Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More 'Eclipse' Reviews added


Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• Variety, Peter Debruge: It goes without saying that the faithful will devour “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” the third movie in Stephenie Meyer’s immensely popular supernatural love-triangle saga, and also the one in which Bella must finally choose between her two beastly suitors. The pleasant surprise this time around is that the result finally feels more like the blockbuster this top-earning franchise deserves. Employing a bigger budget, better effects and an edgier director (“Hard Candy’s” David Slade), “Eclipse” focuses on what works — the stars — even as the series’ parent-friendly abstinence message begins to unravel. Summer release should reap Summit’s biggest yield yet.

Taking a cue from the “Harry Potter” series, which maintains continuity on the writing and casting fronts while introducing a different feel with each change of director, the “Twilight” producers have embraced a variety of different visions behind the camera. Capitalizing on her indie sensibility and keenly observed teen insights, Catherine Hardwicke set the tone with the low-budget first film, with Chris Weitz expanding (and flattening) the world with his broader, daytime soap-opera style in “New Moon.” Now, the task falls to Slade, who clearly understands how to work with actors while also demonstrating a welcome competence in the action and melodrama departments.

It’s no easy task taking a piece of material auds already know inside-out and spinning it in such a way that individual scenes still generate tension and suspense. Slade sets us on edge from the outset with an atmospheric vignette merely alluded to in the book, as small-town boy Riley (Xavier Samuel) is ambushed and bitten by an unseen vampire in shadowy Seattle (looking every bit as ominous as Tim Burton’s Gotham City).

Not much happens for the first 300 pages of Meyer’s novel, during which vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) vie for the affections of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), with our increasingly impatient heroine determined to surrender both her virginity and her humanity to the brooding bloodsucker (to his credit, Bella’s 109-year-old boyfriend wants to marry her first).

Slade and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg wisely intercut these puppy-love scenes with uneasy horror-movie jolts. After all, “Eclipse” builds not to a showdown between Edward and Jacob (no matter how often he takes off his shirt, the poor wolfboy will never be Bella’s first choice), but to an uneasy alliance between the Cullen clan and Jacob’s tribe of shape-shifters, united to protect Bella from the vengeance-seeking Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over the role from Rachelle Lefevre) and her army of “newborns,” undisciplined but super-strong new vampires.

Rather than attempting to elevate Meyer’s swoony prose to the level of literature (the poor scribe exhausts herself trying to find synonyms for “perfection”), Rosenberg’s task is to faithfully adapt the material for fans in such a way that works onscreen; that means having the freedom to remove, reorder or completely rewrite certain passages. She also has to contend with “Eclipse’s” muddled message — Bella’s in a hurry to be bitten, while everyone else is telling her to slow down — and devises a nice graduation speech for best friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) on the merits of not rushing into things.

Despite the somewhat simple-minded source, the producers plot everything as if it were a strategic game of chess, paying off earlier gambles — Jacob played third wheel in the past, but gets the sexier kiss here — while seeding future films. Of particular interest is a wide-eyed young newborn (played by Jodelle Ferland), subject of Meyer’s spinoff novella “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,” who serves as an effective tool in setting up the powerful Volturi’s villainy for the two-part “Breaking Dawn” finale.

“Eclipse” feels the most cinematic of the series so far, taking scenes out of the lunchroom and Swan house as much as possible. Slade shares Hardwicke’s aesthetic of using dramatic aerial photography to give the otherwise intimate tale a more epic sweep, and expands on it by repeatedly lining up the various clans like the subjects of a Vanity Fair cover shoot, their iconic group poses helping to make the movie seem as big as its following. Though Slade inherits “New Moon” d.p. Javier Aguirresarobe, his choice of lenses and shooting style (including a fair amount of handheld camerawork) gives things a more dynamic energy.

Visual effects have improved considerably, with no fewer than 11 companies working on everything from Edward’s sparkling skin to CG wolves that realistically blend with live-action characters. A scene of Bella side-by-side with canine Jacob feels perfectly plausible, but nothing beats the sight of vampires and werewolves going at it in the climactic battle. If anything, the digital work outshines the other departments, with bad makeup, lifeless wigs and creepy contacts being the elements that disrupt the fantasy.

•• The Globe and Mail, Liam Lacey: Rating 3/4
Anyone who has followed the Twilight series knows that heroine Bella Swan is a young woman caught in an awful erotic dilemma: She wants to sleep with her dreamboat vampire lover, Edward, but if he gets too turned-on, he just might sink his teeth in her and vampirize her by accident.

Pedestrian types might think of practical solutions for her problem (a Hannibal Lecter-style no-biting mask? Condoms for fangs?) but that would miss the point. Devotees of Stephenie Meyer's immensely popular Twilight books and the previous two hit movies understand that Bella and Edward's dilemma is spiritual, not a prurient practical problem. Their story is about a quest for human love that transcends death.

A secondary concern, raised by Edward's athletic romantic rival, raises another eternal question: Beauty or Hotness?

The faithful will be relieved to know that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse introduces no vulgar innovations to the story, or for that matter, respite from Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattison) putting their retinas at risk with the intensity of their yearning gazes.

As well as continuity, there are some welcome new developments. The Twilight series has maintained the same writer (Melissa Rosenberg) and producers and cast from the beginning and now, by the third movie, has a distinct shape and rhythm. There's the alternation between talky melodramatic scenes and horror suspense, a hip soundtrack (Muse, Metric, Vampire Weekend) and lots of aerial shots of highways running through forests.

Stewart, with her boyish slouch and deadpan delivery, embodies the alienated teen disposition that's at the centre of the story, but there's more than just attitude here. All the young actors are maturing and expanding their ranges. Stewart, for example, shows more vulnerability, and Taylor Lautner, as Jacob, the buff werewolf rival for Bella's affections, has a conflicted character whose tenderness and animal aggression are at odds. As for Pattinson, the best news, after the last movie when he was mostly absent, is simply that he and those cheekbones get so much screen time again.

Altogether, Eclipse feels painted on a bigger canvas than the previous two movies. Those films were released for the American Thanksgiving; this is a summer movie, adding more action and horror elements into the supernatural love-triangle plot. New director David Slade ( Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) sets the new film's more aggressive tone at the outset with the opening scene, on a rainy dark Seattle street, where a young man is suddenly attacked, chased down to the docks and then attacked again by an invisible vampire. Throughout, Slade uses more outdoor locations, more handheld camera work and rapid editing. There are also two sustained historical flashbacks, when Edward's vampire friends tell Bella about their long-ago human lives.

And there's some humorous relief: in Bella's exchanges with her affectionate, clueless cop dad (Billy Burke), and dealing with day-to-day high-school life. While her friend (Anna Kendricks) is figuring out what to say for her valedictory speech, Bella is trying to decide what will become of her eternal soul.

Picking up from where The Twilight Saga: New Moon left off, Bella has decided she wants Edward to turn her into a vampire so they can live together forever, but first she wants to sleep with him. Parental guidance warning: Horizontal fondling is achieved but Edward's century-old mores and concerns about breaking into a feeding frenzy keep her in a holding pattern as a virgin on the verge. As well, his habit of lying to protect Bella pushes her from him.

