As the old adage goes, third time’s a charm. Eclipse screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg has finally allowed a Twilight Saga script (drowning in its own predictable melodrama for the past two films) to come up for air in the series’ third installment. Here the characters are permitted to be things they’ve thus far never been: charming, relatable, and dare we say it, watchable. If you were to compare the series to baseball, Twilight struck out swinging, New Moon was a boring, lame walk to first, and Eclipse… well, we may finally have a game on our hands.

Of course, David Slade must also be given credit for getting more out of Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, and Robert Pattinson. (Literally—the first two movies made this attractive trio shells of characters in the yawnfest of Twilight and it’s meekly improved sequel, New Moon). But that’s not all he’s done. Eclipse gives this syrupy romance series the kick of action it needed, and in a big way.

This time around, an army of vampires is savagely murdering its way through Seattle, as it marches to Forks to destroy the Cullen clan and their human companion Bella Swan. When the Cullens learn of the army’s plan, they join forces with their sworn enemy, the werewolves, in order to protect Bella and the town, training together for what can best be described as a supernatural war. The lackluster tree climbing nonsense of Twilight and the overdramatic slow motion sequences of New Moon have been replaced with fight scenes that are finally worth the price of admission. Sure, the flick is more violent and will likely appeal less to the tweeny-fan crowd, what with the plethora of decapitations, murders, and bone-crushing wolf bites, but it may also finally silence critics of the series who have longed for the vampire gore and gusto of HBO’s True Blood and, not-so-coincidentally, films like Slade’s own 30 Days of Night. Not all the special effects deliver though, as the CGI wolves are still ridiculously cartoonish, sometimes regular dog size and sometimes as tall as the vampires. Shambolic.

In terms of the central love-triangle, around which all else must orbit, Eclipse picks up where New Moon left off in some ways, and for non-readers and non-fans, this is what has made this saga just not work thus far. Here we are once again with Bella (Kristen Stewart) caught between vampire true love Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf best buddy Jacob (Taylor Lautner). As usual, Jacob rarely has a shirt and Edward pouts at the camera. Indeed, teeny boppers want what they want.

This time around though, we see the lighter side of these characters, the script even poking fun at the ridiculousness that is each and every one of the series’ highly criticized stereotypes. In one scene, Edward even talks trash on the scarcely dressed Jacob, “Does he ever wear a shirt?” Praise be to the writers for a little humor. And on the real tip, someone finally gave Kristen Stewart the memo about not running her fingers through her hair and chomping on her lip every 30 seconds like a mental patient. Her nervous ticks (stop blinking!!) and formerly unwatchable awkwardness are almost entirely absent (or at least cleverly masked) in this film.

Also, perhaps in another attempt to silence critics, we finally catch a glimpse into the inner-workings of the Cullen family. One major flaw of the first two films was the jumble of characters, making it impossible to understand their purpose without having read the books. Siblings like Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), formerly given one line or none at all for two full movies, finally have a purpose, as we learn more about them in flashback sequences that give Eclipse the sort of dimensions that New Moon lacked.

The villains of Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Riley (Xavier Samuel) are far less one dimensional and at times even menacing. The same cannot be said for the Volturi, led by Dakota Fanning, who are still not so much frightening as they are simply laughable. Red contact lenses = scary, apparently.

The series’ bright spot shines on in Eclipse. Just when you think no one in these movies was hired for their talent, Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s father, Charlie Swan, once again steals every scene. But then again, we’ve always been Team Charlie.

So what’s the verdict? Readers of the series will rejoice in the movie’s nearly verbatim regurgitation of Stephenie Meyer’s best seller. The characters are just as we readers imagined they would be. Edward is finally sexy and romantic. Jacob is finally snippy and charismatic. Bella is finally (somewhat) sweet. Is Eclipse enough to convert the non-believers? There still may be too much daytime soap dialogue for that, but if given a chance, at least they could give a nod of understanding toward just what all the fuss has been about.

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: David Slade
Runtime: 124 minutes
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Rating: PG-13