Review in a Hurry: Calling a movie the best Twilight film to date isn't exactly high praise, and at this point, it isn't likely that newcomers to the series are going to be drawn to theaters. However, should a loved one drag you to the latest adventures of Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and gang, don't panic: There's more to like than you might expect.
The Bigger Picture: The fourth installment in the sparkly vampire saga brings to mind another part four from years ago. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home became a huge hit when it jettisoned the self-seriousness that had come before in the big-screen versions, to focus on character interactions and situational humor.
Breaking Dawn: Part 1 isn't quite as accessible to casual moviegoers, as it does depend on the viewer having followed the plot thus far. But in Bill Condon, it also has a director who puts a very distinct spin on things, walking the fine line of playing the romance absolutely straight while taking the supernatural stuff as seriously as it deserves (which is to say, not at all).
Other Twilight movies have amply demonstrated that shooting the action in drab, straightforward fashion just isn't especially interesting. David Slade added blue filters in Eclipse, but that didn't shake things up much.
Condon, however, goes crazy.
There are dream sequences, hallucinations, micro close-ups of vampirized veins crystallizing inside the body, werewolf-vision, Bride of Frankenstein shoutouts, a giant cake made of corpses, and more blood than in the other three movies put together.
The Twi-hards may be attending for more straightforward moments like the long-awaited wedding of Edward and Bella, but they should leave appreciating how a real director can add a unique spin.
It's essential, however, to be able to embrace the ridiculous as Condon has and not go in with an ironic distance. Accept that this particular take on vampires and werewolves exists, and try not to be put off by the romantic moments (which, this go-around, feel like more accurate allegories for actual marital tensions). Granted, there's one late-in-the-game twist involving Jacob (you almost certainly know the one by now) that's over-the-top absurd even for Twilight. Condon pulls it off about as well as anybody could.
Meanwhile, much of the dialogue is genuinely funny stuff, comprised of series in-jokes fans will appreciate.
Edward and others sometimes use their powers as much for frivolous things as life-and-death matters. And the finale veers into horror territory: the birth scene pushes PG-13 to the limit, and the wolves are genuinely menacing for the first time.
But let us not over-praise: the movie's good relative to expectations, but it still has issues. Like the soundtrack, from the overly busy score to the dull and annoying pop songs that punctuate every moment. The acting by the three leads is better than it's ever been, but the supporting cast members often feel interchangeable.
Most who attend the movie, however, will have no such misgivings. And should be forewarned to sit through the first half of the end credits to see the lead-in for Part 2.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Are you a fan of Dakota Fanning? She's not in this. At all. An odd omission considering every other major character returns.