It must have been a surprise to most to see that New Moon had toppled the Dark Knight for the largest one day gross ever with $72.7 million. Surprising because Stephenie Meyer’s series of books and the first movie, Twilight, always seemed to be playing to a niche market; female first and foremost, but also being young, religious, and into vampires seemed to increase your odds of liking the series. Turns out that that crowd is either much larger than we all knew or that these tales of sexually repressed vampires have some massive crossover appeal. The new record setting film picks up where Twilight left off and follows the continuing adventures of Bella (Kristen Stewart), now a senior in high school, as she wiggles her way right into the middle of a centuries old war between the vampires and the werewolves. The ride itself is fun – if fun is all you are after – but flawed if you decide to look just a little bit deeper.

The most interesting subplot leading up to New Moon’s release, assuming you are interested in cinema and not tabloids, was the unceremonious dumping of Catherine Hardwicke as director in favor of Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass). She did, you must remember, only bring in $383 million in box office receipts as the director of Twilight. Some have cited sloppiness as her fireable offense, but Weitz is hardly viewed as a master technician himself, and he, in no way, uses this opportunity to dance circles around his predecessor.

Rather, everything still looks sufficiently corny and low budget, and the status quo has been maintained. There are a few exceptions, such as an early scene involving a seemingly uneventful birthday party for Bella thrown by her vampire friends that quickly turns into a Matrix inspired Battle Royale. That scene and a few money shots sprinkled throughout feel like the work of a true craftsman, unfortunately those moments of brilliance were fleeting.

Bella suffers a severely broken heart early on when her vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) decides that he must dump her in the name of safety, and thus leaves her high and dry in suburban Washington. Weitz takes this opportunity to merrily strum on our heartstrings (it is why we paid the money) as he practically beats us over the head with just how depressed she is. In fact, the whole first half of New Moon reeks of melodrama, but in his defense when a girl gets dumped at that age- by a sexy vampire no less- it really is melodramatic. She soon finds solace in the company of Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a childhood friend with a cartoonified beefcake body and a just say no policy when it comes to shirts. Oh, and he happens to moonlight as a werewolf.

Of course she almost instantly falls in love with him (Dr. Drew might diagnose her as a love addict), and of course this is very bad because, as we learned in the Underworld trilogy, werewolves and vampires just don’t get along. It will surprise nobody to learn that soon Edward will be back to reclaim his prize since he is less than pleased with Bella’s new love interest. It all adds up to a convoluted, botched climax (featuring Dakota Fanning!!) in Italy in which Bella will have to figure out where she fits in with the vampire world even though she remains human.

What is truly powerful about this film is the way that vampire and werewolf mythology is brought down to Earth and placed snuggly in suburban America. It works best when surrounded by pick-up trucks and high schools, and nearly falls apart when it moves away from that arena. Kristen Stewart is so superb at being normal that it injects a real natural soul into the story. Her character leaves a little to be desired, but seeing the way attractive males fall at her feet it is easy to see why she is idolized by millions. She is also a classic damsel in distress and, dare we say, actively setting back the women’s movement a hundred years. If she’s not bleeding, drowning, or being hunted, and therefore in need of a male savior, then she’s moping it up over a guy for months on end. But then again, one glance at those box office receipts seems to indicate that being a throwback to a bygone era is a good thing in times like these.

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning

Director: Chris Weitz

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg (based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer)

Runtime: 130 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

 

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