Before I wrote anything for this review, I had to sit and think if I could actually give a fair judgement for this film, considering what a fan I am of this whole series. And the conclusion was yes, I can. I've never claimed to be a professional critic, I just write what I think about films for my own enjoyment, but I think I can do this one justice.
First off, this film was a lot better than I was anticipating, considering what we all knew was going to happen in it. The (professional!) reviews I've read so far for this film have been rather negative, but I think that's rather unfair because they often slate the plot, which really is not the film's fault. The general consensus is that the book upon which it's based was a huge letdown for fans and is the least favourite, and everyone knows it's a ridiculous plot, but I think they did the best with that they had to work with and overall I think it turned out very well, for the most part.
I don't even know if I can say this review will have spoilers, because we all know what happens in this film, but I'll put the little warning there anyway.
Let's start with the good bits, shall we?
The much anticipated wedding and honeymoon of Kristen Stewart's Bella and Robert Pattinson's Edward were beautiful. To be honest, I think I was so absorbed with the more dramatic moments of the film I kind of overlooked this when making expectations, but really, it was lovely. Yes, it was extremely mushy, but it also stayed very faithful to the books and the wedding was pretty much exactly as I pictured it. Bella looked stunning in her dress, and the whole set was gorgeous. The wedding itself was very sweet to watch, and very satisfying for all the fans who have been waiting so long for it to finally happen. I found the whole thing actually quite emotional. The honeymoon too was well done, considering they had to stay within the boundaries of a PG13/12 certificate (though I read somewhere that nearly 50% of people who saw it this weekend were over-25... don't know if that's accurate, but still, they could have pushed it to a 15 and given us some more action). There are also some very (intentionally) humorous moments which made a welcome change to the usual mopey, angsty films produced so far in this series. The wedding speeches in particular were brilliant, showing off the talents of the wonderful Billy Burke (as Charlie, Bella's father) and Anna Kendrick (Jessica, Bella's not-so-subtly bitter friend), as well as some of Bella's attempted seduction on the honeymoon. But it doesn't stay that way.
Of course, it starts to get a little freaky. Bella's horrific, accelerated pregnancy was actually awful to watch, not because it was badly done but because the visual effects made her painful to look at, as she should be. People have asked if Kristen Stewart actually lost that much weight for the role, but she didn't, it's just the CGI and make-up making her look skeletal and near-death. But I will admit that the pregnancy was a very weird thing to watch, though the actors did it really well. Which brings me onto their performances.
I think every single person unanimously agrees that they are the best they've been all series. The range of emotions Stewart and Pattinson have to cover (Edward and Bella are actually allowed to be happy for the first time!) show how skilled they are as actors. Because it's such an intense film in terms of emotion, I think it really stresses each and every one so you kind of empathise with them at certain points. Certainly the climactic birth scene made me genuinely cry both times I've seen it (so far), as Edward tries desperately to save Bella's life. It really does tug on the heartstrings. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the other performances in the film. Most of them are up to scratch, though nobody else really stands out. But really, everyone else is just a supporting role in this, including Jacob, who wasn't in it as much as I thought he would be, probably because the script has clearly cut a lot from the books. However, Taylor Lautner's Jacob pretty much just mopes for the entire film and he doesn't even do that very well, just coming across as a brat most of the time. And the wolves... well, that's a different matter altogether.
I've said from the very start of becoming a fan of both the films and books, that the series would be a whole lot better without the werewolves/shapeshifters/whatever-you-want-to-call-them. But I think this film really emphasises that point. None of them were really credible actors in the previous films, and they haven't become any better since then. Thankfully they aren't in it a great deal, at least as humans, though it has to be said that the scene where they're having a conversation in their wolf forms has to be the worst one of the entire series to date. I was actually hiding behind my hands at how appallingly bad it was. And the imprinting scene! (For those who don't know, imprinting is the process where a werewolf finds their soulmate and forms some kind of unbreakable bond. Or something.) Reading the book I thought the scene where Jacob imprints on his best friend/love interest's newborn baby was creepy, but actually seeing it was something else. It was a whole new level of paedophile.
In terms of production, you can see the improvement from previous films. The dialogue is much improved, not so much the stilted, awkward conversation from before, though that's not to say there aren't still some questionable parts. What's good is that the screenplay has cut out huge chunks of the book, which would otherwise have made a three-hour film that was dragged out beyond belief. And I thank Melissa Rosenberg (screenwriter) for cutting some parts, most notably the awful scene in the book where Edward asks Jacob, his love rival, to procreate with his new wife. Awks. But I also liked some of the additional parts, such as the speeches in the wedding, as well as one scene at the beginning where we see Edward's pre-"vegetarian" vampire lifestyle. It was a bit unnecessary for this film (don't know whether it will be relevant in the next one) but it was nice to see all the same, because it hadn't been discussed before.
The special effects were also great. I've already mentioned the hideous transformation seen in Bella's body during her pregnancy, but the wolves were very convincing (sadly, only in appearance), and I thought the scene towards the end as we see the vampire venom travelling through Bella's bloodstream was actually very effective, though I understand why people feel it was a little strange to see.
The whole birth scene was done very well, I thought. I wasn't sure how they were going to be able to do it and stick to the film's rating, but I thought it was effective in the way they showed it from Bella's perspective so the action wasn't as bad due to her semi-conscious state. I heard that loads of people passed out when they first saw it because of the gore, but I don't understand how because really it wasn't that bad at all. But I think the best thing about the whole scene was Edward's reaction to Bella's subsequent death, which was haunting, I don't think Robert Pattinson has ever been better in the whole series. I actually cried when he was trying to save her. And I was genuinely terrified for her, even though I knew what was going to happen. It was done by the actors so well, especially when it's just Edward and Bella towards the end, because really, this film is about them, and the possibility of their separation is heartbreaking.
One thing I don't understand is how people can call it "slow". It was slowER in some places, definitely, particularly towards the beginning with the wedding and honeymoon, but it was always a nice pace. The plot was constantly moving foward smoothly, and actually I felt like I'd only been sitting for 15 minutes before the credits started rolling. And the ending of the film was obvious - we all knew from the moment they said they were splitting it that it would end with that shot of Bella's red vampire eyes opening. But I also don't know how they're going to fill two hours with what they have left to cover in the book. As far as I can tell, it's just going to be Bella adjusting to being a vampire, more sexy times in a different place, and an extremely long and dragged out, anti-climactic conversation with those Italians with the bad wigs. I also don't understand why we have to wait a year to see this when they filmed it nearly a year ago (On the Road, anyone?).
I've also always said that no matter what you say about the Twilight films, you cannot deny that they have amazing soundtracks. This one is no different. Every song fits the scene it's in perfectly, and I have to say that actually it's my favourite one to date. I'm annoyed that the score hasn't been released yet, because that was also very good, and I'm glad Carter Burwell (composer of the first film) returned for this one. I liked how in the wedding they played music from the others, particularly the vows being done to 'Flightless Bird, American Mouth', the music they danced to at prom in the first one, and that Bella's Lullaby was included in the memory-montage at the end. I thought it was very appropriate.
Verdict: Almost everyone involved in the production did the best with the material they had. It's not going to win over any non-fans, but fans should be very pleased with it. It was beautifully shot, and both remains faithful to and deviates from the book enough that it's satisfying, and leaves people just curious enough to remain interested for the second part. They've obviously done something right if they've made my least favourite book of the franchise into my favourite film.