Opens: Wednesday 6/30
Us Rating: ***
Twilight returns – and Eclipse delivers! Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) swings between Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner); one's her mate, the other's her friend. Or so the high school senior tries to convince herself, steamy kisses to the contrary. Meanwhile, avenging redhead Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) creates an army of newborn vampires in Seattle to slay Bella before summer vacation -- and squash the Cullens. With a new director (Hard Candy's David Slade), and renewed energy, the threequel balances PG-13 romance and bone-crunching action in a way that will satisfy Twi-Hards and appeal to supernatural romantics who haven't completely converted to TV's True Blood.
Biases out: I'm team Edward all the way, and Pattinson delivers moony beauty cut with rueful wisdom, wit and passion -- he's so "old school," as Bella complains when he won't unzip before marriage. Earthy werewolf Jacob pulls hard in the opposite direction, shirt repeatedly off and pack tattoo displayed on hard muscle. ("Doesn't he have a shirt?" Edward asks wryly, in the kind of self-deflating humor that riffs through Eclipse.) Stewart sulks in the middle, a self-described "Switzerland" in the vampires-versus-werewolves conflict. She's the perfect moody teenager rocking jeans and mascara, a beauty inside and out just trying to find a place in the world where she feels real.
Sure, the central love triangle drives the movie, but we couldn't get enough of the character flashbacks that reveal how various Cullens earned their fangs. In one, Southern gent Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) recalls being a Confederate Major turned by the mysterious Maria to raise, and then slay, a corps of newborns -- it could be its own stand-alone film in an exhilarating series that's as undead as Edward, as muscular as Jacob.
-- THELMA ADAMS