The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (PG-13) ★★★½

Review Date: November 15th, 2012

If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year, director Bill Condon deserves to take it home, after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella, Edward, and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves, mining even more comedy, thrills, and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully, they're all on purpose.

Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film, Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human, half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses, heightened agility, increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later, Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks, WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born), The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.

Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?), Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast, it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects, Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire, Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top, battle-ready Russian coven member, and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant, diabolical, and a steady stream of maniacal laughter, Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart, Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.

Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story, relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex, Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments, but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold, both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting, hollering, and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.