Three films into the Twilight franchise and the problems of how to run a sensitive teen romance – nominally obsessed with questions of immortality and psychic disturbance – alongside a whole garbage heap of plot developments involving gangs of rival vampires, are becoming more evident. In Eclipse, () vampire hero Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) must defend his human inamorata Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) against an army of nasties while distracting her from something more worrying: her crush on a local werewolf played by Taylor Lautner, a young actor with a defiant happiness and a body sculpted by Tennessee Williams on moonshine.
Poor Pattinson – reduced here to almost a character in a silent film. He may currently be the most worshipped youth in Hollywood but in these films he has less and less to do – except turn up in windows looking like his soul is slowly perishing, spoiling everyone’s fun, refusing to sleep with his girlfriend and banging on about marriage. Marry him? I’d be more likely to take out a restraining order! Plus, the guy has the sexual energy of a panda on a close night in August. “All I want is your protection,” he says to Bella, firmly removing her hand from inside his shirt. “I’ll protect you no matter what.” Edward Cullen: the human condom.
How wonderful! says the American right – a teen juggernaut without actual sex! But the Twilight series doesn’t need sex. It has something Hollywood likes even more: success. Spreads in photo magazines reveal the film’s young stars being squired around the world – premieres in Berlin, award ceremonies – like helpless calves being fattened. Pattinson’s increasingly lonely face (it’s as though he’s perpetually hearing the echo of the fatal shot of his too-fast success) reminds me of Chaplin saying he only realised what fame meant the moment he understood the public would quite literally kill him to touch him. And Stewart looks increasingly hard too, like the survivor of some personal calamity, working out where her sharpest emotional tools must be kept. The only one who looks like he’s having fun in Fame Country is Lautner – who is ripe, incidentally, to play Rafael Nadal in any biopic. (Still, think of what a drag that film would be: born into a loving Mediterranean family. Won everything.)
It’s easy, amid the mania and the relentless computer-generated imagery of the last two films, to forget how spectacular Stewart was in New Moon: the vein-blue wash to her fine eyelids, the rabbity front teeth, the way of standing like she’s playing Hamlet in an all-girls production, flinging her satchel aside and settling her sneakers into the rain-sodden forest. It’s easy to forget the power of the first time Edward and Bella saw each other on screen. When Pattinson sees Stewart across the school biology lab in New Moon, it’s like Henry Fonda staring at Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve. And it’s this that hooked fans for all time, because in that moment Twilight re-enacted what cinema on its most primal level is about: sitting back and being the willing victim of a carnal mugging.
Predators () is an unnecessary reboot of the 1987 cult movie Predator – a perfect film made by John McTiernan (who also made Die Hard) in which an alien creature able to see via infrared chomps occasionally on the natives in the Guatemalan jungle. How long had it been there? A month? A thousand years? The mystery hung in the bloodied air. In this sequel, a gang of mercenaries led by Adrien Brody are parachuted onto a Predator-rich planet and wander around for two hours confused. “What are we doing here?” “Did you see that?” Whatever happened to Brody’s voice? The melody of the actor’s speaking voice as Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist was so textured, so full of hooks and middle eights, one felt he might hum the Chopin as well as he played it. I guess his one-note hostile performance in this is supposed to add to the bad-trip tone of the film, but it just sounds like sadness to me.
At least the camera here is forever gorging itself on Brody’s gigantic-noble nose, which with its peaks and plateaus looks like a thing disappearing down a corridor and at the last moment turning left into a spare room. With the exception of this conk, quite literally every image, every idea in Predators, is a straight steal from another film. Someone crawling down a ventilator shaft with a nervously thrust-forward flare (Alien); being taken back to a survivor’s lair and seeing the detritus of their life (Aliens); the hero taking in the scale of the calamity and saying “We’re gonna need a new plan” (Jaws: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”) If enough of you send me a tenner I promise to construct a pull-out Connoisseur’s Edition of this review and detail the film’s thievery in full.
It would be worth pointing out to the executives responsible for this madness that the most memorable image in the first film is not a bloody one, but a sweet one: the predator sitting on a lonely branch fixing his injured arm with a first aid kit packed into his body armour. The film stilled for a moment as we were forced to consider that somebody on Zorg (his mother?) had taken time to stock it with the right-sized plasters. Every sequence had wit and a macabre originality.
Three minor films released this week deserve a mention. Jerusalema () is a cheerfully violent South African ramble about a gangster unwilling to “sit on his arse waiting for Mandela” before improving his lot via dodgy property deals. Leaving (), a French film, is a rather cold reworking of Lady Chatterley’s Lover starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a bored doctor’s wife. Initially intriguing, both collapse in an hour.
As does London River () nonetheless an always tender film about two strangers coming together to look for their children after the London bombings of 2005. Brenda Blethyn is intermittently magnificent as a lonely mother leaving phone messages for a daughter who will never call back, poignantly dragging on a cigarette, the grief descending like a poisonous vapour. Blethyn: so pretty, so brittle. She really is one of the best we have.