“Part 2” picks up exactly where “Part 1” left off: After giving birth to Renesmee, who shattered Bella’s bones and drained her of blood, Bella is teetering on the brink of death until Edward decides to transform her into a vampire. Made whole again and now with impressive strength and speed, Bella relishes in her new life; in voiceover narration, she tells the audience, “I was born to be a vampire.” She doesn’t need to sleep or eat and has remarkable energy and stamina—which, she coyly says to Edward, means they can have sex all the time—as well as a mental “shield” ability that no other member of the Cullen family has ever seen before. Everything is perfect, she’s finally happy, blah blah blah.
Until one of the Cullen family’s cousins sees Renesmee floating around her parents’ massive backyard, picking snowflakes from the air, and mistakenly assumes that Edward and Bella turned a child into a vampire as a kind of immortal plaything. (We learn from flashback that vampire children were a thing that used to happen, but because they couldn’t control their bloodlust, they ended up eating entire villages and were eventually banned by the Volturi.) After the cousin runs to tattle to the Volturi, the Italian vampires decide to start a war against the Cullens, inspiring Edward, Bella, and the rest of the family to gather witnesses that Renesmee is half-human and not a threat. Edward and Bella hope they can make the Volturi listen, while the Italians seem ready for a fight—all while werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who has “imprinted” on Renesmee and recognized her as his future soulmate, tries to rally his fellow shapeshifters into standing with the Cullens.
Whew. So many silly plot developments! And what is ultimately infuriating about “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” is that even for its long runtime, we don’t get a greater sense of who the main characters are, or how these “witnesses” relate to the family, or why the Volturi has this ultimate bone to pick with the Cullens, anyway. Aren’t there any other vampires around the world who get on the Italians’ nerves? Anyway, the frustrations are aplenty: Most of the witnesses are racial and cultural stereotypes (the Irish, Russians, Egyptians, and Amazonians are all boiled down to simple characteristics, like “likes to fight” or “is half-nude all the time”), and the majority of them never speak or contribute anything of value. The Volturi are evil just to be evil, with little development given to any of them (even though Michael Sheen, as their leader Aro, goes hilariously over-the-top when it comes to campiness). And Bella … well, what can I say about Bella?
The worst thing about “Twilight” is its sense of grandiose wish fulfillment—that if a girl is quiet and pure and studious, eventually a beautiful boy will come along and fall in love with her, and they’ll wait until they’re married to have sex, and then they’ll become rich and happy and fulfilled. All she has to do is leave her past life behind, lie to her parents, and ultimately give up her sense of self, and it will all work out! There’s a serious sense of anti-female agency that runs through Meyer’s books, and though “Part 2” tries to empower Bella in some ways, it feels unearned. Oh, Bella as a vampire is suddenly stronger than male vampires countless years her elder? She has a superpower no one else has? She’s more prone to violence and voicing her feelings? Why couldn’t she just be a strong, thoughtful, independent human instead of having to forsake her entire identity—literally having to die—to be with her pretty boyfriend? As much as the “Twilight” movies like to pretend they’re about true love lasting “forever,” there’s something extremely undermining about their treatment of women and what the proper definition of femininity is.
Of course, girls love Bella, they want to be Bella, they want to have boys like Pattinson and Lautner fighting over them. I used to be a boy-crazy teenager; I understand that tendency. But the message from “Part 2″ is that a woman will eventually be rewarded for abandoning her own identity, and that’s perhaps not the most emboldening thing for young girls to idolize. Don’t get me wrong—”Part 2” is also poorly written, frustratingly paced, and ultimately quite boring. On its own, it’s a disappointing movie. But how it reinforces Meyer’s weird gender binary is a significant flaw, too.