Andy Bockelman: ‘Eclipse’ ushers in darker, deeper tone in ‘Twilight’ series

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”

2.5 out of 4 stars

124 minutes

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Now playing at West Theatre.

It took two false starts, but “The Twilight Saga” finally starts to show some fangs with its latest release, “Eclipse.”

Life in Forks, Wash., is slow for most, but for teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), time is almost standing still.

While most of her classmates can’t wait for their high school graduation, there’s a big event she’s looking forward to even more: becoming a vampire.

Boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) has promised to change her into one of his kind against his better judgment that she remain a mortal. But, whether Bella is a vampire or a human, she is in grave danger.

Not only is nomadic vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) still hunting Bella and Edward with revenge on her mind, but an outbreak of the undead in Seattle has the entire Cullen family concerned that their world may be spiraling out of control.

As if Bella didn’t have enough on her mind, her broken-hearted friend — and part-time werewolf — Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) continues to clash with Edward about her well-being, leaving Bella all the more uncertain about her future.

Skilled actress Stewart never really found solid footing in the previous “Twilight” movies, but there is a marked improvement to be seen here as Bella starts to step out of the shadows of uncertainty, both in her love life and in her sense of self.

Still, it seems like she’s putting far too much effort into the role, a symptom that runs rampant throughout the cast.

Bella’s recitation of Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” in the film’s opening moments sets the stage for a constant contrast of her two suitors, with Pattinson as the chillier of the two, both because of Edward’s pale, clammy body makeup and the actor’s notably distant reserve as he resumes the onscreen and real-life romance that has made him a household name.

Lautner is a little stiff, but still believable as fiery Jacob, who still burns for Bella but can’t seem to stop barking at her and her beau. It would appear unbridled passion and unrequited love are an inopportune combination, particularly when you also have to worry about fleas.

Replacing Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria, Howard brings a subtle, seductive quality to the vicious redhead, who will stop at nothing to destroy Bella, manipulating the “newborn” Seattle vampire Riley (Xavier Samuel) into creating a small army and leading them against the Cullens.

A few ancillary characters overlooked in “Twilight” and “New Moon” receive more prominent roles here, including Edward’s adopted siblings Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed), whose musings about their respective indoctrinations into vampire society give Bella pause about jumping into a life that never ends. However, it’s these poorly handled flashbacks that never seem to end.

None of the “Twilight” films have been particularly well-paced and the longer Stephenie Meyer’s books get, the lengthier you would think the movies would feel, especially with the recent announcement that series finale, “Breaking Dawn,” will be split in two.

However, new director David Slade makes better use of the story’s timeframe than Catherine Hardwicke or Chris Weitz, creating a better buildup to a climax that was sorely lacking from each of the first two movies.

The horribly awkward and distracting positioning of actors is less distracting, too, but the greater depth of the newest adaptation is what makes it work.

Slade, who must have learned a thing or two making “30 Days of Night,” demonstrates a much more clear understanding of the ties between vampires and sexuality, as Bella begins to feel a different kind of urging amidst all the bloodlust surrounding her. But Edward is an old-fashioned boy, and his persistence in popping the question actually comes off as a lot more genuine than the cheesiness of the couple’s romance in the earlier installments.

Only so much time can be devoted to these two and their love woes before it becomes boring, and with the impending battle, there’s finally some payoff for people who haven’t memorized every word of Meyer’s prose.

The dialogue remains just as insipid as ever in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” but at least there’s something to distract from this lasting weak spot the third time around, even if it isn’t likely to make fans out of viewers who weren’t already on the bandwagon.

We’ll see if “Breaking Dawn” can keep up the series’ momentum, but it’s nice to know that this eclipse can block out the memory of two much weaker films.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

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