"New Moon" a phase ahead of "Twilight"

Nov. 21, 2009, midnight | By Mandy Xu | 10 years, 11 months ago

The second installment's dark humor is a winner

Very few films have enough bite to divide people. Only a dim pool of films can cause heartbreak and simultaneously saturate with dark humor - but one film does all in vampire-galore. It's the long-awaited sequel in the "Twilight Saga," "New Moon." With comedy-gold Director Chris Weitz, "New Moon" glorifies the essence of the supernatural, angst-ridden teen novel more truthfully than its predecessor through a more threatening, mature film.

The film follows up with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) after she has found her soul-mate, if vampires do possess souls, in the ever pale and brooding Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Foreshadowing an instance in which Bella was nearly killed by a member of the Cullen family that occurred on her 18th birthday, Bella fears aging and desperately longs to become an immortal vampire. After the incident, Edward, frightened for Bella's safety, leaves town and commands her to forget him. Broken and distraught, Bella seeks help from werewolf Jacob Black (the uncannily charming Taylor Lautner). As time passes and nightmares haunt her, Bella realizes she may never be able to forget Edward.

Chris Weitz, director of comedic hits like "About a Boy" and "American Pie," competently takes over the "Twilight" powerhouse franchise. While the screenplay was nothing more than average, Weitz's manipulation of bleak humor is refreshing in a film with several sequences in the film that resemble Princess Diana's funeral march. Weitz toys with the plot's underlying sexual implications keeps it stirring and amusing. Weitz uses graphic techniques from "American Pie" less explicitly. Bella wants to be bitten, but the old-fashioned Edward wants to uphold morality. The recurring, bold shots of bare-chested males belonging to boys whose priority is to protect Bella tease the boundaries of chastity and lust. To top it off, there is a transparent shot of Bella flying with Virgin Airlines.

This is a notable improvement over Catherine Hardwicke's work in "Twilight," which lacked quality and consistency in composition.

Inflating the hysteria surrounding this "Twilight" film is Lautner's gallant performance as Black. Although it was rumored that a replacement would be found for Lautner because he lacked the masculinity necessary for his character, he was a phenomenon to behold. Given a minimal role in "Twilight," Lautner lures any and all vulnerable hearts in this sequel. His blinding white smile polishes a dismal background. As a young actor, Lautner captures the awkward but appealing quirks of the growing male teenager. He tempers his scenes with a vivacious spirit that permeates warmth. He even manages to create decent chemistry with the detached Kristen Stewart. Simply, there's something undeniable and awfully-adorable about Jacob Black.

Unlike the striking improvement in plot arrangement and visual effects for "New Moon," several returning actors' deliver the same emotionally- void lines that became unintentionally laughable in the previous installment. In sharp contrast with Lautner, Stewart's Bella is still shallow. She mastered the deadpan stare and flawlessly executes cynicism. Stewart is not alone. Pattinson also leaves little dramatic impression. Combined with clichéd dialogue, their scenes are embarrassingly stiff and solicit inappropriate laughter.

Fortunately, the supporting class, which includes the gifted Michael Sheen as Aro and incredibly talented Dakota Fanning as Jane were refreshing individuals in the bloodless movie. Even though they serve supporting roles, the pair was able to create the most vivid and memorable segments of the film. In these scenes, Edward seeks death in the hands of the Volturi vampire clan, because he believes Bella is dead. Sheen is chilling and as sinister as ever, acting the part of curious Aro. Fanning upstages Stewart with acting in her brief screen time aided by a piercing, evil smile. Her few seconds of cruel and speechless glares far outshine Stewart's hours of communication.

While not intensely theatrical, "New Moon" is entertaining and transforms adolescent emotions into real passions. There's a reason the "Twilight Saga" entices fanatics. Devotees of "Team Jacob" or "Team Edward" will clash over "New Moon," at least within the shades of humor.

"New Moon" (130 minutes) is rated PG-13 for some violence and action. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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