The much hotter Jacob (he's even shirtless during an icy mountain-top kiss that's a shoo-in for next year's MTV Movie Awards) promises Bella a warm-blooded normal relationship. Fortunately, a new external threat breaks us out of the holding pattern as the two rivals decide to join forces to protect her. Edward's nemesis, Victoria (a suitably wraith-like Bryce Dallas Howard) has created an army of "new-borns", dangerously reckless, recently-bit vampires that are determined to get Bella.

The climactic sequence, involving close-combat-trained vampires and leaping gigantic wolves in a forest glade, is fierce and efficiently brisk. The CGI work is the best so far in the series (the wolves look both menacing in action and cuddly in repose). With the bigger story and more fully developed relationships than the previous films, this is the first Twilight film that feels like a real movie in its own right, not just a spin-off from a mass literary cult.

•• NY Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman: Rating 3/5
'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' doesn't wane; Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner shine

Human or immortal? Werewolf or vampire? Marriage or college? These are the kinds of choices Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) faces in David Slade's fast-paced "Eclipse," the third chapter in Stephenie Meyer's beloved "Twilight" saga.

You, however, have no such dilemmas, because you decided a long time ago whether Bella's tangled love life is of any interest. And there's nothing in Slade's straightforward adaptation that will change your mind. If you adore Meyer's characters already, you'll be thrilled to spend more time with them. If you don't, well, you'd just end up sitting among a bunch of sighing teens (and their moms), wondering what the fuss is about.

As any one of those die-hard fans could tell you, it's all about love: Do the dangers of a potentially eternal romance with undead Edward (Robert Pattinson) outweigh the practical comforts provided by loyal Jacob (Taylor Lautner)? Life with Edward is hard; not only is he a vampire, but he's got to be the moodiest boyfriend in history. Jacob might turn into a werewolf now and then, but he's steady and reliable.

Plus, he loves to take his shirt off. Edward may be Bella's soul mate, but Jacob definitely spends more time at the gym.

Are you swooning yet? Don't scoff; Slade - who imports some of the darkness from his last vamp thriller, "30 Days of Night" - knows just how to reach his audience, alternating suspense and romance in carefully precise degrees. It may not be the subtlest approach, but it is effective.

He and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg also find ways to broaden the series' scope, incorporating slightly more opportunity for the supporting players (including Bryce Dallas Howard and Dakota Fanning as especially vicious vampires).

Most important, Bella and Edward are allowed a wider range of emotions than we've seen before; as a result, Stewart and Pattinson finally appear fully comfortable in their roles (though Lautner once again proves the standout, working hard to make Bella's decision a difficult one).

The truth is, almost everyone planning to see "Eclipse" will know how things end before the opening credits even appear. So Slade and his cast can be proud that they consistently keep us involved anyway.

•• Screen It: Rating 5/10
By now, if you haven't taken "The Twilight Saga" into your soul after two films and multiple books, chances are you never will. And that's OK. Not everyone is a Trekkie or Jedi padawan or a member of Red Sox Nation. I certainly don't get the extreme appeal. Like so many people, I find these brooding, mopey, melancholy characters bordering on self-parody at this point. I'm actually surprised the Zucker brothers or the Wayan brothers haven't cashed in with something like "Vampire Movie" or "Sucked!" The script would practically write itself.

At any rate, you may have heard that this film is the best of the three "Twilights" so far. And it is actually. It has the most action of the three films. There are some really affecting flashback sequences that finally add a bit of depth and texture to some of the minor characters. And the alt-rock songs on the soundtrack this time actually have a little snap and pop to them.

The problems, of course, remain. The long, lingering looks between vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and human Bella (Kristen Stewart). The almost comical way Jacob (Taylor Lautner) moves through the picture shirtless. The slow and maudlin manner in which the three leads deliver their lines. The inexplicable reasons why nearly two dozen characters put their very lives on the line to save the dour, charmless Bella as her life is threatened yet again.

The main plot of "Eclipse," aside from the love triangle, has to do with bad-girl vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) vowing revenge against Edward for killing her lover. Her plan is to seduce a young vampire (Xavier Samuel) from the town of Forks, Wash., where Bella and the Cullens live into helping her form an army of newborn bloodsuckers (humans recently bitten) to help her kill Bella.

Edward's clairvoyant sister Alice gets wind of the plot and warns him and the rest of the Cullen family. In turn, they form an uneasy alliance with the local werewolves to protect the town and Bella. A quick training montage follows and a climactic battle royale is all but assured. The only tension is whether the producers will finally spend enough cash to make the action halfway exciting. They do.

At the same time, the Volturi - which is kind of the governing body of vampires worldwide - gets wind of the army and dispatches Jane (Dakota Fanning) and three fellow, slow-moving, slow-talking vampires to observe. They basically stand from afar and comment on the action, and you're not quite sure if they'll take a side or just continue watching. Again, it's all done in a grandiose, self-serious, ripe-for-parody way.

But I will say this. In a summer where "Iron Man 2" wasn't as great as "Iron Man," where "Robin Hood" wasn't really the Robin Hood of yore, where the "Sex and the City" gals were pale knock-offs of the shrewd characters they once were on TV, this series HAS maintained a consistency through three films. And, yes, this third one finally delivers some memorable spectacle and affecting performances (Billy Burke remains underrated as Bella's clueless, frustrated father).

It's not my cup of Earl Grey, but the fans cheered long and hard at the end of my recent preview. For that, I give it a 5 out of 10.

•• Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: Actors breathe life into characters, and the new director keeps things moving in the new installment of the vampire-werewolf saga.

Anyone worried about the fate of Bella, Edward, Jacob and the rest of the "Twilight" gang after the moody blues of movie No. 2 can breathe a sigh of relief. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" is back with all of the lethal and loving bite it was meant to have: The kiss of the vampire is cooler, the werewolf is hotter, the battles are bigger and the choices are, as everyone with a pulse knows by now, life-changing.

It's really all because the kids are growing up. Not just Bella, Edward and Jacob, though they're doing their share of hitting major milestones what with their love triangle more fraught than ever, but Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner who finally, finally have figured out how to breathe life into the characters first created by publishing phenom Stephenie Meyer.

No doubt the thanks in large part should go to David Slade, the latest director in the hot seat and just what the soap opera doctor ordered. Though "Eclipse" is not high art, the "Twilight" series does have its own sort of mystical magic in the way it blends teenage angst with epic political conflicts (vampire-land has just as many turf wars and ridiculously rigid rules as the real world). Slade finds a way to blend the street-smart edge he found in "Hard Candy" with the dark irony of "30 Days of Night" to bring some serious fun to "Eclipse." About time someone mined the humor in these inter-species affairs of the heart....

As the movie opens, Victoria ( Bryce Dallas Howard), the flame-haired villainess set on destroying Bella, is out creating an army of newborns to take with her into battle. They're hungry little suckers under the unruly control of delicious new hunk Riley (Xavier Samuel). They're also extremely messy about their feeding needs, much to the growing dismay of the living locals in Seattle and the Cullen vampire clan back in Forks.

