The latest entry in Summit Entertainment's multi-year attempt to bore the art of filmmaking to death, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse has been warily described in certain corners as "better" than 2008's Twilight or last autumn's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Which takes quite a lot of fine parsing, and for what possible reason: At the end of the day, you can have in your hands the best of the Twilight films, and it's still... the best of the Twilight films.

That said, I don't think Eclipse is, in fact, the best of the Twilight films, though I can see why someone would try to mount that argument. It is certainly the Twilight film in which the most violence happens, which gives it the illusion of having the most incident. An illusion is all that it is, though; like New Moon before it, the plot of the movie can largely be summed up as, "the most uninteresting girl in the world can't stand it that two pretty boys are both in love with her". This time ending with a PG-13 epic battle in the woods instead of a race against the clock in Italy.

Anyway, in case you've forgotten: it's Forks, Washington, where the slack-faced Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is in her senior year of high school, with a vampire boyfriend named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who thinks that she is absolutely the most perfect women for him who will ever possibly be alive in the whole world, and also he sparkles in direct sunlight. But look over here: it's Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a Native American werewolf just a little younger than Bella, and he loves her just as much, because there's a Mormon wolf-Indian concept involving "imprinting" on the one you're supposed to be with for the rest of your life, and Bella keeps asking if Jacob imprinted on her, and he's all "no" even though he totally thinks that he has, but Bella takes him at his word because she is the stupidest fucking character in English-language literature. Thus she can't fathom why Jacob keeps acting like he's in love with her or why Edward gets jealous of Jacob.

That is the situation as presented at the end of New Moon, whereas in the new film... never mind. This time, though, the insufferable Bella/Edward dynamic isn't about him being afraid that he'll kill her if they ever get intimate, it's that she wants to fuck him and/or be turned into a vampire, and he doesn't want to do either of those things until she's married, but she doesn't want to get married, coming from a broken home. I expect this was concocted up by Stephenie Meyer, the perpetrator of the original novels, as some sort of "women don't need to define themselves by the man in their life" girl-power thing, but since Bella spends every goddamn page of the books defining herself by Edward, it doesn't take.

Also, returning screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and Twi-virgin director David Slade (who, merely five years ago, made Hard Candy, an actual film with actual ambition, even if I personally disliked it) do a much better job than the other films, or the novels themselves, of trying to fight Meyer's notorious tendency to end the stories with a rushed "oh my God, I forgot there had to be a conflict, so here it is KILLER OTHER VAMPIRES!", by adding in a bunch of scenes scattered throughout that reveal in slow pieces the attempt by Bella's vampire nemesis Victoria (new arrival to the series Bryce Dallas Howard) to raise an army of vampire "newborns" to wreak havoc in the Pacific Northwest, rather than cramming it all into the last twenty minutes.

Mostly, though, love triangle bullshit in which the fulcrum of the triangle isn't even really attracted to one of the other points.

I'll say this much in the movie's favor: because it is not a first-person account told from Bella's perspective, we are spared her massively unendurable angst; all the more because Kristen Stewart, who has in this instance completely given up even trying to act, does not herself express any angst, or agitation of any sort. In fact, it seems that Stewart might be the only person in the world more bored by Eclipse than I was.

The point being: without having to hear page upon page of Bella's true and devoted and endless love for Edward, it's a lot easier to believe that she might actually have some measure of attraction for Jacob, meaning that there might actually be a trace of actual character conflict. Especially since Stewart tends to regard Pattinson and Lautner with the same look of desire, which is actually more like the look of a stoner trying to remember how to express "contempt" on her face.

And too, the movie improves upon the book significantly, by seriously underplaying the degree to which Bella feels guilty for being a rape victim. Because, given the sexual maturity of these books, Jacob's forced and unwelcome kiss is the functional equivalent of rape, and on the page we were subjected to hundred of paragraphs of Bella feeling awful that she let Jacob do that to her. In the movie, Bella just forgets about it instantly, the way that she forgets about anything and everything besides the next moment that she'll be able to have a hit of that sweet, sweet rock.

For the third time, then, the movie improves upon a terrible book, and since Eclipse is possibly the least-awful Twilight novel, it should be the least-awful movie? Not so much, for it is generally speak the most artistically incompetent of the three: for better or worse, both TwilightNew Moon boasted something like a unified visual scheme, whereas Eclipse has painfully undistinguished cinematography (despite sharing the ridiculously overqualified Javier Aguirresarobe with New Moon). Save for the first scene, in which a young man is stalked on the Seattle streets at night - a scene that's cut together and lit with moody shadows like it's the '40s again, and altogether looks like it actually came out of a movie - there isn't a single image in the whole thing that has even the remotest visual energy. It's all pedestrian and tired, and it's tiring to watch.

The acting has also taken a huge step down: though nobody in any of the films was exactly firing on every cylinder, it's frankly shocking how every last performer besides Billy Burke as Bella's dad is digging as far down as they can to find new lows in acting. Stewart and Pattinson both just seem to be miserable and bored; Lautner hits his dialogue with the eagerness of a hamster, giving the impression of a young man who learned exactly the worst possible lessons from acting school, and some of the smaller roles - Ashley Greene's Alice, Edward's sister jumps to mind - are just generally shrill and unconvincing.

Worst of all, I think, is the soundtrack: peppered throughout with shitty emo-inflected ballads that embody everything wrong with modern pop, with staggeringly on-the-nose lyrics about love and death, and it's so leaden and miserable and grey that it- well, it actually fits the movie pretty perfectly, to be honest.

But enough of Eclipse, which is bad and boring and everybody involved seems like they actively hate themselves. Man, I am so thrilled they broke Breaking Dawn into two parts. Anyway, I wanted to end on a high note: if you end up seeing the film through accident or a lost bet or what have you, keep an eye out for the scene with Bella and Edward and Jacob in a tent. She is freezing, Jacob is using his excessive body heat to keep her warm, and Edward is pouting. It requires no effort whatsoever to read a gay subtext into this scene, and that makes it by far the most entertaining part of the whole feature.

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)