Who's In It: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Bryce Dallas Howard, Xavier Samuel, Elisabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Sarah Clarke, Julia Jones, Chaske Spencer, Alex Meraz, Bronson Pelletier, Kiowa Gordon, Booboo Stewart, Christian Serratos, Michael Welch, Justin Chon, Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning
The Basics: High school senior Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), newly reunited with her sparkly vampire boyfriend, is now struggling with the decisions that every teenage girl must face: Have sex or stay chaste? Go to college or go undead? Team Edward (Robert Pattinson) or Team Jacob (Taylor Lautner)? Giving Bella's life even more of a sense of urgency is a new threat by the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her army of zombie-like "newborns," who wreak havoc across Seattle before heading straight for Forks, WA with one objective: kill Bella Swan. Will Bella quit making out with both of her supernatural beaus long enough to let them protect her? Will male audiences dig the violence enough to forget the super-talky relationship convos and the bland emo-rock soundtrack? And if a Twi-hard squeals in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does she really make a sound?
What's The Deal: As with the previous two Twilight films, one's enjoyment is directly proportionate to one's familiarity with and love for Stephenie Meyer's source novels. Fans with dog-eared copies of Eclipse should be delighted with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's faithfulness to the book, allowing for slight changes that up the cinematic ante as needed -- and they'll certainly shriek over the numerous makeout scenes that Rosenberg has generously sprinkled throughout. (ZOMG!) But while director David Slade (30 Days of Night) does an admirable job of keeping Meyer's sprawling story on pace and gives handsome visual life to Eclipse with the help of returning DP Javier Aguirresarobe, the script spends too much time on long stretches of plot-building dialogue and torrid, tortured conversations to really captivate the uninitiated. Granted, that fidelity is essential if you want to please the hardcore. But Meyer's third book had the potential to be adapted into the kind of truly dark and action-packed third film that could bring new viewers to the franchise, and even as the most balanced of the three Twilight films thus far, Eclipse is not quite the departure from formula that it promised to be.
When Eclipse Acts Like The (PG-13) Horror Film I Wanted To See: When it focuses on its villains, the evil vampire Victoria (Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) and her minion/lover, Riley (Xavier Samuel). Slade films their movements in Seattle like a horror film within the film, dark and sinister and full of atmosphere. The sight of Riley and his vamps slowly rising out of the water creates a palpable, skin-tingling sense of dread. Elsewhere, flashbacks to Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and Jasper's (Jackson Rathbone) respective origin stories are deliciously gloomy departures (Slade inserts a particularly striking shot of Civil War-era Jasper coming for the audience through the screen that'll rattle your bones). And though you'll have to wait until the end, the film's arm-ripping, head-shattering vampire vs. vampire vs. werewolf fight in the clearing is an impressive feat of live-action/CGI battle choreography with gruesome, if bloodless, results.
Who's Done Some Growing Up Since New Moon: Kristen Stewart. The 20-year-old actress drops her trademark stammering/blinking/hair pulling awkward teenager tics to give Bella a much-needed air of newfound confidence. Maybe it's part of Bella's teenage sexual aggression, on display as Stewart attempts to pry Pattinson's clothes off for some pre-marital sex. (He says no, but proposes. Ah, compromise.) Or from Bella finally owning up to the fact that she's strung poor Jacob along for two films. Perhaps it's all thanks to Rosenberg, who gives Stewart an assertive third-act monologue that shows that Bella knows full well the ramifications of her decisions: dying to become a vampire is a lifestyle choice, not just a silly schoolgirl crush taken to the extreme. Either way, this new Bella Swan is the most welcome addition to the Twilight Saga -- that, and the sly humor Rosenberg's snuck into the film (Edward on Jacob: "Doesn't he own a shirt?" Jacob to Edward: "We both know I'm hotter than you.").
The Ideal Way To See Eclipse: On a standard non-IMAX screen with your fellow Twi-hards in attendance, whose squeals will drown out your own screams of excitement. Because you, Twilighters, will get the most out of this movie, and you might as well enjoy it. But do make sure to avoid IMAX screenings; Slade does beautiful aerial landscape shots and action well, but he also films his torrid teenage talky scenes in EXTREME close-up. Watching Eclipse in IMAX feels like sitting in the first row as ginormous teenage heads are projected onto a Jumbotron. Good for studying Robert Pattinson's pores, Lautner's abs, and every inch of those lip locks, yes, but less effective for following the picture as a whole. Then again, what Twilight fan doesn't want RPattz and KStew and Taylor Lautner all up in their faces for two hours, commandeering every synapse of their brains like the teen idol deities they are?