***Spoilers For The Twilight Saga and Avengers: Infinity War***
So, we don’t officially know if all of the big deaths at the end of Avengers: Infinity War is a fake out (Ron Howard Narrator Voice, “It is.”), but I do know one thing, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn did their giant finale fake out better in almost every way.
“But Zac, this is only half of the Avengers movie and that was the final fight of that franchise!” someone might cry, but I call hogwash. Avengers: Infinity War was sold to us as a film with some finality, with resolution for these superheroes, and as one complete film (not a Part 1), but when the “dusting” started, most viewers quickly put together the fact that, clearly, none of these deaths/vanishings are going to be permanent. Even in the moment as they were happening! When Black Panther faded away, the ruse was up, this wouldn’t be an event with a lasting consequence for these characters or the MCU as a whole. The fact the even the MCU faithful (like, myself) couldn’t even buy into this gambit, is right where Breaking Dawn starts at topping Infinity War; in the moment, in that theater, everyone was buying into what Breaking Dawn’s finale was selling.
A little background. While watching The Twilight Saga series in real-time, I was up and down on my enjoyment of them. The first Twilight was a decent enough teen romance with vampires, New Moon was a terrible film going experience, Eclipse came the closest to capturing the potential of this series by expanding the world of the franchise, while Breaking Dawn mostly works as a conclusion to what this series ultimately is, a love story between Bella and Edward. But, that final fight sequence of Breaking Dawn is what any fan, of any franchise, could hope for to wrap up their story.
I saw Breaking Dawn – Part 2 at a press screening packed with die-hard Twilight fans. The series had remained almost painstakingly faithful to the books, and while everyone was there to see the conclusion to this franchise, they thought they knew what they were going to get in this two-part finale. A wedding, some vampire virginity taking, Bella going full vamp, and some crazy shenanigans around the half-breed daughter of Edward and Bella, Renesmee. The (2 part) film delivers all of this, with the best cinematography and direction yet in the series (sorry, David Slade, a close second) from director Bill Condon. Though, Condon had something else up his sleeve, and that is the absolutely bonkers bloodbath final fight to end this movie. The twist? This bloodbath wasn’t in the books.
Thanos’ snap was expected in a film titled Infinity War by anyone who has read the associated comic book, so they tell me, and while this might not be as faithful of an adaptation of the source material for the Twilight films, comic readers knew where Avengers was probably heading before some our beloved superheroes start dusting. Everyone quickly put together the snap wasn’t ever going to be permanent, which makes Marvel’s decision to hold back on tipping their hand on their (assumed) upcoming fake out for a whole year (!) so frustrating. They couldn’t even give us a post credit sequence in the rumored Soul World or something; giving us some clue that a 180 on the dusting at least might be coming? It feels unfair to the audience, especially those that aren’t on the wavelength that this is all going to be reversed, because when Marvel goes back on all of this “death” people are going to feel their emotions were taken advantage of. Plus, Marvel probably, won’t have any fun with their fake out. You can’t try to make us take this all so seriously, just to wipe it all away. (If Avengers 4 has a lot of fun with the reversal, I’ll eat crow.) Sure, someone (Star-Lord) will probably have a quip or two about death and/or their experience, but I love that Breaking Dawn is having fun with every element of the scene; even if the audience might not be in on it until the end.
Breaking Dawn the book ends (Thanks Wikipedia!) with, basically, an extended conversation/trial, that is built around the tension that if things go south, all the good vampires and werewolves probably would die in the ensuing battle. Everyone walks away from the fight, except one vampire executed by the bad guys for some bad intel, unscathed. The film, ultimately, does the same, but takes the fans on a roller coaster of emotions before letting them in on the fake out.
The bad vampires, The Volturi, are led by Michael Sheen’s Aro (a brilliant, over the top, performance, that knows exactly what movie he is in; Sheen is even more compelling than Josh Brolin’s, quite good, Thanos), and he is pushing this inquisition towards a chance to wipe out the Cullens, just as the book does. Aro has a compass though, even if he likes to keep it spinning, and he’s not just bluntly going to wipe out someone he disagrees with. But then, in the film, Alice (a future seeing vampire on the good side [The Vampires all have unique super powers, too, like the Avengers.]) realizes Aro will never be convinced to not wipe out the Cullens and their allies; so she tells Bella to send off Renesmee, kicks Aro in the face. When her vampire Dad, Carlisle, tries to rescue her from being taken away, Aro jumps and meets him in the air and RIPS THE PATRIARCH OF THE WHOLE TWILIGHT SAGA’S HEAD OFF!
This fight opens with one of the most beloved, noble and kind characters of the series, one that has been around since the beginning, the sweet Dad of the vampires, getting decapitated and his body set on fire (no resurrections) as an appetizer for things to come, this guy is essentially the Captain America of the Twilight films; and the crowd is fucking losing it. The audience was tense during the stand-off, but when Carlisle charges, you immediately started hearing the gasps in the crowd as they realized the film was going off book. I felt more emotion in that theater in this first encounter of the Breaking Dawn finale then the entire culmination of the Infinity War finale, which was an opening night audience. And things only get worse/crazier/more emotional from there for the Breaking Dawn audience. I frankly couldn’t believe the film had the balls to kill off a beloved character like Carlisle, and I was eating it up, I had no idea what was coming next.
