three did, so it does have at least that much going for it, I guess.
And really, that kinda goes hand in hand with one of my biggest defenses for these movies. While no, I'm not going to sit here and call these movies "good", I'll certainly admit that they're definitely a whole lot of fun, and there's a lot to enjoy about them, if you're into the "awesomely bad" variety of movies. I liken them to something like the Resident Evil series of movies, which are also completely out of their mind, but still enjoyable enough throughout to keep you following along and seeing where this thing is going.
And the fact that they're clearly self-aware of what kind of movies they are certainly aids in that. There are some truly melodramatic moments all throughout, but the movies never feel like they're taking things too seriously to where they're ever really all that off-putting. I mean, sure, I suppose you could be put off by the idea that movies such as this are trying to tackle such hot-topics such as depression, suicide, and abortion at times. But then, how seriously can we really take a movie that features a scene where Bella is freezing in a tent out in the snow, and in comes a shirtless Jacob to offer to warm her up, turning to Edward and cheekily explaining, "Let's face it, I am hotter than you." Come on, now!
Breaking Dawn: Part 2 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1
Final series count: 13
But now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, I want to shift focus onto the last aspect of these movies that received a lot of criticism, that being the supposedly bad acting. And honestly, I don't see it. Sure, the performances in these movies weren't necessarily great, but they were a far cry from being anything even remotely bad. And the closest I would say who comes to it would probably be Robert Pattinson in the first movie, who appeared to be struggling the most with this material, as if he hadn't realized what he had gotten himself into until it was too late. But even he comes to grow comfortably into the skin of his fucked up character as the movies progress, and I'd say that in the case of both he and Taylor Lautner, not only do they not give bad performances in these movies, their performances actually improve with each successive movie.
And as bad as the guys got it for these movies, the one whose reputation was arguably tarnished the most was probably Kristen Stewart, and it's 100% undeserved in my estimation. I had actually recently been catching up on some Kristen Stewart movies, having become quite a fan of hers after seeing her incredible performance in Clouds of Sils Maria last year (the single best performance of the entire year, mind you), and to date, I had yet to see her give a single bad performance in anything I've seen her in. So the thought of her actually doing so intrigued me, and that's actually what triggered my interest in seeking out these movies. And I've gotta say, everybody either lied, or they just don't understand what actually makes a performance "bad".
If there's anything amiss in these movies, it's not the acting, but rather, the writing. And when you take into account how these characters are actually written, then yeah, these are actually pretty damn good performances, that properly portray these characters in a fully realized and believable manner, and quite frankly, does this writing a helluva lot more justice than it probably even deserves. But it's not the actors' fault that they're being asked to portray such characters, so the blame shouldn't fall on them for giving supposedly "bad" performances, when really, it's not the acting that people are souring on, but rather, the material throughout that these actors are being asked to say and do.
And as it concerns Kristen Stewart's character of Bella, she plays the character flawlessly. I've heard so much about how she's just blank faced throughout the movies, how she doesn't emote. And now, having seen the movies, the only thing I gotta ask is, did anyone making these claims actually see the movie? Or are they basing those claims on the context-less screencaps that have become internet memes over the years? Because holy shit does Kristen Stewart emote in these movies, and she does so in a big way at that.
But here's the thing about her performance that I don't think people are understanding. Bella is not a very outgoing character. She's clumsy, she doesn't like to dance, she often stays home instead of going out with her friends. So she's a bit socially awkward, a bit of an introvert, a recluse, but someone who's just bubbling with emotion on the inside that she tries to hide, so as to not make herself vulnerable, except from some of those select few whom she trusts. This is the kind of person Bella is. And Kristen Stewart brings exactly that to the table. What she does in these movies is something I like to call, for lack of a better term, a "reserved emotional performance".
For another example of this, check out the movie Carol that came out last year, and in which Rooney Mara was nominated for an Oscar. In that movie, she plays a very similar character, one who is brimming with emotion, but emotion that she keeps locked away inside herself, only revealing it to those she trusts, and only slowly, a little bit at a time. And to pull this off in cinema is no easy feat, in a medium in which performances are often measured in how open and charismatic an individual can carry themselves, to be asked to do the opposite, to hold back and keep as much of that emotion within you, yet still manage to convey that emotion you're keeping bottled up. This is oftentimes accomplished with certain facial gestures, and most of the acting is done with their eyes, which hide a world of emotion behind them, or the tone in their voice, a certain timidness, an uncomfortable uncertainty that comes from a desire to expressly not express themselves.
Rooney Mara pulled this off so well that it earned her an Oscar nomination, but then, she also had the benefit of pulling it off in a more reputable film as well. However, I'm here to argue that Kristen Stewart largely pulls off this same feat in the Twilight films, and that most of her reputation for being a wooden or stilted actor comes not from her actual performance, but from the fact that her performance had to take place in these high profile yet not-so reputable films. But actually watch the movies, take in the context, what her character is experiencing, what she's feeling, the type of person she is, and you'll see, Kristen Stewart brings this character to life beautifully.
As I mentioned before, if there's anything amiss, it's not with her acting, but rather, the material she's being asked to portray. After all, it's not the only time she's played this sorta character, her role in Adventureland was similarly emotionally reserved. However, she actually played a likable character despite her emotional reservations in that film, in addition to the movie being more generally well received at that, so of course her performance was, too, more well received in that go around. But honestly, she brings that same level of emotional depth to these films, and really proves why she's a powerhouse actor.
