Since its release, Robert Pattinson’s directorial debut, Breaking Dawn has become one of the most popular movies of the year. Based on the four novels in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, the film tells the story of an uneasy truce between werewolf Jacob (Pattinson) and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), who must put their differences aside to protect their newborn twins from a deadly enemy: the Mountain Wolf (Walter White). The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Thomas Hardy, Taylor Lautner, and Nikki Reed.

What is often underappreciated about Breaking Dawn is that the story is actually about two vampires: the bloodthirsty Edward and his more evolved (read: ‘less murderous’) brother, Jacob. From the very beginning, Edward’s intentions are clearly suspect: with his new family to protect, he will stop at nothing to ensure their safety. While we’re never actually sure if Jacob is aware of this, our interpretation is that, as a devoted werewolf, he’s probably well aware of his enemy’s true nature. After all, the same could be said about most of the characters in the film – particularly the Twilight principals, who are all aware of their own sinister connections.

Breaking Dawn is a fantastic addition to the vampire genre. It’s stylish, it’s dark, and it’s deeply romantic,” says David Morris, author of Vampires: The Contemporary World of Dracula.

This romanticism is most explicit in the first and second books of the Twilight saga, where Edward and Bella share a slow dance beneath the moonlight while speaking a magical language not of this world. It’s an image that continues to resonate with audiences – as well as fans of the series, of course – and one that’s difficult to argue with.

The Saga Continues

In the second book, New Moon, Edward sacrifices his own life for Bella’s and leaves her an inheritance of millions. When Bella learns of the betrayal that led to her best friend’s death, she finds it in her heart to hate her former protector: Edward’s family, the Cullens, have always been allies of the Volturi, who pursue her relentlessly in an effort to claim her as their own.

The third book, Eclipse, finds Bella in a precarious situation. Not only does she harbor a grudge against Edward’s clan after his betrayal, but she also has a newfound ability to transform into a wolf. With no way of returning to her human identity, she must fight to protect her friends and unborn child against a whole new set of enemies: the members of the Volturi, who consider her their own personal property.

Finally, in the concluding book, Breaking Dawn, the threat to Bella and her family is presented with such vivid dread that it’s hard to look away. While Jacob is still devoted to protecting his wolf family, he can’t do it alone and must ask for help from an unlikely source: the Volturi. The film adapts these events with stunning visual effect, as the camera pans across a snowy vista or settles in on close-ups of Stewart and Lautner’s expressive eyes. If, at this point, you haven’t seen The Twilight Saga or are just curious about the phenomenon that is Kristen Stewart, then you should know that she plays multiple roles in this final installment, spanning vampire, wolf, and human. Her performance is so immersive and convincing that it’s easy to believe she could physically embody the transformations that define her character’s personalities. In doing so, she singlehandedly restores my faith in the medium—and not just in movies, but in storytelling itself. The screenwriter of Breaking Dawn, Michael Paul Deboo, called it “a triumph of visual storytelling on the largest scale.”

Glowing Reviews

The film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s final installment of the Twilight Saga was met with glowing reviews from critics and fans alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently boasts a 94% rating based on reviews from 46 critics, with an average rating of 8.1/10.

“Breaking Dawn is a breathtaking, passionate, and romantic love story between two people who must put their love for each other above all else,” says Christy Beck, director of marketing for Twentieth Century Fox Film.

Indeed, the most distinctive and compelling features of the movie are its extravagant production values and the star power of its leads. With an average running time of 2 hours and 47 minutes, Breaking Dawn is one of the longer Twilight adaptations. Yet, as Beck notes, “the story is so gripping that, for the most part, the runtime barely feels like it.”

The elaborate sets and costumes, combined with the gorgeous cinematography by Claudio Miranda, help transport the viewer to another world. While Miranda has previously worked on such varied projects as the animated series The Book of LIFE, the live-action movies Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Abominable, his work in Breaking Dawn is assured and artful, evoking the stark grandeur of classic cinema.

The final product is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. As Beck notes, “Miranda brought a flair to the film that invigorated everything from costume design to set decoration. The result is a stunning fantasy that draws you into its world and keeps you there until the very end.”

Nostalgia Feels-Good

While praise for Breaking Dawn is undoubtedly lavished, it’s hard to miss the fact that much of the film’s appeal comes from nostalgia. The story arc encapsulates the rise of the on-screen vampire and, as Beck points out, “it’s always nice to see a beloved film series come to its happy ending.”

While there’s nothing wrong with this, it is important to remember that these films never should have ended in the first place. It’s one thing to acknowledge the growing audience for vampire films in general and to embrace this trend as a way of life. It’s another thing entirely to acknowledge this trend as a passing fad and try to cash in on it while providing the final installment of a film trilogy. This will always be the fatal flaw in the Twilight saga: while its popularity can’t be denied, it’s never been able to escape the shadow of its own impending doom. It may be impossible for the films to remain relevant in the ever-shifting cultural landscape, which is a far more serious and interesting commentary on our own reality than anything Nicholas Sparks ever wrote.