The sequel to 2008's Twilight is one of those movies where you're not exactly sure even what the title is. The ad campaign clearly describes it as The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which is probably the "right" title, despite being clumsy and stupid; the opening of the film merely states New Moon, following the title of the novel by Stephenie Meyer; and during the end credits, its referred to as Twilight Saga: New Moon, no "the". I care about this not for any particular reason other than finding New Moon, by any title, to be such a dispiriting, boring film that any time I can waste on the semiotics of film titles instead of the actual content of the movie is time I would reckon as well spent.

So, when last we saw the dead-eyed, mopey Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), she had just settled in to what she expected to be a long, happy life with her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), having mistaken his obsessed stalking as charming, instead of goddamn creepy. Ah, but things are not so easy when you are dating an undead monster who feeds on human blood, and when the accident-prone Bella manages to slice open her finger at he birthday party, all of the Cullens save for Edward and his clan leader, Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), flip their shit a little bit, trying not to pounce on the boy's new ladyfriend.

Fearing that he cannot keep his love safe - that, in fact, his mere existence puts her in danger - Edward demands that the whole Cullen family leave the sleepy grey town of Forks, Washington, instigating one of the fakest false conflicts in the history of English-language narrative. See, Edward tells Bella that he's leaving, and she's like, "you're doing this because you think you're going to hurt me," and he's like, "yes, that's right". So she, naturally, demands to come along, not apparently realising that if she's with him, they don't have to leave Forks in the first place, which is- nevermind, documenting every moment where Bella is stupid would take too much of the review. Anyway, having concluded that a) Edward loves her; b) he is leaving her to ensure her safety, Edward finally bursts out with an "I don't want you to come," which Bella immediately misconstrues - without him correcting her - as "I don't want to be with you", and we're off the races for 130 exciting minutes of watching a high school senior feel lots of self-pity because her boyfriend doesn't love her, even though she knows to an absolute certainty that he does, but how else is she going to accidentally set up a completely artificial and uncompelling love triangle with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a local Quileute Indian boy who has a mighty crush on Bella for no reason that makes any sense - the same reason every boy in Forks has for crushing on Bella - and who, we find out in due course, has inherited the gene that turns certain Quileute males into werewolves; werewolves whose only drive in life is to hunt and kill vampires.

Let's just back way the fuck up, though: I just indicated some level of conflict involving Bella's vampire boyfriend and the werewolf boy she keeps cock-teasing, but no no no, that's not the conflict we want to see in New Moon, is it? Certainly not when we could spend the longest hour of our lives watching as she misses Edward so much that she'd rather slip into a coma than even fathom the possibility of dating another guy. When I read the book New Moon about a month ago (Lord, the things I do for this blog), I was shocked that any novel could possibly be worse than Twilight - at the time, the worst work of fiction I'd ever read all the way through - but the indomitably Meyer found a way, by taking the extraordinary thin dramatic situation of her first vampire novel and making it even thinner by removing the vampire. The film, scripted like the last by Melissa Rosenberg, doesn't commit any narrative sins that weren't already in the source material, so perhaps it should be obviated from criticism on the those grounds: but notwithstanding the legion of insane people who have managed to delude themselves into thinking that Meyer isn't an impossibly bad writer, there is no law that an adaptation can't improve upon the flaws of its source: think Jaws, or for a particularly extreme example, Contempt.

Indeed, the movie arguably improves upon the book at least a little, by compressing the stupidly excessive middle part of the book, whereby "middle" means "all but the first 50 and last 75 pages of a book running in excess of 400 pages". It is boring, but there is not so much boring to get through before we hit Meyer's characteristic point where she suddenly realises that there was no story in her story, and so the rising action and climax are quickly crammed into a space almost too narrow to hold them. And of course, there's still nothing to love about the Twilight universe's grossly reactionary idea of the proper behavior of a young American woman, but these are coded Mormon texts.

So, it's boring as fuck-all, but I'll say this about New Moon: it appears to have been made by people more familiar with the craft of cinema than Twilight was. Chris Weitz directs in what is by any stretch of the imagination a perfunctory and unimagniative aesthetic, but at least he doesn't follow Catherine Hardwicke's deeply unfortunate idea of using absolutely terrible camera movements at every possible moment, and the ugly blue tint that coated the first film like a slime has vanished (maybe it's just that cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe is a too smart and talented to make such awful decisions come to life, though he still had the bad sense to sign up for TWO Twilight films).

On the other hand, the acting is absolutely worse: Kristen Stewart, one of the most listless actresses of her generation, has even less life to her than she did in the last film: there is never a flicker of anything in her performance but zoned-out dullness. Taylor Lautner, who was nearly recast until he proved that he could build enough muscle mass to get himself plastered across ever magazine in America and be sexualised to a degree that no 17-year-old ever should be, cannot be called so lifeless as all that, though he is so robotic and wooden that I shuddered rather badly every time he came up to speak. Robert Pattinson, happily, is barely in the film. The only member of the remaining cast who's worth mentioning (a lot of small parts performed by small actors in this series) is Michael Sheen as the leader of the bad vampires in Italy (he also played a werewolf, in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, poor bastard), giving a silly, campy performance that is precisely the right thing for the role and the material; he clearly doesn't take the project seriously except as a chance to have a little bit of fun, and good for him.

Anyway, nothing that I say about it matters; it has set all kinds of damn box-office records, and I assume that at least several of those millions of viewers loved it more than I did, and I'd be surprised if more than a handful liked it any less - there's not a lot of "less" to go. It doesn't look as bad as the first film, and that's the extent of my praise: otherwise it's just a bunch of the same painfully vacant anti-romance in which eroticism and personality are both banished in favor of some glassy-eyed protagonists getting pushed about in a situation that is far too uninteresting and pre-determined to justify the privilege of the word "plot".

Reviews in this series
Twilight (Hardwicke, 2008)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Weitz, 2009)
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Slade, 2010)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (Condon, 2011)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (Condon, 2012)