The story of New Moon picks up rather seamlessly from the previous film. Bella and Edward are still trying to deal with the events of the first film and they are trying to make their relationship work. There are set-backs, and for some reason or other (not very well established in the film), Edward decides to just vanish, hoping Bella can lead a normal life without him. This causes a suffering for Bella that is immeasurable, and way beyond normal. More akin to a severe drug withdrawal than a break-up. She retreats completely from the people around her; but when she discovers by accident that adrenaline-rushes give her visions of Edward, she engages in reckless behaviour, and she tries to get Jacob to fix an old cross-country motorbike for her so that she has a ready means to drive up her adrenaline-levels.
Bella enjoys spending time with Jacob, but he has more feelings for her than she has for him, so a kind-of triangular love story develops, with one party not entirely interested and the third party actually absent. But Jacob faces other personal problems as well. And Bella learns that an old danger has returned to Forks. And as things start to spiral out of control, a second, completely new plot-line is introduced, the execution of which feels like a second, smaller film tacked on to the main event. The story ends on some sort of almost cliff-hanger that was probably meant to appeal specifically to a female teenage audience and which will see the story move seamlessly into the third film.
Stephenie Meyer’s follow-up novel to Twilight is again adapted by Melissa Rosenberg, with Chris Weitz replacing Catherine Hardwicke as director. New Moon is trying to build up Jacob as a major character in the franchise. In terms of structure, removing Edward from Bella’s life and having her spend more time with Jacob is a very simple device to allow the creators (be that novel or film) enough room to flesh out the Jacob character and build a world around him, while not neglecting Bella.
In a way, I enjoy Bella’s “arc” in this film (and I am using that term generously). But I find the whole adrenaline idea rather silly, and it is definitely executed poorly. Worse, however, is the literal “pain” Bella feels about Edward’s disappearance. I have no idea how this situation was described in the novel. But there is no doubt that Kristen Stewart has what it takes to display this kind of suffering in a subtle manner – and I fear that the film-makers underestimated their target audience and decided that “subtle” would not do the trick here.
The world-building around Jacob also brings with it the introduction of more characters from Jacob’s native Quileute tribe. Whereas the first film only saw Gil Birmingham as Jacob’s father Billy Black, we now have veteran actor Graham Greene as Harry Clearwater, as well as a number of young actors displaying teenage members of the tribe.
The experienced actors playing the mature Quileute characters are doing a great job, of course. While none of the younger actors have enough to do to pass any judgement. The sole exception is Chaske Spencer who gives a good performance as Sam.
Taylor Lautner is does a fine job as Jacob, especially in the first half of the film when Jacob is just a boy interacting with Bella. The change that comes into Jacob’s life later on takes its toll on him, and Lautner struggles to portray Jacob’s inner turmoil in a satisfying manner. And while I would not claim that Lautner is a world-class thespian, I believe that a good deal of the blame has to go to the writing and the directing, because this role, in these scenes, is extremely tough; and getting difficult things like this right is something the people behind this franchise did not care about, as is evidenced by Robert Pattinson’s performance as Edward. Because, as in the previous film, Pattinson does not really get a grip on his poorly written and elusive character. However, some of the early scenes between Bella and Edward work. Pattinson is completely natural and at ease in those moments in which his character is at ease with his relationship with Bella. It is the many “tortured” moments when the acting turns bad.
Billy Burke – again – turns the rather unremarkable character of Bella’s father Charlie into something more, but the character does not have nearly as much screen-time in any of the sequels as he did have in the first film. Still there are some very nice scenes between Charlie and Bella, and the chemistry between them is about the only chemistry in this franchise that really works.
As for the minor supporting roles, Michael Sheen turns up in the final act. He is hamming it up quite a bit, but in a good way, a way that few but him are able to. His take on the role of Aro is an absolute delight to watch. Dakota Fanning is also fun to watch but has very little to do in this film.
Which does not leave a lot of characters to talk about. Bella’s retreat from the world marginalises the characters of her school friends. Only Jessica and Mike share scenes of note with Bella; but Mike’s only function is to make Jacob look good; and Jessica’s scene does not really allow Anna Kendrick to use her comedic talent (due to Bella’s state of mind), while parts of her (mostly) improvised lines do not work as well as one would wish for.
When Edward vanishes early on in the film, his family vanishes with him. Only Alice returns briefly, but while Ashley Greene is delightful as ever, her delivery of Alice’s instinctive dislike for Jacob is rather poor – another thing I am very much inclined to blame director Chris Weitz for.
And since we are rattling off all the flawed scenes that I am blaming the director for, let’s talk about Kristen Stewart. As in the previous film, she does a very good job portraying Bella. Unlike other people I do not have a problem with Bella’s “moping” in this film, as this seems to me a rather accurate portrayal of the aftermath of a break-up. I do not even have a problem with the slow 990-degree-shot showing Bella’s passiveness as the time outside her window races by (jittery green-screen work notwithstanding). It is a bit cheap and cheesy, but effective, as it moves the story forward at a point at which nothing much is happening in Bella’s life anyway; and as it is another means to portray the black hole she has fallen into.
The problems with I have with Stewart’s performance in this film are things for which I do have to blame the filmmakers (and which I already briefly hinted at above): The literal “pain” Bella experiences night after night and the way Bella reacts to (and sometimes interacts with) her “adrenaline visions” of Edward. The “pain”-scenes are the very definition of unsubtle. And the reaction to the visions is just off, because Stewart had nothing to play against, and the inserted CGIs are very poor. I am not sure if these scenes could have been written differently; but the way they stand, there is no really good way to pull them off convincingly.
Stewart is also burdened with a lot of off-screen monologue, which she pulls off decently without being really very good at it – but again we need to remember that many lines in this franchise’s screenplays are just too unnatural for anyone to deliver properly.
And since I mentioned the CGI: Unlike most people, I am absolutely fine with the way the CG Werewolves look in this film. Far from perfect, but certainly good enough for this type of film. I am also content with the Alexandre Desplat’s score music, which is still a bit manipulative at times but in my opinion better and less intrusive than Carter Burwell’s efforts in the previous film.
As I indicated above, the story in this franchise flows on rather seamlessly from film to film. Which also means that – to a certain extent – these films do not work as well as stand-alone films. I find they work better if watched in close succession. But that does happen with other films as well at times, with the second Underworld film being the most prominent example, as it only works if watched in direct conjunction with that franchise’s first film.
As for New Moon, it is a mixed bag for me. There are bits that I like, and bits that I dislike. I think that 6 out of 10 would be a fair overall rating.