By Michelle Hart, Staff Writer
Love it or hate it, the "Twilight" franchise is ubiquitous, permeating almost all facets of popular culture. Not since "Harry Potter" (the comparison ends here, I promise) has a fantasy book series oriented towards young adults inspired such passionate fervor among the masses. Whether one chooses to hop on the bandwagon, the "Twilight" series is simply something no one can ignore no matter how hard you try. With "New Moon," the second installment in the wildly successful saga, director Chris Weitz ("About a Boy," "Golden Compass") propels the series into a new direction. Whereas the first movie did not quite know what it wanted to be, the filmmakers of "New Moon" stripped away all of the pretense, creating a movie that is both better than the first film and—gasp!—better than the book.
"New Moon" finds Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) deep in the throes of love, yet still not able to consummate their relationship. Maybe it's true what they say: abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. Things soon turn sour, though, when Edward abruptly leaves Bella in the middle of the woods (what a guy) after she gets a paper cut from opening her birthday present. After a montage of spinning cameras and gloomy indie music signifying the passing months, Bella figures out that the only way she can still see Edward (or at least hallucinations of him) is to become an adrenaline junkie.
Enter Jacob (Taylor Lautner), Bella's childhood pal, who helps Bella satisfy her craving for danger by restoring a pair of beat up motorbikes. However, Bella again finds herself in the thick of things after Jacob reveals that he is a werewolf. The girl cannot catch a break.
New Moon is very much Taylor Lautner's movie. While Pattinson and Stewart do give more inspired performances than last time out, Lautner's turn as Jacob provides the heart and soul (and abs) of this film. He breathes fresh life into a character that—in the books—is both dull and irritating. It will be interesting to see how many fans that claim to be "Team Edward" walk out of the theater as members of "Team Jacob."
Visually, the film is much more dynamic and effective than the first go round as well. Director Christopher Weitz, no stranger to big-budget fantasy movies, stages a couple of red-blooded action sequences that are welcome breaks in the relationship drama. The suits at Summit, the studio behind the franchise, made a sage decision in bringing in Weitz, who directed the lackluster but visually impressive Golden Compass.
Sometimes, the best way to surmount a story's ridiculousness is to blatantly point it out to the audience. The filmmakers of New Moon, and, in particular, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, lay the story's inherent silliness bare, celebrating it with witty, self-aware dialogue that will make both the indoctrinated and the newcomers smirk. For instance, Bella constantly makes comments as to how buff Jacob has gotten since the events of Twilight, saying things like "Whoa, you're buff. What are you like sixteen?" Similarly, Bella flies to Italy on Virgin Airlines, a wink and a nod to the series' reputation as an abstinence fable.
Whether you are a fan or a hater (or both), you can't help but respect the franchise for finally recognizing its audiences and not shying away from its true face: a supernatural fantasy in which incredibly attractive guys compete for the affection of an average-looking girl with no discernible personality of her own.