Meanwhile, Bella (Stewart) has a few other things on her mind, like high school graduation and the whole vampire wannabe issue — with her dreaded 18th birthday looming, she'll soon be a year older than Edward (Pattinson), and she wants some of that special serum that will halt aging in its tracks (but then don't we all).

If, for a moment, you take the "should she or shouldn't she become a vampire" question off the table, Bella's issues are as old as time itself: Who does she love, is she ready to commit forever and what is she willing to sacrifice for it? That's a lot to chew on, but then everyone here has teeth, including screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, doing her best yet to channel Meyer while adding some much-needed wryness to the proceedings.

Everyone is also very concerned about Bella's virtue: Her dad Charlie ( Billy Burke) wants her to be careful, Edward wants her to wait until they're married and Jacob (Lautner) just wants her to wait.

While Bella sorts through all of her "who do you love?" conflicts, the newborns close in, a few of the ancient and unpredictable Italian Volturi enforcers show up, leaving Edward and Jacob to form an uneasy alliance to protect their damsel in distress.

The good news is that all that tension helps "Eclipse" eclipse its predecessors. There is a new tenderness and sweetness that Stewart brings to her relationships — more playful with Pattinson, more affectionate with Burke (especially when Charlie tries to have "the sex talk"), and more intense with Lautner. Bella doesn't want to let down anyone, and Stewart makes sure she doesn't. But it's Lautner, in particular, who has grown, giving Jacob an emotional interior nearly as hard-packed as those abs, which are very much on display.

Since the swoon factor is significant, Slade and director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe are ever mindful of the power of those faces, letting the camera go in for the close-up kill whenever it can. As for the rest of the landscape, the wonderful Aguirresarobe ( "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "The Sea Inside") knows how to do luminous, and Slade has given him more room to move than he got in "New Moon." "Eclipse" benefits from it throughout, including the rain-drenched lethal nights in Seattle and the extensive vampire smack downs.

The action comes in fast and furious waves. Having the werewolves getting their fur ruffled helps since your typical vampire battle is basically a bloodless sport. Dead vampires, at least as imagined in "The Twilight Saga," have the look of broken Greek statues in a vandalized museum, which kind of takes the sting out of things and not in a good way. The same goes for the historical flashbacks that fill in werewolf lore and more about vampire Jasper ( Jackson Rathbone). Enough already.

But just when you think everything is going to come apart at the seams, someone remembers the money shot, and the screen fills with those fine-boned faces of Edward and Bella, the music soars and, gulp, they … tune in next time kids, this soap opera's a long way from over.

•• Eric D. Snider: Rating B
Looks like the third time’s the charm with the young-adult fantasy franchises. It wasn’t until “Prisoner of Azkaban” that the Harry Potter films really came into their own, and now “Eclipse” brings the “Twilight” series into the big leagues. It still isn’t great, and there still isn’t much crossover appeal, but it’s easily the best of the three films so far, with a well-constructed story, suitable climaxes, and – at last! – a main character who occasionally thinks for herself rather than being defined by her monster boyfriends. The men who are coerced into seeing “Eclipse” with their ladyfolk will surely enjoy this one more than the last two.

Our story begins with vampire fetishist Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart) about to finish high school. She hopes her undead boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) will give her immortality as a graduation gift; Edward hopes he can convince Bella to marry him before he vampirizes her, as he is old-fashioned and courtly. Meanwhile, Native American werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the poor sap, still hopes Bella will forget the blood-sucker and choose him.

But there are larger issues to deal with. The problems of three little people, or one little person and two monsters, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. In nearby Seattle, young people are going missing in large numbers, apparently being converted by a rogue vampire named Riley (Xavier Samuel), who’s assembling an army of reckless and especially bloodthirsty new recruits. Bella and company still have Victoria to worry about, too. She might have shapeshifted from Rachelle Lefevre into Bryce Dallas Howard (a lateral move at best), but her goal of killing Bella remains intact.

As you know, the vampires and the werewolves don’t cotton to each other. They cotton to a lot of things, but each other is not one of them. But when it’s discovered that Riley is stalking Bella for an unknown but surely nefarious purpose, the wolfmen and the draculas resolve to join forces to keep her safe. This means a temporary truce between Edward and Jacob and their respective teams.

Oh, and the Volturi, the supreme vampire council: They are also in this movie. One of them is still Dakota Fanning.

Once again adapted by Melissa Rosenberg from Stephenie Meyer’s novel, “Eclipse” was directed by David Slade, who made the energetically creepy vampire flick “30 Days of Night” a few years ago, as well as the unsettling “Hard Candy” (which, like “Twilight,” is about a teenage girl being stalked by a much-older man). He turns out to have been a good fit for the material. “Eclipse” is a little darker and more violent than its predecessors, and it has quite a bit less brooding and general mushiness (though still enough, I suspect, to satisfy fans of the books). The climactic battles, though brief, are respectably thrilling. For the first time, I’m interested in ancillary characters like Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed), whose pre-vampire backstories we learn here – and not just for kicks, either, as the new information we get on them figures into the current crisis.

Some of this newfound storytelling sophistication might be in the novel, too (I haven’t read it), but it’s Slade, Rosenberg, and the actors who make it work on the screen. Bella is still saddled with eye-rolling lines like “There’s nothing I’m ever going to want more than Edward,” and she still narrates the film only occasionally (a sign of lazy screenwriting) – but she also has believable conflicts and makes actual decisions, almost like a real grown up would. Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner are all getting better as they get older, gradually giving their characters more nuance than they started with.

The final book in the series, “Breaking Dawn,” will be split into two films, with yet another director, Bill Condon, taking over. I hope he can build on Slade’s momentum and continue the franchise’s upward progression. If they keep improving like this, the people who automatically hate the films just because they’re popular with teenage girls will be forced to reconsider.

•• Culture Catch, Brandon Judell: I've always felt being second or third or tenth is much wiser, whether it's walking on ice, being on a conga line, or having intimate relations. Technique can improve over the years. Just take a second and ask yourself whether you'd want your gall bladder removed by a newbie or an experienced M.D.

If you are conflicted, you are not alone. As the writer Edward Dahlbert noted, "What men desire is a virgin who is a whore."

Well, clearly, the still pure-as-driven-snow Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is no whore, but she's getting quite horny in this latest and best of The Twilight Sagas. Director David Slade, who won much acclaim with his Hard Candy (2005), a saga of a possible pederast, and who garnered slightly fewer cheers for 30 Days of Night, a tale of vampires in a rather cold town, is clearly responsible for this success. After all, the reprehensible Melissa Rosenberg has once again adapted Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural tales of teens in lust in Washington State, so there’s little refinement dialogue-wise.

What’s improved here is that much of the endless, saccharine prattle between the one-note Bella and the mournfully romantic Edward Cullen has been jettisoned in favor of enjoyable action scenes and some slight humor.

For instance, in a pivotal tent scene, while the werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) tries to warm up the shivering, sleeping Bella with his pumped-up pecs, the jealous Edward admits he could be friends with his Indian rival-in-love under different circumstances. However, the way the scene's played, you get the sense the duo would have preferred enacting Brokeback Mountain if only Bella had been shacked up elsewhere. But she isn't, Blanche!

