Battle lines are drawn and characters are fleshed out in the second, mopey instalment of the Twilight Saga.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
First up, if you haven't seen the original Twilight film, then stop now. Skip back and watch it, because there's precious little point in pushing on with New Moon unless you have. Who are these moon-faced teenagers, you will be left wondering, with their shiny expensive cars and their amber eyes? Who is that buff, long-haired boy with a pug nose? Is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) the drippiest teenager ever to grace the screen? Why doesn't her father give her a clip round the ear?
All of this is explainable if you're already au courant with the necessary details - small-town America, vampires, sparkly skin and teenage longing. So at the film's beginning we find ourselves, back in the rainy town of Forks. It's Bella's 18th birthday. Naturally, this is no cause for celebration because it means that she's a year older than her perpetually 17-year-old boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). And who knows, perhaps Stewart's face would splinter into a million pieces if forced into a smile.
Problems erupt later that evening at the Cullens' house during an impromptu party organised for our reluctant heroine. The oaf gives herself a paper cut while opening a present and a delicate drop of blood splashes on their cream carpet in slow motion. Here might be the right place to note that the film's director, Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy), enlisted Pedro Almodóvar's regular cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe, who brings a familiar ethereal essence to proceedings.
Well, it's as if a single edamame bean had been tossed to a pack of ravenous models. The Cullens' nostrils flare and their eyes widen. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) makes a lunge for Bella's throat. It's an event that sets in motion the rest of the film's plot - Edward takes himself and the family away from Forks, furious with himself for having placed his beloved Bella in such danger. Was the scene in which the split occurs written by a 14-year-old? "You'll never see me again," pledges Edward in that overly dramatic manner beloved of angsty teenagers.
And we are made to suffer too, fellow audience, as Bella lurches into several months of moping, ably supported by a moody Alexandre Desplat score. The only person that can pull her out of this slump turns out to be Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a Native American who mends her as together they mend motorbikes. See the analogy? But, wait, there's more. What's this? Another secret. Turns out, Jacob can transform himself into a werewolf with a bit of spasmodic convulsing. He and his pack of lupine friends are the youngest of several generations of werewolves in fact, and they're the arch-enemies of the vampires. Do we see a Capulet-Montague parallel shaping up? I think we do, thus roughly shaping the battle lines to come in further film instalments.
Best of all, for young female fans of the franchise, is that New Moon's werewolf revelation allows Jacob and his wolfy pals to wander about as if they have carried out a smash and grab at Gap. All of them mince around in denim cut-off shorts with bare, gladiatorial chests. No point in bothering with T-shirts if you're going to shape-change into a wolf every five minutes, albeit a CGI wolf that's about as menacing as Garfield.
If you follow Team Jacob, you'll be delighted. There's plenty of him, plenty of his bare chest and Lautner offers a much more comfortable performance than Pattinson, who moves so painfully and woodenly through each scene that it's as though he's suffering from indigestion. Outacting them both, however, is Stewart. It's an allowance that comes grudgingly because her sulky demeanour deserves little reward, but her character feels as if it's gelled in New Moon. It is credit to her skills that despite all the moodiness, the film is still an enjoyable watch. Silly, but then what else do you expect?
One new, notable turn in this instalment comes from Michael Sheen as the bad vampire, Aro, leader of the ruling Volturi family. He's brilliantly silly, and his residence in Italy prompts a quick flit there towards the end of the film, with the glossy, rolling hills of Italian countryside providing a welcome respite from the dreariness of Forks. Again, we have another nod to Romeo and Juliet from the Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. If you didn't know any better, you might almost think she's trying to create a modern version.