(Summitt Entertainment/KIMBERLY FRENCH)
It's hard to admit that a franchise I tore to pieces initially is beginning to grow on me. And no, it's not the tale of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) that has sucked me in -- in a word it would be -- werewolves.
I'm a sucker for the heavy beasts, what can I say? And in "Eclipse", they get their moment to shine, and trust me, they don't disappoint.
Plus this time around, the dialogue isn't as rigid and there's even a little humor to show the characters might actually have a good time now and again.
What made the difference in this latest flick I believe is the involvement of director David Slade. Slade has directed films such as "Hard Candy" and "30 Days of Night," and he works wonders on "Eclipse". He delivered a darker, edgier film than I ever thought imaginable from something with Twilight in the title.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's play catch up.
Bella wants to become a vampire to spend eternity with the love of her life Edward and his amazing tussle of unruly hair, but Edward continues to dissuade her from making the change. Then there's Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the boy without a shirt, who's hot for Bella, and knows she has feelings for him, but still finds himself, shirtless, on the outside looking in.
Also providing some of the movies most spot-on comedic lines is Billy Burke as Bella's father, Charlie. Burke is the most underrated member of this ensemble cast. The ease with which he brings his character to life only confirms the talent of this actor.
But a new threat to the vampire-werewolf-dour maiden trifecta, in the form of an army of newborn vampires, is rapidly approaching and the Cullens and the Quileute tribe must unite to protect Bella.
That unwanted union provides the best this series has had to offer. A lot of the best dialogue surrounds the scenes, it showcases some of the better acting and hands down the best action to date.
Melissa Rosenberg is back once again as screenwriter, but she changed it up a little, which results in a better-paced tale, with some funny, zipping dialogue and a dark edge that serves the story well.
Oneliners such as when Bella and Edward come upon a, you guessed it, shirtless Jacob, Edward inquires, "Does he own as shirt?" And when Bella is close to freezing on a mountaintop, Jacob looks at Edward and insists "Let's face it, I'm hotter than you" before snuggling with Bella to keep her warm, show the filmmakers aren't taking themselves all that serious.
My biggest complaint with the previous two films were they played like an animated harlequin romance novel and a bad one at that. "Eclipse" is able to show those who, like myself, are not familiar with the novels, that this story might have something to tell us after all. For all the bubblegum romance and overdramatic dialogue, "Eclipse" proved to be a very entertaining watch.
The scariest element of the movies isn't the vampires and it isn't the werewolves, it would be Stewart's badly formed wig. It's amazing that the movie boasts such great special effects, but they can't pull off a believable hairpiece. I know Stewart's hair was chopped for her role as Joan Jett, but write that into the story, please. Don't make us endure two hours of Cousin It sitting atop Ms. Stewart's noggin. Frightening indeed.
Bryce Dallas Howard steps into the role of Victoria and spends a whopping four minutes of uninspiring screen time staring and running toward the camera.
Something else that set "Eclipse" apart is the use of flashbacks. We actually get to see some back-stories for a few characters and it works perfectly. The most intriguing of which is the tale of Jasper (Jackson Rathbone).
I've always like the character of Jasper, but never knew why. Well, now I do. We see why he should be the most feared member of the Cullen clan and Rathbone's super slick demeanor is pitch perfect for what the character needs.
Final Cut: Eclipse won't land on any Top 10 lists this year, but it's a huge leap forward for the franchise. Stewart, Pattinson and Rathbone give nice performances, but it's the werewolves that pushed the movie over the top for me. The climactic final battle is well worth the wait.
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Jackson Rathbone, Dakota Fanning
Director: David Slade
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg (Screenplay)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 or intense sequences of action and violence and some sensuality
Runtime: 124 minutes