Anyway, the storyline this time has Riley (Xavier Samuel), an attractive young man, creating a Newborn Vampire Army in Seattle to kill Bella and eradicate the Cullen clan. But why? My fangs are sealed.

Secondary in importance is the upcoming high school graduation and Bella's inability to seduce Edward. The shimmeringly pasty boy is apparently old school and refuses to copulate with a woman he isn't married to. Then, of course, there's Bella’s dilemma: should she turn vampire so she won't age while her spouse remains a teen, or should she hitch up with Jacob and stay human so she can have kids and still visit her parents on the major holidays?

With enough exposed male chests for a dozen Calvin Klein ads, superb action cinematography and editing, plus a little campiness, this blood-sucking ode to abstinence and the eternal battle between the Apollonian and Dionysian desires in us all (think Death in Venice) easily eclipses its predecessors. That's not saying much, but it's a bite in the right direction.

•• The Movie Kit: How to watch 'Eclipse': Step 1: Accept the best. For the Twihard fans, Eclipse should thrill and excite to no end; for the rest of the world, it stands as the best of the three in the saga.

Step 2: Don’t have to be a Twihard. Now I wouldn’t call myself a Twihard, since I haven’t read all the books or have posters of Edward and Bella all over my room, BUT I did enjoy the first two movies, despite all the criticism. Look, I might be a 40-ish mother of two, but there is no way I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager again. All those raw emotions. And I am NOT alone. Women of all ages — and men, who are in touch with their romantic side — go gaga over the tortured romance of it all. Granted, both Twilight and New Moon are over-the-top melodramas of the highest order , but I think that’s why they are so popular (and better told onscreen than read in the books, in my opinion).

Step 3: Watch the vampire-werewolf-human triangle even out. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are finally allowed to be blissfully in love. In fact, old-school Edward, who comes from a time when getting married meant “I love you,” wants to wed the lovely Bella, even though she repeatedly declines. She just wants him to turn her into a vampire, so they can go loving each other happily ever after — and after and after and after. Edward wants to keep her pure, on all levels, and postpones the inevitable in hopes Bella might change her mind and want to stay human. Um, yeah, that’s not happening.

Step 4: Observe a small, well maybe not so small, obstacle in their way to the hereafter: Jacob (Taylor Lautner). He understands Bella has a major thing for the vamp but by god, he’s going to make her realize she should be with him, a hot-blooded human who just happens to turn into a werewolf to chase down bad-ass vampires every once in awhile. You can cut the sexual tension between Bella and Jacob with a knife, but ultimately, Bella stands by her choice. And speaking of bad-ass vampires, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) still wants Bella’s head on a plate and creates an army of “newborn” vampires to come after Bella. It seems these bloodsuckers are more powerful in their new state than any other time as a vampire, so, the Cullens are riled up for a fight and ask their sworn enemies, the Wolf Pack, to help them out since the Cullens are going to need all the assistance they can get.

Step 5: Be like Harry. The Twilight Saga is a little like the Harry Potters in that they keep getting better with each new director. David Slade has had some experience with vampires, having helmed the horrifying 30 Days of Night, and you can definitely see his darker touches in Eclipse. The newborn vampires are downright scary, ripping it up in their new form and tearing through humans like paper. As are the menacing Volturi faction, lead by the pain inflicter Jane (Dakota Fanning), sent to the Pacific Northwest to “deal” with this new problem. And there’s a lot more action, believable action, which should please some of those husbands and boyfriends dragged to the theater by their respective mates.

Step 6: Remember, Eclipse is ultimately about the three main characters — Bella, Edward and Jacob — who have now become fully fleshed out by the actors who play them, and Slade does a really nice job making Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner look even more appealing than they already do, especially Stewart, who has much more of a spark in this installment. It could also be because Bella is becoming a stronger character, more sure of what she wants and more determined to get it. At one point, she tells Edward she is afraid he won’t love her as much once she becomes a vampire, to which he reassures her, “You’ll always be my Bella… just less fragile.” I’m sort of looking forward to that moment but will have to wait for the last two Breaking Dawn movies!

•• Entertainment Spectrum, Keith Cohen: Rating 3/4
Much like the “Harry Potter” series, the gap widens considerably between the readers and non-readers of the best-selling novels by Stephene Meyer with a noticeable effect on the enjoyment factor and entertainment value. The faithful fans familiar with the characters have a tremendous advantage watching the third cinematic outing unfold.

The melodramatic soap opera focuses on a love triangle. Human heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is forced to choose between 109-year-old vampire Edward Cullen (dreamboat Robert Pattinson) and frequently bare-chested American Indian Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who can turn on a dime into a werewolf. Things are even more complicated because these two suitors are natural enemies.

Bella’s high school graduation is only a month away and she is determined to finalize her decision by then.

The opening scene goes back one year and takes place on a rainy night in Seattle. Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel), a young student from Forks, Wash., is attacked, bitten in the palm and left screaming in agony. Riley’s parents ask Bella’s father Charlie Swan (Billy Burke), the chief of police in Forks, to look into their son’s disappearance. A crime wave of murders and similar disappearances serial killer has hit nearby Seattle. The culprit behind all this violent behavior is red-headed Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is building an army of “newborns,” newly created vampires who are undisciplined, super-strong and insanely thirsty for human blood.

Victoria is seeking revenge against Edward and the Cullen family for killing her mate James. She wants to inflict the same pain by killing Bella.

An uneasy alliance between the Cullen clan and the pack of werewolves is formed to protect Bella. This leads up to a climactic battle. Padding is added to extend the running time to two hours with flashbacks to the back stories of Jasper and Rosalie (Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed) and the historical origins of the spirit warriors of the Quileute Indian tribe who transformed themselves into powerful werewolves to protect their territory against the undead cold ones.

The revolving door of directors finds Great Britain’s David Slade (“Hard Candy” and “30 Days of Night”) at the helm. He tries to escape the claustrophobic small town setting and intimate pillow talks with sweeping aerial photography. Filming actually took place in and around Vancouver, British Columbia.

Composer Howard Shore (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Departed” and “The Silence of the Lambs”), also new to this blockbuster franchise, provides a haunting original musical score that helps set the mood. Continuity is provided by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (“Dexter”), whose dialogue sparkles with tongue-in-cheek humor. Her best scene takes place in a tent while Bella is sleeping after Jacob’s body heat prevents her from freezing to death. Jealous rivals Edward and Jacob show an admiration and respect for one another during an emotionally heartfelt man-to-man talk. Edward explains his selfless love for Bella while reading Jacob’s inner thoughts.

The special effects are better than the first two installments with the CG wolves looking more realistic next to the live actors. The acting is nothing to write home about. Pattinson is stiff and wooden. Parents will continue to cheer his conservative Victorian attitude about abstinence and wanting to wait to have sexual relations until after marriage.

Lautner has the magnetism and charisma that should carry him far in Hollywood. He makes a game attempt to sway both Bella and the audience’s allegiance away from Edward. The best and hottest kissing scene is between Lautner and Stewart.

Stewart shows a steely determination to lose her virginity, take risks and become a vampire. She appears very comfortable snuggling passionately with Pattinson, which should fuel more rumors about their real-life pairing.

