Who would have guessed that all it would take to topple one of Hollywood's most popular, enduring, and expensive cinematic superheroes were a couple of skinny, pale teens? OK, The Dark Knight still stands as the biggest opening weekend champion, but its one-day tally of $67.2 million was bested this past Friday by The Twilight Saga: New Moon's 72.7 million. The winged-one's defeat is even more astonishing once you factor in production budgets: The latest Batman saga cost approximately $185 million to make compared to New Moon's relatively paltry $50 million.
Does it live up to the hype? That depends on what you compare it to. Certainly not compared to the movie whose record it broke, but it is quite an improvement over its predecessor, Twilight.
For one thing, something more goes on in the first 75 minutes of New Moon(rated PG-13 for language, action, and, for my money, overwrought emo music) than two twentysomething actors gazing on each other's loveliness and initiating the most awkward of romances. Don't be misled; there's still plenty of that too, but at least it isn't the entire point of the film. For another, it displays a sense of humor about itself that will help endear it to older viewers more than the oh-so-serious Twilight. Scenes where Bella and Edward sit through a class covering Romeo and Juliet act like a subtle wink to adults in the audience: Yes we know this is a bit overly dramatic and self-important, but, as even Shakespeare recognized, so are teenagers.
Finally, the qualities that drew droves of young female fans to the series in the first place are displayed in high relief in New Moon. Now, not only is Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) ready to deny his desires to protect Bella (an anemic-no pun intended-Kristin Stewart), so is the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Given the hooking-up, no-strings-attached culture most young girls have to survive these days, it's little wonder they're enthralled with depictions of extreme courtliness like when Edward declares that his entire purpose for being is to protect Bella, or when Jacob is willing to live with the heartache of being no more than her friend just to be near her. If no other positive development grows out of the phenomenon that is the Twilight franchise, perhaps it will reawaken in girls an understanding that their love is worth something and that, yes, boys should be willing to earn it first and foremost by guarding their innocence.
Unfortunately, along with more action and plot comes more of the obsessive, self-destructive, and even strangely abusive subtext that made Twilight somewhat disturbing. When Edward leaves Bella, she falls into a depression so deep she neither eats nor socializes. To alleviate this pain and to feel closer to Edward, she begins to purposely put herself in life-threatening situations. For his part, thinking he will have to live without Bella, Edward attempts suicide. And as Jacob's feelings for Bella grow, he worries he might, as one of his werewolf brethren did to his fiancée, physically hurt her in a fit of uncontrolled anger. Rather than treating these kinds of morbidly unhealthy behavior as something that requires psychological or spiritual counseling, the film suggests that it's all a normal part of "true love."
As noted above, suicidal tendencies have been a classic feature of romantic tales since time immemorial. But they are hardly a good model for tweens and teens, and the selfishness they spring from have no part in Christ's example of love built on serving, sacrifice, and hope.