“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” is a tick better than the first “Twilight,” which wasn’t bad either.
Those are hardly superlatives on the order of “shattering” and “beautiful,” but compared with the film versions of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” the only two movies ever made with less sex than the first two “Twilights,” they’re matchless.
The first “Twilight,” a lower-budget and scruffier affair directed by Catherine Hardwicke, may have been lame in the visual magic department, but its stars and their smoldering eyes did a valiantly angst-y job in launching a major franchise.
The second film in the series is bigger, better in the effects and more vibrant visually, which is crucial — the heroine, Bella, is an Olympic-level mope, and if “New Moon” matched this character’s mood with the visual palette of the first film, we’d all be dead.
Wisely, “New Moon” brings back screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who continues to prove she has a much better way with English than the author of the books, Stephenie Meyer. The director this time is Chris Weitz, who handles this tosh with the commitment it requires.
When last we left Bella and her vampire boyfriend, Edward, they’d come through a serious test or three of their endless love. “New Moon” separates the pair fairly early on, with Edward nervous about Bella’s safety around his kind.
With the boy off to sunny Italy to deal with the Volturi (Michael Sheen plays the primo eterno-vampire), Bella pines and pines again, and retreats into herself. Then she is pulled out of her funk — halfway, anyway; it’s a big funk — by her pal Jacob, who is sweet and hunky but who is a werewolf, and there’s this treaty with the vampires, which . . . well, either you already know all this or you will never, ever care.
Torn between two hunky supernatural theoretical boyfriends and feeling like an emo fool, Bella and “New Moon” wrestle with all sorts of metaphoric issues. Vampirism and werewolfery are just two more high school cliques. Guys with anger management trouble, hormonal urges that cannot be satisfied, a succession of pristinely objectified boys — no wonder there are a few female teenage fans.
Why does “New Moon” basically work? Weitz lets the material breathe, and his actors interact. The film does not try to eat you alive. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are interesting to watch. And they’re strong enough to compensate for the comparatively amateurish Taylor Lautner, portraying the perpetually shirtless wolf boy, whose subtext remains the same scene to scene: Have you seen my abs? Composer Alexandre Desplat (one of the best working in movies today) supports the constant, abstinence-only yearning with an exceptionally subtle score.
In Meyer’s prose, every other sentence is “His golden eyes smoldered” and “He continued to kiss my hair, my forehead, my wrists . . . but never my lips, and that was good.” Stewart and Pattinson get all that across without having to say any of it. Weitz and Rosenberg may let the rhythm slacken in the final 30 minutes, but that is unlikely to matter to any of the people who, with this film’s closing line, could be heard squeaking in anticipation of the third “Twilight,” due in 2010.