The standout acting laurels go to Burke and Anna Kendrick playing class valedictorian Jessica Stanley, whose graduation speech emphasizes making mistakes in life and taking time to smell the roses before rushing into hard choices with irreversible consequences.

The filmmakers indulge the fans with lots of group poses. The movies main weaknesses are the much too obvious red contact lenses, cheesy wigs, poor contrast in skin tones between the vampires and the humans, rushed execution of the action sequences and the drab-looking costumes.

Teenage girls and their mothers will be in seventh heaven swooning over the two male leads and imagining themselves as the desired object of affection.

The advance screening audience seemed to leave the theater in a state of awe.

Repeat viewing seems a sure thing since there is a long wait until the release of “Breaking Dawn - Part I” on Nov. 18, 2011.

•• Hollywood Chicago, Brian Tallerico: Rating 3/5
CHICAGO – Easily the best entry in the franchise, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” finally allows those of us unfamiliar with the books by Stephenie Meyer to understand why the saga of the vampire, the wolf, and the sullen girl in the middle has become an international phenomenon. With actual performances from Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart instead of mere teen melodrama and tight, blockbuster pacing by director David Slade, “Eclipse” stands ashen head and furry shoulders above “Twilight” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Don’t get me wrong. “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is too flawed to completely convert those of you turned off by the rising fame of Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, and Kristen Stewart and there’s nothing I can say to the people who own anything that says “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” that would convince them that these movies still aren’t as good as they should be. However, for the former, it should make the news that “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” has been split into two feature films easier to swallow and I think the latter know that the “Twilight” movies aren’t quite perfect but love them despite their flaws.

With no recap for ticket buyers who might stumble into the franchise in the third film, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” dives right into its melodramatic tale with Bella Swan (Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Pattinson) discussing their future in a sun-drenched field. She’s still trying to convince her bloodsucking boy toy to turn her into a vampire, which he refuses to do until they get married. Not only is Edward withholding his fangs but we learn that Bella is still a virgin because her pale beau wants to wait on that aspect of their relationship as well. In Meyer’s conservative world, a little heavy petting is equal to being turned into the undead.

On the other side of the most supernatural town in the Pacific Northwest, Jacob (Lautner) is brooding over his lost love and refusing to return her phone calls and requests to still be friends. Bella’s dad (Billy Burke) pressures her into spending some more time with the seemingly better-for-her Jacob and it’s revealed that Jacob not only still loves her but is convinced that she will one day realize her love for him as well.

Into this Shakespearian love triangle drops a new figure — a mysterious redhead named Victoria (an effective Bryce Dallas Howard) who has a score to settle with the fashionable Cullen clan. She’s behind a series of killings in Seattle led by her sire Riley (Xavier Samuel). He has helped create an army of deadly newborns and it soon becomes clear that their target is Bella. The vampires and the werewolves must band together in order to protect the girl and stop the bloodshed. Despite their hatred for each other, Edward and Jacob must work side-by-side to save Bella’s life. Why she’s worth saving is never really clarified.

The flaws of “Eclipse” are not too dissimilar from those of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” There’s still an overdose of self-seriousness to Melissa Rosenberg’s overheated dialogue that sounds not unlike a thirteen-year-old girl’s diary but Slade and his team have wisely tightened the pace and removed a good amount of the emotional brooding. Significantly less bloated, “Eclipse” moves at a much better pace than “New Moon” and most of the cast seems reinvigorated by actually having an urgency to their dramatic arcs.

Most notably, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart actually have believable chemistry (perhaps their real-life romance had finally started to influence their on-screen one by the time this film shot) and Robert deftly handles his character’s complex fear of losing Bella. Edward is in a situation where he’s not quite sure what he even wants in that “winning” could mean turning his love into a creature like him. He could lose her to an enemy, to Jacob, or she’ll end up one of the undead. The supporting cast — most notably Howard, Samuel, Burke, and Dakota Fanning — are still better but Pattinson and Stewart finally sell the emotional core of the “Twilight” saga in a way that the first two films did not.

Sorry “Team Jacob,” but Taylor Lautner gets no such praise. He’s still unconvincing, letting his abs do most of the acting for him. His biggest problem is that he never looks like he’s actually in the moment. Great actors look like they’re actually listening to their co-star instead of merely waiting for their cue. Lautner always looks like he’s waiting to be cued.

Despite a few notable flaws, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is without question the best of the series to date; a film that has actual atmosphere and pace instead of just romantic teen obsession. David Slade realized the importance of rising dramatic urgency and has crafted an action film that works on its own terms while also deeply satisfying fans of the franchise. After a summer filled with shockingly disappointing films masquerading as crowd-pleasing blockbusters, it’s shocking to see a sequel that’s this close to being exactly what fans want it to be.

•• Creative Loafing, Matt Brunson: Rating 2,5/5
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse isn't the best of three, but neither is it the worst. Instead, this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster book falls somewhere in the middle, between the nicely captured teen angst of 2008's Twilight and the ill-fated emotional oasis of 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Obviously, we're not talking about quality to match the Toy Story trilogy, but neither are we plumbing the Police Academy or Friday the 13th depths.

Detractors would disagree, but that's because most come from that fanboy camp that cannot abide the thought of movies centered around women and their lives (see also: Sex and the City). The Twilight series (on screen anyway; I haven't read the novels) is often only so much melodramatic glop, but at its best, it also taps into that essence which informs youthful, blinding love, when amorous emotions are so scalding hot that the only choices that make sense to a young girl are either to be consumed with desire or perish outright (usually symbolically, as in "If he doesn't ask me to the prom, I'll just die!"). The canniness of the Twilight franchise is that it uses its protagonist, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), to literalize these desires. Having spent the first movie falling in love with sparkly emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the second picture brooding over his departure, Bella is now fully at the point where she feels that spending her life by his side as one of the undead beats anything that the human world has to offer.

Others aren't so sure. Chief among these is Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the Native American hunk who's able to change into a werewolf at will. Deeply fond of Bella, he's determined to win her from Edward, largely by offering himself as a warm-blooded alternative to the pasty, ice-cold bloodsucker (their face-off leads to the movie's funniest line, Jacob's verbal smackdown of Edward while they're sharing a tent with Bella late in the movie). Yet even Edward and his fellow vampires aren't so eager for Bella to give up her life to join their ranks: In one of the film's best scenes, Rosalie (Nikki Reed) relates to Bella the sad tale of how she became a vampire, without any say in the matter. (Another fine scene finds Jasper, played by Jackson Rathbone, sharing his back story, making me wish we could have spent more screen time on all the vampire characters' origins.)

As Bella struggles with her choices — vampire or human? Edward or Jacob? Coke or Pepsi? — other developments pose immediate threats to the Forks, Wash., community. The vampire and werewolf communities continue to snarl at each other's collective throats. A series of slayings is taking place in nearby Seattle. The vampiric Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) still seeks revenge. And the vampire overlords, the Volturi, have been snooping around for reasons unknown.

