Step aside, you creepy cougars: Finally, there’s a Twilight suitable even for normal grown-ups. Not that many moviegoers outside the shriek–to–swoon demographic—i.e. men, or women who find Stephenie Meyer’s prose and Bella’s interspecies love tedious—were holding out hope for this franchise. But those who are dragged to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse may just enjoy themselves enough not to mind the post-credits walk of shame.
Director David Slade shows off the tonal shift in the latest installment in the first few minutes. Looking like a scene out of Slade’s own 30 Days of Night, Eclipse opens with a young man walking alone on a rainy evening. A shadowy thing, quick as lightning, knocks him down and hurls him in the air. He can’t see who, or what, is doing this to him, and neither can we. Eventually he’s felled, screaming from pain.
Cue title card.
Of course, the heart of Twilight is romance, so the film can’t be all ghouls and gore lest Slade dump Meyer’s vision completely. You’re going to have to sit through the still-human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her bloodsucking beau, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), reading poetry in Forks, Wash.’s lavender fields (no joke), gushing “I love you”s, and in general exuding the kind of teen–lust behavior that elicits eye-rolls or cranky pleas to get a room. And this third installment also brings the first two novels’ Team Edward vs. Team Jacob setup to a boil. Werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who comforted Bella in New Moon after her undead boyfriend suddenly dumped her, is ready to fight for the one he loves.
Jacob’s resolve isn’t just a matter of the heart, however. The vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) still has a thirst for Bella, intent on murdering her to get revenge on Edward, who killed Victoria’s partner. There have also been a string of unexplained deaths in nearby Seattle and an intruder in Bella’s house whose scent the Cullens don’t recognize. They suspect “newborns”—freshly minted Draculas—who tend to be especially vicious. So in order to protect the girl, the boys agree to play nice as their natural-enemy families decide to work together.
Melissa Rosenberg, who penned the first two films, distills Meyer’s doorstop of a novel perfectly. Though there’s enough treacle—and shirtlessness—to satisfy the tweens, it’s balanced by goosebump mystery and even (intentional!) humor. You’ll get chills when a newborn cases Bella’s joint, sniffing her clothes and getting right up in her dad’s (Billy Burke) sleeping grill. You’ll laugh when the “wolf pack”—Jacob’s brethren, who can hear each other’s thoughts—tease him about his crush. (“Maybe I should call Bella and hang up! Bwahaha!”) And Edward is mercifully less annoying onscreen than he is on the page, with the hyper-protectiveness that borders on emotional abuse tamped down to a more gentlemanly, concerned-boyfriend level. (And the glitter? Relegated to a few sparkles on his nose in one scene.) Even the horse-size CG wolves don’t look quite as cheap this time around—which makes the frequent battles actually thrilling instead of silly.
The cast is serviceable, generally underplaying and doing its best to pad the one-note characters and help Meyer’s awful dialogue sound a little less histrionic. (Lautner’s easily the worst of the lot, though he’s not given much to do besides pout and be half-naked.) The Jacob/Edward quandary results in a few truly loaded moments, particularly a tense scene in which the latter grudgingly allows the “dog” to snuggle up to Bella when they’re hiding out in a freezing tent. Slade has ushered the series’ angst toward true darkness, resulting in an Eclipse that merits its title.