The Twilight Saga isn't shy about drawing literary parallels. In New Moon, the second movie in this apparently unstoppable franchise based on Stephanie Meyer's best-selling books, it was Romeo and Juliet. Hey, if you're gonna aim, might as well aim high, right? Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the 109 year old teenage vampire, and his beloved Bella (Kristen Stewart) watch Romeo and Juliet in their English Lit class. Later Edward tries to kill himself when he thinks Bella is dead. But she isn't. And then he isn't. Well, technically he is, but apparently there's dead and there's really dead when you're a vampire. But if you're gonna go all Shakespearean, you'd better be willing to kill off your heroes and heroines (even the undead ones), which is one thing The Twilight Saga will not (at least not yet) do. Romeo and Juliet might have ended tragically, but New Moon was a bummer from start to finish. The major crisis was instigated by Bella getting a paper cut. (I'll admit that's pretty original. Shakespeare never used the paper cut as plot device.) Never has love made so many so unhappy for so long. Never have paper cuts been so deadly. (Twilight the first, on the other hand, was a hoot -- even if it was unintentionally funny.)
Which brings us to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, in which Edward and Bella continue to be desperately in love, and Bella remains wary of sharp envelopes. (No, not really. Not the envelope part.) But Bella's getting more desperate by the minute, weary, perhaps, of this extended exercise in delayed gratification. Even if Edward is immune to teenage hormones (an apparent perk of being undead), Bella is still human, so she isn't. Such is Bella's love (and lust) for Edward that she wishes to be made a vampire. Such is Edward's love for Bella, that he wants her to be spared from undead immortality. Methinks the boy's got a point.
Part of Bella's problem might be that teen wolf pal of hers, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Jacob is desperately in love with Bella, so much so that he has apparently misplaced all of his shirts. He's tan and buff and warmblooded. Edward is pale and sparkly and cold as the grave, but fully clothed. Poor Bella -- so many choices. Which is why she is reciting Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice" to Edward as the movie begins. In a sunny meadow filled with wildflowers. With Edward wearing a shirt and sparkling in the sunlight as vampires do in Twilight world. I'd bet good money Frost never imagined his poem being read in quite those circumstances.
In addition to practicing abstinence (if that's something one can actually practice), Twilight steadfastly hews to the law of narrative economy -- there are no Macguffins in Twilight, no poem is recited and no Native American legend is recounted that will not figure later in the movie. And so, bitter rivals Jacob and Edward (aka Fire and Ice) face some choices in Eclipse too, for someone has raised up a vampire army to slay Bella. The vampire army is made up of "newborns," newly-minted vampires who are the most vicious and bloodthirsty vampires of all. Bella must be saved, for if Twilight is anything, it is an old-fashioned damsel in distress story, and Bella is the damsel, and she's in distress... again. She's in all kinds of distress, of course, because what Bella wants most is what is most dangerous of all: sex. That her two would-be beaus are both monsters who must suppress their wild natures and appetites for the sake of love is the simmering subtext behind everything that happens in The Twilight Saga, and, I suspect, its main appeal. Twilight is all about the safe sex, which is no sex at all. (Edward refuses, being the courtly, marriage-minded guy that he is, telling Bella, vaguely, that it is too dangerous.) And yet Bella is, it becomes quite clear, a tease. There's a word for the particular type of tease she is, and I bet that word never appears in the chaste Twilight books.
The two rivals for Bella's undying affection must join forces to protect her from the crazy killer baby vampires, which makes Eclipse the best Twilight movie ever. Which may be damning with faint praise, but it's really not bad.
Direrctor David Slade (who made the fast and furious vampire movie 30 Days of Night), has taken the mopey, morose, swoony Twilight Saga and given it a lusty, vital shot in the arm with competent, energetic directing. There's a lot more action, a lot more romantic comedy, and the characters actually show some personality, all of which is good. Fun, fighting, people doing stuff, vampires doing stuff, personality -- all good things in a movie. There's more violence, more feeling, and for the first time, a sense of what is at stake for Bella -- not just what she hopes to gain by her transformation into Edward's eternal one and only, but also all that she stands to lose. In making that more manifest, the movie also (finally!) starts to account for the devotion between Edward and Bella. It was just a given before, but the two of them were always so miserable (although admittedly more miserable apart than together) that it was never clear why their romance was worth the candle. There's still a fair bit of trademark Twilight silliness in Eclipse too -- strike a pose, you vampy vampires! -- although it feels a bit more like the cast are in on the joke this time around. At any rate, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is a movie that actually aims to entertain, and it mostly succeeds.