Returning screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and new series director David Slade (Hard Candy) try to wrestle all this material into a coherent shape, with middling results. The inconsistent tone results in an opening act that's lethargic; thankfully, the picture eventually hits its strides. There are a number of ingredients likely to earn titters, from some overripe lines to several of the characterizations; for my money, nothing's more risible than the Volturi, who are supposed to be intimidating monster masters but, as led by little Dakota Fanning, come across as models for a new Goth fashion line.

Yet for all the film's flaws, there's much that it gets right. The visual effects are better than in previous installments, and this allows the battle between "good" vampires, "bad" vampires, and werewolves to deliver the climactic goods when they count. (And thank God some studio idiot didn't suggest converting this to 3-D, as every other movie seems to be presented these days.) Stewart again makes Bella a watchable heroine, and while Pattinson and Lautner may not reveal themselves as the most accomplished actors around, they're nevertheless desirable for these roles, especially in the scenes in which Pattinson's ethereal angst bounces off Lautner's robust earthiness.

•• Hollywood & Fine: I went to see “Twilight 3” – excuse me, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” – the other night and, not having seen (or read) the first two installments of Stephanie Meyer’s rather popular series, I asked the teen-age girl next to me whether I might have trouble understanding “Eclipse.”

“Oh no, not at all,” she said.

And, in a way, she was right. The dynamics were immediately obvious, in terms of the relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her two antagonistic suitors, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Icy, formal boyfriend versus hot-blooded passionate one. Stand-offish versus needy. Vampire versus werewolf. What’s a girl to do?

But a lot of the politics of the vampire world – and the vampire-vs.-werewolf world – kind of got past me. So I went back and indulged myself in a double feature of the first two “Twilight” movies.

Which answered the question of why the red-haired vampire (who, when she slowed down long enough to get a look at her, turned out to be Bryce Dallas Howard, though she wasn’t in the first two films) was trying to kill Bella – and creating an army of newly minted vampires to help her. The newborns, as they are called, have a frenzy for killing that takes a while to control. So they’re stronger and more unpredictable than the troupe of vampires guarding Bella’s life in the town with the unlikely name of Forks.

If you drop the whole supernatural thing for a moment, however, “Eclipse” is just another teen-age soap opera about the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Everything else – even the attack of the army of newborn vampires – is just so much filigree on the story of a girl, her boyfriend and the guy who can’t take no for an answer.

There’s been much made about how little sex there is in the “Twilight” series; every kiss is an event, but only an isolated one, rather than the first in an unstoppable sequence of steps that winds up with clothes flying. Bella’s urge to become a vampire and be Edward’s mate forever – like, really, forever – is the rather heavy-handed metaphor for virginity.

Plotwise, the whole movie comes down to this: Bella has convinced Edward to turn her into a vampire himself. His one condition: that she marry him as a human first. On such minor disputes can a soap opera exist for a year or longer. It’s certainly more than enough to drive an entire movie.

Oh, there’s that other thing: the red-haired Victoria and her army of vampires: “Something terrible is coming,” someone says in a moment of premonition, though it’s not really all that terrible – or that hard to predict. Which leads to a whole vampire-werewolf alliance to learn to fight the bad vampires.

But really, “Eclipse” is about the Edward-Jacob push-pull, mostly because Jacob hates losing to Edward – and correctly observes that if Bella dies and becomes a vampire, it seriously diminishes Jake’s chances of grabbing her on the rebound. Mustering his arguments to persuade Bella to shift her romantic focus from Edward to himself, Jake says dismissively, “He’s not even human.” Dude, if that’s the best you’ve got, you’re in big trouble.

There’s a certain amount of humor in “Eclipse,” such as Edward’s line about Jacob, “Does he ever wear a shirt?” because Lautner flashes his eight-pack whenever possible. Apparently no one in this neck of the woods finds it odd that, though it’s late-winter Oregon, there are groups of young men who resemble each other physically, who dress like bare-chested surfers and sport the exact same ornate tattoo on their right shoulders.

Pattinson has expanded upon his James Dean impression for this third film, but not much. Lautner still has the swagger and subtlety of an overconfident frat kid. Stewart shows a stronger range of both emotion and wit in “Eclipse,” though I can’t imagine that she’s not eager to have this character behind her. Stewart makes Bella feel real, both in her bravado and her boldly open throttle on her own emotions. Even when the material isn’t subtle, Stewart is.

Critics have generally dismissed the “Twilight” movies, though I’ll admit that “Eclipse” is a stronger, more focused film than the first two. Put it this way: If there’s a teen-age girl in your life – or in you – she will get just what she needs from this movie.

•• Cinesnark: Which isn’t to say it was completely great, either. Like pretty much everything this summer, it falls somewhere between trash and treasure. Yet another merely mediocre movie. I’ll admit to being disappointed. I had Hopes for Eclipse. Hiring David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) to direct the third installment of the ubiquitous Twilight Saga struck me as a good decision. A promising one even, given Slade’s indie-horror roots meant he could probably get the most bang from Summit Entertainment’s notoriously cheap bucks. So I thought, If anyone can turn this franchise around, it’s gotta be David Slade. By all reports, Slade did, in fact, deliver a wildly different Twilight movie earlier this year. So different, in fact, that Summit and Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer, or She of Zero Taste, loathed it and demanded Slade re-cut, reshoot, and re-edit his film. Slade’s frequent collaborator and editor Art Jones was sacked and replaced with Twilight editor Nancy Richardson. Then came the reshoots-but-maybe-just-pickups-no-it-was-totally-reshoots just six weeks before theatrical release. That is never a good sign and had my Spidey senses tingling the same way Jonah Hex’s lack of a trailer signaled looming disaster. Except things went much better for Eclipse, because despite the post-production drama, the movie wasn’t a total loss.

Problem One:

I have three problems with the Twilight Saga. The first is all source material issues which Drew McWeeny from Hitfix expressed so eloquently in his review. I agree with everything he says, and will add that the sex/marriage bartering makes me deeply uneasy and emphasizes marrying for all the wrong reasons. But, for the sake of not having a 5,000+ word review, let’s just skip over my source-material issues with a blanket: I do not like or respect Twilight as works of literature. In fact, writing “Twilight” and “works of literature” in the same sentence just killed a part of my soul. Moving on.

Problem Two:

Eclipse is an adaptation which brings already-developed fans to the movie theater. Therefore, it has a certain responsibility to these fans to be faithful to the source material (see also: problem one). On this Eclipse actually rates pretty high. The Twihards in the theater with me last night loved it. They did giggle at a couple places that weren’t meant to be funny, but at this point, it isn’t a Twilight movie if there isn’t some frontrum-inspired laughter. However, Eclipse is just as inaccessible to outsiders as ever. None of the Twilight movies have ever invited in a new audience. You HAVE to read the books for these movies to make sense, and in a huge strike against Eclipse, you have to read that money-grab of a novella by She of Zero Taste, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner in order to grasp the subtext during the confrontation between the Cullens and the Volturi at the end. And no, I will not explain who all these people are because you either know already, in which case it’s redundant, or you don’t care and have somehow successfully avoided Twilight for two years. For the record, I didn’t read Bree Tanner but I did bully a Twihard into telling me about it. I’m glad I did, otherwise all the tension at the end would have flown straight over my head. And don’t counter with the Harry Potter movies. They are very open to audiences who have not read the books. I know a lot of people who have not and will never read Harry Potter yet they enjoy the movies immensely. Perhaps they aren’t as intimately familiar with the HP universe as I am, but they can follow the movies and invest in the characters without having to read the books. A good movie adaptation should be able to stand on its own from the source material, and Eclipse, like the two previous Twilight movies, is irretrievably tied to its source.

