The Twilight Saga: Eclipse isn't the best of three, but neither is it the worst. Instead, this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster book falls somewhere in the middle, between the nicely captured teen angst of 2008's Twilight and the ill-fated emotional oasis of 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Obviously, we're not talking about quality to match the Toy Story trilogy, but neither are we plumbing the Police Academy or Friday the 13th depths.
Detractors would disagree, but that's because most come from that fanboy camp that cannot abide the thought of movies centered around women and their lives (see also: Sex and the City). The Twilight series (on screen anyway; I haven't read the novels) is often only so much melodramatic glop, but at its best, it also taps into that essence which informs youthful, blinding love, when amorous emotions are so scalding hot that the only choices that make sense to a young girl are either to be consumed with desire or perish outright (usually symbolically, as in "If he doesn't ask me to the prom, I'll just die!"). The canniness of the Twilight franchise is that it uses its protagonist, Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart), to literalize these desires. Having spent the first movie falling in love with sparkly emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the second picture brooding over his departure, Bella is now fully at the point where she feels that spending her life by his side as one of the undead beats anything that the human world has to offer.
Others aren't so sure. Chief among these is Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the Native American hunk who's able to change into a werewolf at will. Deeply fond of Bella, he's determined to win her from Edward, largely by offering himself as a warm-blooded alternative to the pasty, ice-cold bloodsucker (their face-off leads to the movie's funniest line, Jacob's verbal smackdown of Edward while they're sharing a tent with Bella late in the movie). Yet even Edward and his fellow vampires aren't so eager for Bella to give up her life to join their ranks: In one of the film's best scenes, Rosalie (Nikki Reed) relates to Bella the sad tale of how she became a vampire, without any say in the matter. (Another fine scene finds Jasper, played by Jackson Rathbone, sharing his back story, making me wish we could have spent more screen time on all the vampire characters' origins.)
As Bella struggles with her choices -- vampire or human? Edward or Jacob? Coke or Pepsi? -- other developments pose immediate threats to the Forks, Wash., community. The vampire and werewolf communities continue to snarl at each other's collective throats. A series of slayings is taking place in nearby Seattle. The vampiric Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) still seeks revenge. And the vampire overlords, the Volturi, have been snooping around for reasons unknown.
Returning screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and new series director David Slade (Hard Candy) try to wrestle all this material into a coherent shape, with middling results. The inconsistent tone results in an opening act that's lethargic; thankfully, the picture eventually hits its strides. There are a number of ingredients likely to earn titters, from some overripe lines to several of the characterizations; for my money, nothing's more risible than the Volturi, who are supposed to be intimidating monster masters but, as led by little Dakota Fanning, come across as models for a new Goth fashion line.
Yet for all the film's flaws, there's much that it gets right. The visual effects are better than in previous installments, and this allows the battle between "good" vampires, "bad" vampires, and werewolves to deliver the climactic goods when they count. (And thank God some studio idiot didn't suggest converting this to 3-D, as every other movie seems to be presented these days.) Stewart again makes Bella a watchable heroine, and while Pattinson and Lautner may not reveal themselves as the most accomplished actors around, they're nevertheless desirable for these roles, especially in the scenes in which Pattinson's ethereal angst bounces off Lautner's robust earthiness.
No, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse may never sparkle as brightly as its centerpiece vampires. But neither does it suck like them.