The Twilight Saga's second installment finds Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) feeling pretty good -- or at least a little less broody -- about the state of things after having ironed out some of the finer points of interspecies dating. Naturally, it doesn't last long. Bella's 18th birthday party turns into a bit of a fiasco when Edward's brother nearly kills Bella in a fit of bloodlust. It's an awkward situation, to be certain, but while Bella is willing to forgive and forget, Edward elects to leave town -- permanently. The decision sets off a chain of miscommunications that lead to, among other things, cliff diving, a visit with vampire royalty, a supernatural love triangle, and a close call with a scorned vampire (Rachelle Lefevre) whose mate met a gory end at the hands of the Cullens.
While much has been said about Catherine Hardwicke's direction of the original film, she understood that The Twilight Saga is an unapologetic soap opera -- an epic treatise on the joys and sorrows of true love. New Moon director Chris Weitz got the message, as well. There are villains, of course, but they come in a distant second to the tortured souls of Bella and Edward. At one point, Bella begs Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) -- werewolf, best friend, and almost-rebound boyfriend -- not to ask her to choose between him and Edward, because Edward will always win. Weitz didn't ask his audience to choose between plot and Edward, because Edward had already won.
It was the right decision; after all, a film like New Moon would never withstand a director that took the plot as seriously as its central characters take themselves. With that said, however, it's Taylor Lautner in the role of newbie werewolf Jacob Black who steals the show, often without the aid of a shirt. The Twilight Saga might be all about Bella and Edward, but Weitz appears firmly in the "Team Jacob" camp. While Jacob has torment of his own to contend with, he does so, for the most part, with dignity and a sense of humor. When Bella rejects him, you don't get the sense that he'll hightail it to Europe to commit suicide.
This, in a sledgehammer-lite shout-out to Romeo and Juliet, is exactly what Edward does after he mistakenly comes to believe that Bella has been killed. His plan -- really -- is to sparkle in public and provoke the wrath of the powerful elite group of vampire royalty known as the Volturi, whose strongest conviction is keeping humans unaware of their existence. Thankfully for our heroes, Shakespearean tragedy is avoided; instead, Michael Sheen, in a joyfully campy performance, spares their lives on the condition that Bella be changed into a vampire. Edward reluctantly agrees, but he has a condition of his own -- without giving too much away, it's a proposal that elicits a collective swoon from "Twi-hards" worldwide.
While The Twilight Saga should never, in any circumstances, set an example for any teen (human, vampire, or werewolf) in search of relationship advice, its viscerally felt melodrama coupled with uniformly strong performances makes for a very faithful adaptation of New Moon -- and a more than worthy follow-up to Twilight.