And I stand by that. If you've seen Clouds of Sils Maria, then you'll know what I'm talking about. This is an actor who knows what she's doing, and brings the best to the role every time. And in the cases of both Clouds of Sils Maria and one of her more recent films Café Society, she leaves such an impact on the film that, once she leaves the screen, you truly feel the weight of her absence. The general quality of those movie tends to dip whenever she's not on screen, and it's noticeable. That's what she brings, and that's what I mean when I call her a powerhouse. It doesn't even feel like she's acting, she just goes out there and does what she does in a way that feels so genuine and so natural, it doesn't feel like we're watching an actor playing a role, but rather, like we're actually watching a real live person living their life on screen.
And it's not like playing this "emotionally reserved" persona is all she does. Her character in Clouds is very open and outspoken. And in the case of something like Adventureland or American Ultra, she also displays a world of charisma (not to mention her incredible chemistry she has with Jesse Eisenberg, to which I will quite frankly always be down for a good Stewart/Eisenberg flick at this point).
I also attribute people criticizing her for acting "wooden" in Twilight to similar complaints that people had for Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels. Again, as with Twilight, if there was anything amiss with anything regarding Christensen's character in those movies, it was with the writing, the things they wanted him to say and do. But actually pay attention to how his character is written, and you'll see, his "wooden" acting was entirely intentional.
Like Stewart, he's a good, solid actor who knows what he's doing. And in the case of the Star Wars prequels, he was asked to portray a character who was raised to keep his feelings under control and act within the bounds of logic, despite being a character who is ruled by his emotions. And all throughout, you can see it in the way he carries himself, the way he might pause before speaking at times, how he's constantly struggling to keep emotion out of his voice, to present himself in a way that fits within what he's been trained to believe is the image of a true Jedi. And though this may come across as "wooden" at times, that's also done on purpose. And it becomes more apparent as he becomes more open, more freely showing his emotion, particularly near the end when he's fully consumed by the dark side.
His physical performance in those movies is outstanding, just watch those movies and look at the way he carries himself with his physical mannerisms, the way he acts with his eyes, even when he's not speaking. And his line delivery, though awkward and lacking emotion at times, is largely an intentional choice throughout given the context surrounding his character (that, and a lot of the lines he's being asked to recite really are just that awkward). However, most people aren't willing to look that deeply into a performance before judging it prematurely and writing it off one way or the other, and before you know it, another great actor's reputation is unfairly tarnished. And it's sad to think that the same has happened to Kristen Stewart, though gladly she's finding plenty of success in the indie market, despite what the Twilight films might have done to her own reputation.
But in these situations, it honestly does feel like the general masses come to a consensus opinion on something, and rather than actually watching something and forming an opinion all their own, most people are content with just allowing for that consensus opinion to dictate their own feelings on a matter, which is really just kind of a disturbing thought, because I would really hope for people to be more open minded than that. I personally never care one way or the other what the popular opinion on a topic is. That's why I don't pay too much attention to aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes, because I don't allow for a general consensus to decide my own opinion for me. I want to form an opinion for myself, and if that happens to fall in line with the masses, well then great! And if it doesn't, eh, oh well! At least I know I'm being honest with myself, and whether or not any of you agree with anything I have to say here, at least you can take away that you're reading an honest, genuine opinion, and that I'm not just repeating what I'm "supposed" to think and feel, as dictated by the popular opinion.
And as it concerns these movies and these performances, if you honestly did give them a chance and you still didn't like them, then by all means, that's fine. My main gripe here is aimed at those who either haven't given the movies a chance yet still spout the rhetoric, or perhaps they have, but just want to fall in line with the popular opinion, so go about spouting off what they think they're "supposed" to say about these films, as opposed to more honestly expressing how they really felt, for whatever reason. Because really, what good does that do anyone? And obviously what I'm saying here goes well beyond just these particular films, but they just so happen to work as a good example. After all, how can we even begin to have a conversation about a topic if we're not willing to be honest about it in the first place?
So yeah, those are pretty much my thoughts. Are the Twilight movies great? Well, no, but are they really as bad as many make them out to be? Honestly, I don't really think they are. But as bad a reputation as the movies have garnered over the years, the biggest shame is the reputation that has been unfairly attached to the cast, who are all quite frankly great actors. Robert Pattinson hasn't really done anything mainstream outside of Twilight and his one-off in the Harry Potter movies, but if those don't convince you, then try watching something like The Rover or Remember Me, and see if that doesn't sway your opinion of him as an actor.
And as for Stewart, she's honestly so good that she's joined the shortlist of actors who I will literally see any movie she's in now. Hell, just recently, we had back to back weekends where new indie releases came to town that I had never even heard of, a movie called Equals and the aforementioned Café Society, and it was only upon seeing that she was in the cast that they immediately secured a ticket purchase from me. And while I haven't seen everything she's done just yet, thus far I've personally yet to see a bad performance out of her, and that remains true even after surviving the Twilight movies. And I don't say that out of some sort of bias for her because I'm just that big a fan, I'll more than admit when an actor I really like didn't pull a performance off, such as when another favorite of mine, Chloë Moretz, completely failed to impress in Dark Shadows. But Kristen Stewart is in a category with someone like Michael Fassbender, an actor who I really like and always delivers, and who always somehow manages to elevate the quality of the movie they're in with their mere presence. She really is just that good.