Slay, TCU (Twilight Cinematic Universe)!
At regular but sometimes unpredictable intervals, Vulture selects a film to watch with our readers as part of our Wednesday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection — chosen on the occasion of Vampire Veek, Vulture’s five-day-long celebration of immortal, blood-sucking onscreen hotties — comes from writer Rebecca Alter and social editor Wolfgang Ruth, who will begin their screening of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 on October 27 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch their live commentary.
Where were you when it happened? When feature film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 owned your absolute ass with the cinematic prank of the century? Up until this point in the five-film franchise, the movies had hewn pretty faithfully to the plots of Stephanie Meyer’s fantasy YA book series. If the movies were known for anything, it was for a familiar love triangle of attractive non-teens and a general sense of swooning adolescent angst, accentuated by a mall-goth-ready soundtrack and that iconic blue camera filter. But then, in 2012, director Bill Condon went totally rogue.
First, let’s set the scene (spoilers ahead, Patrick Star): Vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) got human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) pregnant in Breaking Dawn — Part 1, before turning her into a vampire to save her life in childbirth. As a result, they have this little half-human, half-vampire, all-abomination freak baby Renesmée. Two terrible things happen to Renesmée off the bat (that’s a vampire pun and a vampire baseball pun): One, she has to deal with Taylor Lautner, who fell in love with her as a fetus. Two, the Volturi — basically, vampire police led by Michael Sheen — want this little freak dead.
In what’s basically set up like a live-action anime showdown, the Volturi come to town to kill Renesmée, who has matured to, like, age 8 in a matter of months. The Cullens have assembled a team to defend her, including a pack of CGI werewolves and some new vampires we’ve never seen before (Lee Pace! Rami Malek!). What ensues is a baroque horror bloodbath more inventive and fun than anything the Marvel franchise has attempted in their own big boss battles. Another vampire named Alice (Ashley Greene), who has the power of foresight, tries to show Michael Sheen a vision of his own demise, but the Volturi respond on the offensive anyway. Daddy Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) charges the Volturi. He jumps in the air and is met by Aro (they probably make out for like one second). When they touch ground on snowy turf again, Carlisle’s cowl-neck sweater is short a head. Everyone gasps and we arrive at what we will call the moment. Michael Sheen holds the severed head by its bottle-blonde hair as horror music drones duurrrrr. He makes the campiest, most villainous expression this side of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. Wait a second, you think. Carlisle doesn’t die in the book. Chaos reigns.
Vampires proceed to clash and bodies are thrown and werewolves start to bite, and all we can think about is how awkward this must have been to film in front of a giant pre-2012 green screen. The seven-minute battle is sprawling and strange. Bones break. A Confederate sympathizer who’s a good guy in this franchise’s fucked-up universe (Jackson Rathbone) gets his head chopped off. Pissed about that, Emmett (Kellan Lutz) (heart-eye emoji) runs at Alec (Cameron Bright), shoves him into the snow (cute), and tears his head off (#LegendsOnly). Dakota Fanning, who plays the evil Volturi vampire Jane, uses her power of “psychic pain infliction,” which involves very intense standing and staring while looking like she’s about to vomit. Alice performs a super-realistic backflip. The CGI wolves are off doing their own shit. Reader, there are like 20 different story lines happening all at once. Eventually Edward snaps an evil vampire’s neck (happy!), but girl werewolf Leah falls into the lava to save Esme Cullen (sad!). Oh yeah, there’s lava now.
Alice killing Jane gets its own paragraph: After awkwardly running like Taylor Swift in that treadmill commercial, Alice hops over Jane, grabs her by the throat, and feeds her to a drooling wolf.
To cap it all off, our heroes Edward and Bella manage to do their own decapitating. Edward dramatically swings Bella 360 degrees in order for her to slam-kick Michael Sheen in the face. It’s the start of a quick ASMR bit consisting of punching, artery squeezing, and heavy mounting (you think, is Bella gonna jump from there?!) until Edward breaks the Volturi leader’s spine and Bella jerks his head completely off. And then it happens. The reveal. The Prestige. The camera trains in on a flaming torch reflected in dead Michael Sheen’s eyes, and then cuts to him fully intact, standing in the pre-bloodied snow. It turns out this entire battle was just a part of Alice’s vision of what would have happened had Aro decided to pursue his mission of killing the godforsaken vampire child.
The goop! Yet it’s essentially the only time the “it was all a dream!” twist has ever worked, give or take the Newhart finale. Instead of duking it out at all, everyone just goes home. It’s the final perfect statement on the cringe magic of the Twilight Cinematic Universe (TCU): The epic tale that was set in motion by Bella and Edward’s love meant everything and nothing. As is true for all teen romances, the stakes felt dangerously high but everything was largely taking place in someone’s head.
But more than that, this franchise-capping scene was proof that Twilight vampires weren’t just “sparkly” and tame. They were sparkly and keen on snapping necks. For as much as the Twilight franchise was ridiculed during its run — this New York Times review called Edward lifeless, and not in the good way; this Rolling Stone review compared Breaking Dawn Part — Part 2 to the swine flu; and this USA Today review claimed that humanity (minus Twilight fans) would “remain unmoved” by the finale (babe, just check out Twilight’s Twitter account) — at least it didn’t take itself so seriously that it couldn’t insert fanfic of itself into its final act. (Truly, what other film franchise in herstory has a behind-the-scenes legacy like this?)
And listen, cheesiness carries! The fan service paid off and continues to pay off. Who needs buff boys in costumes chastely saving the universe when you have horny bloodsuckers ripping apart their villainous counterparts to protect their right to have sex forever? Herein lies the timeless beauty of Twilight, and of all the other vampire movies and TV shows shamelessly built on audience thirst (many of which will be celebrated over the next week on vulture dot com): There’s just something about wildly infeasible bloodlust that keeps us coming back for more.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part Two is available to stream on Netflix and rent on Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.