Problem Three:

This lies in the movie itself. Eclipse is definitely the best of the Twilight Saga movies thus far, but that’s like saying, “Well first I stepped in dogshit, then I scraped the shit off, now my shoe just smells like shit.” It’s is the slickest of the movies, and Slade’s hand-held camera work didn’t bother me like it bothered some critics. It fits the overall lo-fi style of the franchise and injects some grit into a pretty limp premise. At this point it’s a waste of time to bemoan the busted wigs, pancake-y makeup, cheap SFX (those wolves still look terrible when in motion) and cheesetastic dialogue. These things are the trademarks of the Twilight Saga as a film franchise. Accept it and move on. What bugged me about Eclipse was that there were three movies happening and the least interesting one insisted on being front and center.

The first, and centralized, movie was the story of erstwhile human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her two suitors, sparkling vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Bella professes to be so devoutly in love with Edward that she will sacrifice her humanity to be with him forever, yet somehow Jacob still tempts her (how do all men everywhere not hate Bella as the worst girlfriend ever?). Edward loves Bella so much he can never be parted from her again, except he doesn’t want to turn her into a vampire, which means one day she will die and they will be parted forever (100+ years as a bachelor has given Edward commitment issues). And Jacob loves Bella and wants her to choose him, even though his own werewolf nature may one day override his will and force him to love someone else (Jacob is a very selfish kid). This sub-movie is titled, Vampire Diaries of a Gossip Girl. It’s all very teeny and overwrought and ridiculous.

The second movie is the more engaging tale of Bella Swan, a young woman so sure of her love for a vampire that she is willing to sacrifice everything to be with him and must come to terms with leaving forever the parents she loves and giving up the ability to have a family (except not really but that’s a whole other problem for a future date). This sub-movie involves truly touching moments between Bella and her gruff dad Charlie (Billy Burke, My Boys), and her flighty mother Renee (Sarah Clarke, 24). In this movie Edward cruelly tells Bella, “After a few decades, everyone you know is dead,” as she frets about how to explain her disappearance to her dad. I would have liked more from this movie. More of Bella’s conflict, more of Edward not being perfect, and more scenes with Charlie, as Stewart and Burke remain the bright spots of the franchise.

Hands down the most interesting movie-within-a-movie was Riley’s Rampaging Army, which tells the story of an army of vampire newborns who may or may not be acting under someone else’s influence, hunting down the Cullens. This forces the Cullens to forge an uneasy truce with their enemies the werewolves and learn to fight together to defend their mutual home of Forks. This is the movie which incorporates the most interesting Cullen, ex-Confederate Jasper (Jackson Rathbone, also of The Last Airbender), and his back story as the master and destroyer of legions of newborn vampires back in his wild human-blood-drinking days. The mental matchup of Riley vs. Jasper is never explored in depth, even though the movie makes a cheap and easy stab at correlating the two in an annoying dream sequence. And the tensions between the wolves and Cullens are exploited for one scene and then promptly dropped. This storyline also has the newborn vampire leader of even newier vampires Riley, played by Australian actor Xavier Samuel. He stole the whole movie, no contest. Yes he’s cute, but more importantly he can act. When Riley snaps at a newborn, “Try not to die,” you feel all his impatience and frustration at babysitting when he’s struggling with his own rampant impulse to kill. I wanted more Riley. Every time he came on screen, there was an extra fizz that for a moment elevated Eclipse toward being a genuinely good movie. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of Riley’s Rampaging Army and Eclipse never quite achieves the goal of actual quality.

As for the rest of it:

Stewart, Burke, Samuel, and recent Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) all lend their usual grace and ability to the movie. Pattinson delivers his best performance to date, eliciting genuine laughs more than once (should he do a comedy?), and looking less constipated than ever before. Lautner, however, can’t act at all. Rathbone and Samuel did what they could with their reduced parts (they were all over the original cut), but Bryce Dallas Howard offered little as villainess vampire Victoria. She simply wasn’t in the movie enough to add much to it. Ditto for Dakota Fanning and her Volturi minions. I realize it’s part of the source material, but probably better for Eclipse the movie if the Volturi hadn’t been in it at all and we got more Riley/Victoria plotting instead (see also: problem one). The score from Howard Shore (Oscar winning composer of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) was so terrible I wanted to scratch my eyes out every time it started up. Whenever I did start to really enjoy Eclipse, the score killed it stone dead. If there were lyrics to Shore’s score they would say, “I did this for the money.”

Still, for all the bad, Eclipse isn’t terrible. The Twilight Saga continues to improve with each installment. With the final chapter, Breaking Dawn, heading into production later this year under the auspices of Academy Award winner Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters), it will only get better. No, these movies will never be for a non-Twihard audience. No, they will never win Oscars. But the fans are happy with them, and Eclipse is the most enjoyable franchise entry yet.

•• Miami.com, Rene Rodriguez: Rating 2,5/4
Eclipse, the third of five movies that will eventually comprise The Twilight Saga, conclusively proves the series will never be more than its marketable hook: a love story geared for young adolescent girls populated by innocuous, wimpy monsters.

For all the potential inherent in Stephenie Meyer's premise - and there is, or was, tremendous potential in the story of the teenaged Bella (Kristen Stewart), in love with the vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) - Eclipse, like its two predecessors, is ham-fisted and obvious, a mass-market entertainment with a frustrating lack of imagination, anemic plotting (how were those novels so fat?) and no aspirations toward anything greater than box office ka-ching.

That, Twilight has already attained, formidably, and will repeat with this new chapter, in which Bella's love for her fanged boyfriend is clouded by the persistent wooings of the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who won't take no for an answer. Their love triangle forms the center of the movie; surrounding it is some business about a brewing war between vampires and werewolves that results in the most anti-climactic battle between monsters ever captured on film.

Director David Slade proved he can sling the gory frights with 30 Days of Night, but he's constricted by that pesky PG-13 rating, which must be rigorously observed so as to not scare off the demographic being courted. Eclipse is a tad darker than the previous pictures - the occasional arm is ripped off, and so are heads - but there were moments in Toy Story 3 that were scarier than anything here. As far as its horror elements go, The Twilight Saga continues to be curiously bloodless, literally and figuratively.

What the new movie does do well is bring the heat back into the touching relationship between Bella and Edward, which had grown dangerously cold and silly in New Moon. The acting in Eclipse is noticeably improved from the last movie. The clock may be ticking on Lautner's 15 minutes, and he continues to have trouble keeping his shirt on, but the actor no longer seems to be reading off cue cards as the heartbroken Jacob. We learn a bit more history about Edward's makeshift vampire family, performed by an ensemble of actors that continues to develop a growing, enjoyable rapport: They're great fun to watch play off each other.

