‘Eclipse’ Review: The Box Office Champ of the Summer Is the Twilight Saga

Natasha Vargas-Cooper reports that Eclipse’s plot is exciting and its boys are pretty—but worries about the bloody mess that will be the next movie, Breaking Dawn.

If you are under the belief that the staggering success of the Twilight movies is due to a fanatic legion of die-hard fans who will slurp up any twaddle Summit Entertainment throws their way just as long as it features shirtless heartthrobs, then you are mistaken.

The appeal, the ecstasy of the Twilight movies, is their ability to capture all the contradictions of female desire without condescension. Do you give your heart to an Edward, the older, steely protector, who will always have some advantage over you, rendering you constantly submissive? Or do you choose Jacob, the cloying, devoted, gooey boy who will never cease his worship of you? Or do you just ball them both? (Yes, please!)

These are the questions that matter, and the Twilight saga takes these queries deathly seriously.

In Breaking Dawn, Edward resolves to kill the baby after its birth–fourth-term abortion in Forks, Wash., people!—but he feels guilty because he doesn't want to deny Bella the joys of motherhood.

You can mock the Star Wars movies for their silly story lines or hokey acting, but there is no doubting the franchise's ability to tap into the male fantasies of adventure, exploration, and heroism. Twilight offers the same universe to women, with far more emotional intelligence and sophistication: there are no dancing Ewoks here. The franchise keeps getting better with each installment: the actors continue to mature and refine their breathless angst, Melissa Rosenberg's adaptations strike a good balance between the moony dialogue and action sequences, and each director has managed condense Stephenie Meyers' unruly plot lines into entertaining treats.

Eclipse is no exception, as many bleary eyed audiences found out at the midnight screenings that raked in $30 million early Wednesday morning, making it the third biggest box office midnight show of all time.

When we last saw our emo heroes at the end of New Moon, a truce between Edward's league of the undead and Jacob's pack of werewolves was still intact, and Bella seemed set on giving Edward her hand in marriage under the condition that he turn her into a vampire. At the beginning of Eclipse, however, the tenuous peace agreements in the foggy town of Forks seem to have fallen part. Tensions between the wolves and the vampires are reignited because there is an unruly pack of vampire newborns breaking every rule the underworld has set. Too many people are getting killed by these out-of-control teen vamps for the supernatural creatures of Forks to stay on the sidelines.

In the middle of all this is the tense love triangle of Edward (Robert Pattinson), Bella (Kristen Stewart), and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). In this installment, Bella, who has decided to jump right into vampiredom come graduation from high school, is plagued with doubt. While being a vampire would ensure ever lasting love with Edward, it would also mean she would no longer be human and lose all those perks like: Having a family, being in the sunlight, not being a blood-drinking cannibal. Whereas a relationship with Jacob, though he is more preening than Edward, would mean a full, human life. Bella is torn.

With David Slade's direction, Eclipse shoots up to the top rank of the franchise in terms of quality. The plotting is fast, the stakes are high, and the complexity of being romantically entangled with good-looking men who want to give you everything except normality is laid bare. There is nothing to snigger at here. Like a good science fiction movie, the universe in Eclipse is total. Though elements are fantastic and exaggerated, Meyers constructs a new emotional landscape in Forks, Wash., where the adolescent vampires and werewolves serve as metaphors for all the urgent dilemmas one faces in our waning high school days: Is now the moment when you make decisions that last a life time? Or make no decisions at all? These questions are at the heart of Eclipse, and they are answered with great care and pretty boys.

However, there is trouble on the horizon: Breaking Dawn, the next installment of the franchise, which will be broken into two movies, could be the Twilight series' undoing. Just a cursory glance at the source material would make a weaker reader claim that it is un-filmable. Consider this one scene—spoiler alert—the most pivotal in the book: Having been knocked up by Edward on their honeymoon, Bella's vampire fetus cracks her ribs, breaks her pelvis and chews its way out her stomach, then draws blood from her breast. As if this gore weren't enough to knock your jaw to the floor, the minutes-old newborn then imprints on Jacob. Imprinting is introduced in Eclipse as an involuntary, lifelong attachment to a soul mate. As Jacob describes it, "It's not like love at first sight, really. It's more like... gravity moves.... suddenly. It's not the earth holding you here anymore, she does.... You become whatever she needs you to be, whether that's a protector, or a lover, or a friend."

After this scene takes place, there are 500 more pages of bewildering plot turns.

But if the Twilight series has taught us anything, it is this: Do not cower in the face of freakishness! It will take Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon ( Dreamgirls, Kinsey) mustering some murderous creativity to bring this bloodsucking baby home.

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However: Twilight has also taught us something else—that one man is rarely ever enough. Though I have no doubt Condon will take us to the end of the saga with a steady hand, I can't help feeling we're going to need some back up, some other directorial experts. What follows are some suggestions on who could best to handle the beast of Breaking Dawn.

Kathryn Bigelow

There are many Hurt Locker-like explosions in Breaking Dawn—explosions of blood. Sanguine torrents explode from Bella's pregnant belly, mouth, and boobs. If Breaking Dawn is going pass the giggle test, we must call an expert to handle the relentless fountains of hemoglobin and afterbirth. I cannot stress the Fallujah-circa-2004 levels of carnage that happen during Bella's birth of the vampire baby. Also, on their honeymoon, Edward breaks the bedframe from the ferocity of boning. This calls for a lady who can handle the booms, bloodbaths, and bang.

David Fincher

Did you see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Only through Fincher's sheer will was a batshit story of a baby-raisin-man able to wriggle its way into the prestigious ranks of a best picture nomination. We don't need the Academy's gold, but we do need someone who can handle the fact that Bella's baby is doubling in centimeters by the hour. There's also some Edward Norton-in- Fight Club jaw cracking mid-birth between Jacob and the Cullens.

Lars Von Trier

Who better to capture the psychosexual nature of Twilight than the current Marquis De Denmark? With brutalizing movies like Antichrist and Breaking the Waves, Von Trier has proven that the wreckage of sex is his specialty. In Breaking Dawn, Edward resolves to kill the baby after its birth–fourth-term abortion in Forks, Washington, people!—but he feels guilty because he doesn't want to deny Bella the joys of motherhood. After the vampire baby gnaws its way out of Bella her heart stops from all the blood loss—to save her life, Edward has to turn her into vampire. Heartbroken, dejected, and covered in placenta, Jacob watches as Edward tears into Bella's flesh, running his tongue over her gaping wounds, his venom mixing with her blood. To assist in bringing her back to life, Jacob pumps Bella's chest with his fist and blows into her mouth as Edward laps up the blood of her mangled corpse. In other words: Put that in your pipe of sexual carnage and smoke it! Von Trier can help here.

Quentin Tarantino

The man successfully killed Hitler and transfixed audience in orgy of blood, bullets, and revenge. The main confrontation between the Cullen army and the Volturi—a deadly boring talkfest in Breaking Dawn—could really use some Tarantino.

Werner Herzog

Herzog spent years in the jungle of Peru filming Fitzcarraldo during a land war of rival peasant tribes. He explored Antarctic sea caverns documenting obscure aquatic monsters and braving the merciless storms of the arctic tundra in Encounters at the End of the World. Perhaps he is the only filmmaker with enough nerve to forge into the erotic limits of the female imagination. Herzog has proven in his documentary and feature work to be a fearless accountant of human darkness without ever losing his tenderness. The torture of divided heart, a doomed romance—is there a terrain more treacherous, powerful, and baffling?

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Natasha is the Los Angeles corespondent for The Awl. Her book Mad Men: Unbuttoned will be released by Harper's studio in 2010.