“New Moon” the latest offering in the “Twilight” series, based on the books of the same name by Stephanie Meyer, is a critic-proof movie. Just ask the estrogen-filled throngs flooding the 14 midnight showings at my local theater, voraciously consuming the development of the vampire-human-werewolf love triangle of Edward, Bella, and Jacob. An informal straw poll of the XX-ers sitting around me revealed that, on whole, they found the movie to be superior to the first and truer to the book. An informal straw poll of those few XYs sprinkled throughout the auditorium revealed a discomfort with the amount of drool being expelled over the leading men.
“New Moon” is a completely different animal than director Catherine Hardwicke’s moody, bleached-out “Twilight.” Sure, Edward (Robert Pattinson) is still angsty and the whole piece is driven by Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) depression over his leaving, but director Chris Weitz has infused the film with some “Golden Compass” magic, upping the special effects budget and creating a hybrid of teen drama and fantasy that mostly works. (The Volturi scenes are great fun.) Of course the special effect that received the most attention in Theater 7 was the 30 pounds of muscle that Taylor Lautner packed on to play the post-werewolf-pubescent Jacob. You may know how the books end, but you’ll be Team Jacob by the end of this flick.
But this isn’t a CGI-fueled film, it’s all about the sexual tension between Bella and Jacob. Oh sure, Edward’s still in the story, more so than in the book, but this is really Jacob’s set piece. Still growing as an actor, Lautner’s performance has some weak points-what my friend calls Keanu Reeves moments: cute but wooden (I think this goes for Pattinson at times, too)-but he’s perfect as the best friend with the puppy dog crush: balancing the the pain of unrequited love with the desire to remain a loyal friend. Just as importantly, he brings out the best in Stewart. Gone, for the most part, are the distracting rapidly fluttering eyelashes and stuttering, replaced by an engaging, believable intimacy.
Having read the books, it’s hard to objectively review the movie as a self-contained piece of entertainment. It’s even harder having viewed it immersed in the fangirls’ energy of the midnight showing. But in a vacuum, “New Moon” is satisfying formulaic fun–love triangles, puberty, teen angst, oh my!–with a dash of fantasy. A delicious “Dawson’s Creek” with fur and fangs.