THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010) (**1/2)
The third in the TWILIGHT film series is the best. That said, it's nothing groundbreaking, but at least it doesn't take itself too seriously. The original TWILIGHT was made for teenagers who watch soaps. NEW MOON was made for teenagers who never smile. ECLIPSE was made for teenagers with a sense of humor.
In this edition, we begin and end in a field of purple flowers. Edward (Robert Pattinson) tries to convince his love Bella (Kristen Stewart) to marry him, but not insist that he turn her into a vampire if they wed. She doesn't want to bear growing old while he stays young forever. At school, they run into shirtless werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who warns Bella that Edward and his vampire family are hiding things from her. The vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, SPIDER-MAN 3) is back and looking to kill Bella as revenge on Edward for killing her love. And then there is also the army of young vampires, led by Riley (Xavier Samuel, ROAD KILL), headed right for their small town as well.
For this entry in the series, it feels like director David Slade (HARD CANDY), who is new to the franchise, told the actors that the series has made them rich and famous and they need to act like they don't dread every minute being in it. Stewart, and especially, Pattinson and Launter seem to be having fun with the roles. With Edward more involved in this film, the story has a tangible love triangle where part of the fun is the bickering between Bella's suitors. I liked when Edward wonders if Jacob even owns a shirt. The lighter performances make the experience a lot more fun than NEW MOON, which was an equivalent of listening to bad teenage goth poetry.
ECLIPSE has a great deal more external plot to it. It's a conventional tale of heroes making alliances with past enemies to battle a gathering threat to both parties. How I still have to say that the Volturi, some vampire cult for those not in the know, are pointless or tacked on at best. The resulting vampire/werewolves vs. young vampires battle isn't as thrilling as like LORD OF THE RINGS or even CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, but it at least breathes some warmth into the proceedings.
Along with the standard action plot, there is of course the romance. Slade and writer Melissa Rosenberg try to bring out themes of how love makes us do crazy things, but they never bring it back to Bella in a truly strong way. Playing on this idea, we get to see some backstory of vampires Jasper (Jackson Rathbone, who actually seems alive in this film) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed, THIRTEEN). Along with their stories, Jacob argues that if Bella picks him, she wouldn't have to give up anything for him. She could live a normal life with her parents. These arguments amount to valid points against becoming a bloodsucker, but Bella is the founding member of Team Edward and that is it. This creates little tension. That's what really holds the love triangle back from becoming really engaging. How more dynamic would it be if Bella went for Jacob for those reasons even though she really didn't love him? That's a classic soap opera device for a reason.
In the end, I had more fun watching this film than the others. Folks unfamiliar with the series might get lost in some parts, but they'll catch on quick. This isn't AP material. For a franchise like this where the fan base knows the material through and through, the source material straps down the filmmakers. There is certainly room for improvement, but fans would riot if Bella weren't blindly devoted to the mirror-ball skinned vampire. And I have to say I liked Bella's speech at the end of the film for her character motivations. Would have been nice to see her dealing with those motivations somewhere else in the film though. So I say to TWILIGHT fans, this about as good as it will probably get. For non-fans, this is about as good as it will probably get.