The Avengers are fighting off hordes of CGI blobs that we’ve never seen before, the Cullens and crew are facing off against their mortal enemies that they have been butting up against for centuries. Thanos is a character we’ve barely seen before Infinity War, and even though they do a good job at fleshing him out, he isn’t going to be as compelling as Twilight’s resolution built around characters who have been going back and forth for up to four movies prior. So when Jasper, another beloved member of the Cullen clan, is soon dispatched after Carlisle, the audience distress levels are taken up to even another level. They follow this up with the killing of the baby werewolf kid who everybody loved and the people just can’t handle it. I’ve never been in an audience being so affected by what they were seeing on-screen. Tears for Peter Parker had nothing on these die hards.
It wasn’t just the shocking deaths for Breaking Dawn that made the sequence work so well, but the payoff for villains getting their comeuppance and all of the characters getting at least one action beat to shine. Marvel banking their “biggest fight of all time” (Ron Howard Narrator Voice; “It wasn’t.”) on faceless enemies was one mistake, but having no emotional payoff and very few memorable character beats was the biggest flaw to me. Cap does nothing. Black Panther does nothing. Black Widow gets a tag team girl fight with Okoye and Scarlet Witch that underwhelmed. Hulk doesn’t even show up! Sure, Thor is great in GOD MODE, and the Thanos battle on Titan had some nice beats, but Infinity War undercuts the one potential true death with Tony Stark getting saved by Dr. Strange. And I get it, “It was the only way,” but that this is all tied into the ultimate upcoming reversal is just an added layer of BS to Marvel’s botched attempt at a fake out.
The Breaking Dawn fight excels because you immediately buy into the stakes, anything is possible, even that they might actually kill off Edward or Bella. The film successfully pivots the ultimate goal for these two is that their child survives, and we believe they could sacrifice themselves for her. As beloved characters fall, they also get to take out some of the bad guys as well, and it all plays out in as brutal of a fashion that a PG-13 rating can allow. In Twilight, to kill a vampire, you have to rip off their head/limbs and set the body on fire. While things get a bit hectic for everyone to use the flames once things really get going (Where did all of those torches come from?), the body parts are almost always flying across the battlefield. Dakota Fanning gets served up, mauled and beheaded by a giant wolf. A pair of vengeful sisters rip a dudes head off by holding his lower jaw and ripping the top of his head in half like a pez dispenser. A giant rift in the ground is created, and beloved werewolves and bad guys start falling in, to their deaths. Edward even almost perishes in the crevasse, before busting out through the rubble like Superman and taking out his assailant. There is even a really cool moment where one of the older bad guys just openly embraces death, after centuries of undeath, with a “Finally,” before getting ripped in half by two passing by good guys. All of this is shot and choreographed quite well, with a clear sense of space, something I can’t honestly say the same for in Infinity War; which often felt like CGI overload with no focal point.
But, it’s the way that Breaking Dawn wraps everything up, when they pull the fake out and earn it, that really cemented this scene for me as being something special. Bella and Edward tag team Aro, breaking multiple limbs, bending and snapping his back as they try to rip off his head. They eventually succeed in the decapitation, to raging applause, but as Bella goes to light his head on fire things snap back and we see Aro, Alice, his army and all of the Cullens standing in their lines; everyone is still alive. The battle was a vision from Alice to Aro, about what could happen if he chooses to fight, and he believes the possible future she lays out before him. Aro values his own life over all others, and we buy that he would walk away from his beef with Renesmee to save his ass any day of the week.
The fake out, especially for this audience of die hards, was blended perfectly into the emotional arc of the finale. Condon shocked them, upset them, nearly made their worst nightmares come true, and the collective sigh and joy over it all being a ruse washed over the audience in nervous laughs of relief and applause. I think I actually clapped along, and I NEVER clap at a movie. It was a brilliant move by Condon and his team to throw the fans a curveball and it was executed about as perfectly as one could image.
Does this amazing fake out and finale make The Twilight Saga a pinnacle of cinema, of course not. It follows this amazing sequence up with a closing scene where Jacob the werewolf jokes about calling Edward “Dad” because he has imprinted on Edward’s very young daughter and is going to fuck her one day. Alice even confirms it with a reading of their future, it’s fucked up! But for those few minutes of carnage, Condon achieves the nirvana of what the franchise was capable of being. It’s a rousing piece of cinema that makes you wish the whole series could have come closer to this height more often than the handful of times it did excel.
I could barely remember anything of consequence in Avengers: Infinity War by the time my head hit the pillow on it’s opening night, but I will never forget that night in the theater watching Breaking Dawn – Part 2 blow a crowd’s collective mind.