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Twilight saga: Breaking dawn part 2

Heads pop like champagne corks in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, the final chapter in the megamillion-dollar series about love, war and franchise immortality. And why not? Even with the lavish blood bath that slathers this movie red and pops those tops, these are joyous times for Bella (Kristen Stewart), who has risen revived, restyled and stone-cold dead after dropping a new addition to the Cullen family, those veritable vegan vampires who snack on woodland creatures instead of humans. After Bella nearly died during pregnancy in the last movie, her undead husband, Edward (Robert Pattinson), saved her by piercing her neck, thus at long last making a vampire out of her.

Now, with newborn Renesmee, baby makes three. Played by what look like digitally altered tots and an actual flesh-and-blood girl (Mackenzie Foy), Renesmee is the nominal centrepiece for the final movie and its reason for being. As half-human, half-vampire, and conceived while Bella was still breathing, Renesmee turns out to be an instant problem child. Not only does she look as creepy as the baby Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she’s sprouting as fast as a magical beanstalk and, worse yet, has attracted the attention of the Volturi, a vampire coven in Italy with papal-like authority. Led by Aro (a fabulous, flamboyant Michael Sheen), the Volturi come to believe that Renesmee is an “immortal child” whose milk teeth will instigate a large-scale calamity.

The decision to squeeze two generously padded movies out of the concluding volume in Stephenie Meyer’s four-book series never made story sense, even if it has lucratively served the studio bottom line. The director Bill Condon, however, who brought wit, beauty and actual filmmaking to part one, along with those enormous receipts, has nicely cultivated the art of the stall for part two. Working from a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, who adapted all the Twilight books, he doesn’t have a lot to play with here, but he makes do and sometimes better than that, largely by turning his cameras into surrogates for the franchise’s adoring fans.

From the first extreme close-up of Bella fluttering open her dark, feathery eyelashes, Condon makes this Twilight an intensely tactile and intimate experience. Taking his cues from the Golden Age of Hollywood — the close-ups of Bella and Edward bring to mind those of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun. He bathes his stars in a gleaming light that gives their pale faces a luxurious alabaster sheen. This is one movie that should have been shot in 3D if only to allow the fans to caress the air.

Alas, she also acts kind of dead. Apparently becoming a vampire robs you of the power to put across an emotion persuasively, and while Bella looks lovely or at least strikingly styled, she’s also pretty much a stiff. Pattinson, by contrast, has rarely appeared more relaxed, and his character has never seemed more, well, human.

You have a lot of time to look at their faces, to examine their micro-movements, the cut of their clothes, the curl of their hair — and also idly to wonder what was going on between these two tabloid favourites during production — because, beyond a quick hunt and an alfresco nosh, not much happens during the initial, narratively thin stretch.

Watching the Cullens pose and smile in their modernist digs, gathered around the piano with frozen aristocratic languor, grows tedious. But, much like the scene of Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the franchise’s favourite pinup, strolling into the story with visibly erect nipples, this family album serves a conspicuous purpose. It quickly becomes evident that part two is primarily an extended final bow — part victory lap, part farewell tour. Drawing out the inevitable gives fans the chance to linger in a world that has become a passionately beloved cult complete with its own conventions, Websites and academic tomes (Interdisciplinary Approaches to Twilight: Studies in Fiction, Media and a Contemporary Cultural Experience). It’s a fan base that has again also proven the might of the female movie audience.

Despite the slow start Condon closes the series in fine, smooth style. He gives fans all the lovely flowers, conditioned hair and lightly erotic, dreamy kisses they deserve. Just as smartly he also shakes the series up with an unexpectedly fierce, entertaining battle that finds the Cullens, flanked by their wolf friends and various vampire allies, facing down the Volturi. Set on a snowy field, this whirlwind of clashing fangs and flying fur rouses Bella to action. It also injects the movie with an invigorating energy that the movies have rarely sustained since the first Twilight, when Catherine Hardwicke, a messy but spirited director, introduced Bella and Edward. It turns out that there’s something to be said about watching these two lovebirds tap into their inner monsters. It’s bloody good fun while it lasts.