The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (PG-13) ★★★

Review Date: November 18th, 2011

It's easy to hate on the Twilight movies. They're the epitome of indulgent, fan-servicing filmmaking, alienating anyone on the outside of their cultish fanbase. With consistent, navel-gazing screenplays by series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (adapted from the equally shallow source material from author Stephanie Meyers), there's little reason to think future installments could ever transcend their predecessors.

But whereas Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse contently burrowed themselves under the forlorn faces and over-dramatic moping of stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh) unearths a saving grace in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1: pure insanity, from which blossoms color, comedy and scares. The movie is one giant wink to the camera—and it serves the melodrama of Twilight tremendously.

The first half of the not-quite-epic Twilight conclusion kicks off with the wedding of Bella (Stewart) and Edward (Pattinson), a long-awaited event Condon manages to spin into an authentically nerve-wracking and touching sequence. Finally, a Twilight movie with an obvious purpose—Bella and Edward have been waiting since Movie One to consummate their relationship (waiting until marriage), but lingering at the end of every daydream, every loving gaze, every sweet nothing, is the gut-wrenching fact that Bella will give up her humanity. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 confronts this dead on, with an overtness absent from the previous movies.

While the script is still committed to visualizing Bella, Edward and Jacob's uncinematic inner monologues, Condon peppers every scene with the zest of ridiculousness, saving Breaking Dawn from ever dragging. Edward cracking a bed in half during his first sexual experience is just the beginning—the movie features everything from demon-fearing Brazilian housekeepers to body horror straight out of a Cronenberg film to corny CSI-esque shots of vampire venom jetting through bloodstreams. In one scene, Jacob (Lautner) morphs into canine form to telepathically declare (in Lautner's brooding ''tough guy'' voice) that he is the true Alpha Male of the pack. The moment's hammy and trite, but Condon shoots it with all the over-the-top machismo exuding from the wolfpack. Subtle, no. Fun, yes.

Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is far and away the best of the Twilight series. Sexy, silly, scary and stupid, the movie's tonal balancing act amounts to an Evil Dead for tween romantics. There's gravity to the events we're witnessing on screen (Pattinson and Stewart even have a tense argument that results in an explosion of their previously-presumed non-existent emotions), but a self-reflexive lens keeps the normally-idiotic confessions of love and hushed prophetic warnings of the Cullen family in check. The operatic tale crescendos with buckets of blood and ''tragedy'' straight out of a high school Shakespeare production—completely in tune with the outlandish plot and a satisfying cliffhanger for Part 2. The movie is weighed down by the baggage that comes with a Twilight movie, but the formula is shaken up just enough to inject the undead franchise with a little life. rated this film 3 stars.