Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 6, 2015)
Back when Titanic became a huge hit, naysayers claimed it earned most of its money due to young girls who went to see Leonardo DiCaprio again and again. This was utter nonsense; yes, teen females became a significant portion of the film’s audience, but no movie makes $600 million in the US – and more than $2 billion worldwide - due to any one demographic.
2009’s New Moon may demonstrate how much impact one demographic can exert, however. The sequel to 2008’s Twilight, Moon crushed at the box office its opening weekend but faded fast – and it made the vast majority of its money via a young(ish) female audience. It ended up with $296 million in the US, and I’m guessing that’s about as far as a movie that largely appeals to a single audience can go.
New Moon picks up on Bella Swan’s (Kristen Stewart) 18th birthday. She continues to date vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) but he soon tells her that his family needs to leave town and he can’t be with her anymore.
This sends Bella into a deep depression, but she eventually emerges from it when she embraces a friendship with old pal Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). The two hang out a lot and Jacob aspires to more than friendship. Bella rebuffs his hopes for a romantic relationship, and Jacob eventually disappears from her life as well. As the film progresses, we learn why Jacob does this, his own secret, and other supernatural nuttiness.
Man, that Bella sure can pick ‘em! First she dates a vampire, then she hangs out with a werewolf. Who’ll she date in the third movie, the Creature from the Black Lagoon?
Twilight came as a pleasant surprise to me. I expected cheesy teen romance… and that’s pretty much what I got, but I thought the film delivered a more compelling take on the subject that I anticipated. The Edward/Bella relationship was the best part, as that side of things developed in an intriguing manner.
That fails to occur here, unfortunately. I liked the first film’s view of teen life, and Bella’s time with the Cullens was engaging. The flick’s first act was its best, as the exposition and set-up delivered interesting material.
Since the prior movie set up all the characters and situations, Moon jumps right into the action – figuratively, that is. In reality, not a whole lot happens. Edward splits, Bella mopes, then she builds bikes with new hottie Jacob.
While I thought Twilight’s action scenes seemed perfunctory, in retrospect I may’ve underestimated them. Moon doles out fewer sequences of that sort, especially during the almost entirely excitement-free first half.
And that’s a mistake. Twilight wasn’t exactly happy/peppy, but it seems like a barrel of laughs compared to this mopefest. In the prior flick, I thought Bella offered a good depiction of a teenage girl in love, but here, she becomes too one-dimensional. Yeah, she was always borderline kooky – her obsession with Edward kind of gave me the creeps – but here she comes across as even more disturbed. The girl spends months in a deep depression and no one thinks maybe she should get some counseling?
All Bella does in New Moon is sulk and look despondent. Granted, she was never the most effervescent personality, but the emphasis on her depression makes her even more monotonous, and the film goes with it.
Which is where some well-timed action could’ve helped it during that first half. Without anything to dispel the ennui, the movie becomes awfully tedious, and it never quite recovers, even when the tale turns more action-oriented in its second half.
Maybe the change in directors hurt Moon. Catherine Hardwicke fails to return for the sequel, and Chris Weitz takes her place. Although he’s branched into other genres over the last decade, Weitz remains best known as the co-director of American Pie. His prior attempt at an action/fantasy film came with The Golden Compass, and that wasn’t exactly a success, critically or commercially. Moon snares him a financial hit, though I think a drunk chimp could’ve run this show and it still would’ve made $200 million.
I can’t say for certain Weitz hurts Moon, as the story lacks the same inherent momentum found in its predecessor, but it’s possible – and maybe likely – that Hardwicke’s female perspective helped her better develop Bella and the romantic side. While I liked the romance and character aspects of Twilight, they don’t work here.
Because of that, the whole movie becomes slow and draggy. The heavy presence of Jacob – and the de-emphasis on Edward – mars the flick as well. Lautner looks super-buff, but he’s a dull screen presence, and he shows little to no chemistry with Stewart. She and the much more interesting Pattinson developed a good connection, so the fact they spend so little time together saps much of the film’s energy. Jacob is a hunky bore.
Even a third act appearance from the engaging Michael Sheen and additional new characters can’t rescue New Moon from its consistent lack of drama. Maybe the third film will redeem the saga, but chapter two delivers a sleepy dud.