The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - the third installment in the supernatural sexual-abstinence series that pits hot-blooded werewolves against cold-blooded vampires, with mopey-blooded Bella Swan in between - begins with a poem.
It's Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice," and Bella (Kristen Stewart) recites it, splayed in a field of violets alongside her pallid beau, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). "Some say the world will end in fire," she says, "some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire . . . ."
And that's as good (very good) as the writing gets in Eclipse, easily the least compelling, least fun entry in the saga thus far. It's not long before Bella is declaiming, "Wow, that's really pretty!" when Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the wolf boy with abs of steel, hands her a token of his love. Or later, breaking up one of the frequent spats between her dueling suitors, Bella leans in to push Edward and Jacob apart and says, "Stop! I'm tired of this. From now on, I'm Switzerland."
As in neutral territory? Or as in neutral delivery? The Twilight star's line-readings have become like Edward and his bloodsucking kin: They lack a pulse.
To be entirely accurate, Eclipse begins in the rain, in Seattle, with a prologue about a kid from Forks, Wash., who gets whizbanged by a vampire. Before long, Seattle is overrun by rampaging "newborns" - freshly minted Dracs, stronger and thirstier than the ones that have been around for centuries. What's up with that? wonder the Cullen clan back in sleepy Forks. And then Alice (Ashley Greene), the psychic sibling, susses things out: Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), "the Redheaded One," is creating an army of newborns to take out Bella and the goody-two-shoes vampire family that protect her.
So there's the conflict in Twilight: Eclipse, and the excuse for the climactic rumble in the woods in which the newborns, all cool and sinister, square off against a wary alliance of vampires and wolves. (The wolves, CG creatures twice the size of the human actors, are pretty awesome.) And yes, Dakota Fanning and her caped and hooded Volturi, goth and goofy, watch from the sidelines.
But all of that is really beside the point. Twilight: Eclipse, directed in episodic spurts by David Slade, a Brit with a nasty teen-sex drama (Hard Candy) and a stylish vampire horror pic (30 Days of Night) to his credit, is mostly about Bella mapping out her future.
Never mind the valedictory speech delivered by Bella's pal Jessica (Anna Kendrick, back on Twilight duty after her winning turn in Up In the Air) - a speech about leaving yourself open to possibilities, to experiment, to take different paths, even if they lead to failure and disappointment. Bella is determined, immediately upon graduation, to let Edward sink his fangs into her and make her one of the eternals.
And Edward is determined to wed Bella before any kind of serious consummation takes place. He actually speaks of "virtue," and the sanctity of marriage. (He admits it: He's an old-fashioned guy.)
And Jacob is determined to wrest Bella away from Edward. "I'm going to fight for you," he says. "I love you," he says. "I can give you more than him," he says.
Looked at one way (a guy's way?), Twilight: Eclipse is really the story of an epic tease. Bella will be canoodling with Edward one minute, and then turn around, walk a few steps, and climb onto Jacob's motorbike the next, wrapping her arms around that bare and strapping torso.
(Edward quip: "Doesn't he own a shirt?")
The movie is a-teem with this triangular interplay: Bella switching back and forth, hot and cold, causing fits of peevish jealousy for Edward, for Jacob. Is it possible to love two people at the same time, she wonders. Oh, who cares? I'll just drive these guys batty.
And then there's the scene in the mountains, in a pup tent in the fake snow, with Bella shivering from the cold and Edward, with a body temperature like a Sub-Zero, unable to keep her warm. So Jacob, whose body temperature is more like the inside of a microwave, snuggles up to save her from frostbite.
Of course, for the legion of mostly female Twi-hards, Bella's dilemma has nothing to do with a guy's point of view. The hook, and the charm, of the Twilight series is that at the center of its universe stands a young, singular woman, trying to navigate the tricky paths of love and desire, of finding, and forging her own identity - a struggle compounded, perhaps, by that broody boy with the alabaster epidermis standing there with an engagement ring, gazing deeply from his amber contact lenses.