But the heart of The Twilight Saga rests, of course, between Stewart and Pattinson, and the actors regain the emotionally touching vibe they shared in the first movie. Bella has agreed to marry Edward on the condition that he turn her into a vampire, something he's mulling over. In the film's best scene, she pushes him to have sex with her so she can feel what it's like while she's still human, and in the ensuing groping and confused hesitation, Eclipse successfully channels its monsters-and-teens scenario into a metaphor for the awkward, terrifying rites of adolescence on the cusp of adulthood.

Soon, though, it's back to computer-generated werewolves and Dakota Fanning with red contact lenses looking dour. But I'd be lying if I said Eclipse didn't leave me curious as to what happens next. For the legions who have read Meyer's novels, that's the equivalent of a home run.

•• San Jose Mercury News, Randy Myers: Until now, the phenomenally successful "Twilight" film franchise has failed to impress beyond its rabid fan base. The original "Twilight" and, to a lesser extent "New Moon," assumed the traits of a low-achieving C-student, the kid with untapped potential who spent more time preening and primping than building character.

In "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" the primping and the preening continues, but in this third movie based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling series, there's a sense of mature storytelling at work. Greater attention and care paid to developing tension, plot and secondary characters pays off, resulting in an entertaining and slick "Eclipse."

And whether you're a member of Team Edward (the pasty vampire played by strongly cheekboned Robert Pattinson), Team Jacob (the buff teen wolf played by iron-abbed Taylor Lautner) or Team Rewrite (the non-"Twilight" fans who remain baffled by all this "I loooovvvveee you, Bella" business), you'll like agree: this is the best film in the pack.

There are two reasons for this: Director David Slade ("Hard Candy" and "30 Days of Night") is in charge and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (TV's "Dexter") is finally getting a handle on Meyer's story.

Both give the material a darker, sharper tone, one with more bite and wit.

Of course for every winning snippet of dialogue like this — "I think you'll find the vampire divorce rate a little lower" — there's a cheesy, wince-inducing one such as this — "I'm going to fight for you, until your heart stops beating."

But hey, fellow critics, let's get off our high horse for a bit. After all, this is "Twilight" and it's the chaste, sensual love triangle that's packing 'em into the theaters.

"Eclipse's" meatier plot gives everyone, from cast to crew, a chance to shine or, in some cases, it reveals their weak points. That would be you Lautner: You really need to start flexing those acting muscles more.

The crux of the plot remains the same: Our indecisive, kind-of-annoying heroine Bella (a solid Kristen Stewart even if she's wearing a ridiculous wig at one point) remains torn between the affections of two overprotective suitors, the gentlemanly bloodsucker Edward and the beastly Jacob. Both boys have different ideas about dating: Edward wants to take it slow and easy, Jacob is more of the fast and furious sort.

Even though it's hard not to root more for Jacob (not just because his of his gym-bunny body but because he offers Bella a chance to be herself and remain human), we're supposed to side with Edward. Pattinson has a tough sell with Edward, but he's a decent enough actor to make us like him.

In "Eclipse," Bella dodges doubts and a vicious breed of vampires called Newborns that are forming an army in Seattle. Her nemesis from the previous two films, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), is pulling the strings to avenge the death of her lover at the hands of Edward.

Since everyone wants to protect Bella, an uneasy alliance forms between the feuding vampire family and wolf tribe. This allows Rosenberg to delve into the back stories of characters and Slade the chance to show some fast-paced historical flashbacks that give the film more oomph. There's even a scene that oddly but satisfyingly recalls a PG-13 version of "Kill Bill." Nice touch.

Equally fun is watching a seething Edward and a strutting Jacob bristle at each other, their mutual jealousy building into a crescendo during a scene in which the boys are forced to come to a preposterous compromise to save dear Bella.

Do we believe there's a contest here? Not really. But we don't care. "Eclipse" is a convincing piece of entertainment that demonstrates this franchise is starting to realize its full potential.

•• The Aisle Seat, Mike McGranaghan: Rating 2,5/4
Let's just cut to the chase: the Twilight saga isn't intended for me. I'm a grown man, obviously not in a position to relate to Stephenie Meyer's teen romance. For this reason, I've observed the film adaptations of her novels with a mixture of amusement and ambivalence. It would probably be more of the former and less of the latter if not for the constant proclamations by ardent fans that it's the Greatest Thing Ever. (Not to mention those super-creepy “Twi-Moms.”) So now we're up to the third film, Eclipse, which brings in Hard Candy director David Slade to take over the production. I love the fact that the man who made a film about a teen girl overtaking and torturing a sexual predator is now helming a Twilight flick. There's an idea I can get behind.

In this installment, the evil Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) has formed a vampire army to hunt and kill Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart). Bella's vamp boyfriend, Edward (Robert Pattinson), organizes an army of his own to fend Victoria off. He enlists his own family, of course, but also a local clan of werewolves. Doing this means that he has to temporarily join forces with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a rival suitor for Bella's affections.

We also get some back story on several of the characters, finding out how Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) became vampires. The werewolf clan's history is also explored in a little more detail.

I won't waste any more time describing plot, because if you've read the books, you already know what happens, and if you haven't, it's not likely that you really care all that much. The real question here is whether or not Eclipse is any good. To the legions of devoted fans, it hardly matters; they'll get exactly what they want from it. (Say what you will, the series knows its audience.) To outsiders, there's a certain perverse fascination I've noticed. People who wouldn't necessarily pay to see a Twilight picture are nevertheless curious what non Twi-hards think.

I'll start by saying a few good things. The acting has improved considerably. Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner evolve their characters nicely and are visibly more comfortable in their roles. Robert Pattinson and Jackson Rathbone tie for Most Improved Performers. Neither will give Robert DeNiro a run for his money in the acting department, but they don't seem as awkward on screen as they did in the first two installments. I also like the scenes that provide background on the characters; finally, some things in this tale are starting to make sense. And, as always, the alt-rock soundtrack is first rate.

I must also give credit to David Slade for bringing a bit of edge to the picture. He establishes a strong visual style (something that was sorely missing from New Moon), coupled with a solid pace. Best of all, he handles the action scenes with skill. In the last half hour, there is a war between Victoria's army and the Cullen/werewolf army that has great special effects and terrific fighting. For a little while, I got really absorbed in what was going on, because the saga suddenly came to life. Slade was a good choice of director; he brings tension to the more action-oriented parts of the tale.

Having said all these nice things, I must be honest and report that Eclipse is still too mopey and self-serious for my taste. The Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle has never felt authentic. That problem is compounded here by the plot's insistence on keeping it going, even when it feels forced. There are many scenes in which a shirtless Jacob shows up and is required to cuddle with Bella, “for her protection.” Each time, she lovingly strokes his chest. It becomes comical after a while. Yes, the screenplay tries to be self-referential - “Doesn't he have a shirt?” Edward asks at one point – but there's still no denying that the triangle doesn't seem natural. We all know that Bella really loves Edward, so the scenes that try to force her into Jacob's arms come across as manipulative.

While there's less of Bella's infernal swooning this time around, enough of it remains to wear down the non-fanatics. This romantic triangle is so artificially intense that it kept me emotionally at a distance. I know that Stephenie Meyer was trying to sell teen girls a story of Eternal Love and Deep Passion, but we're dealing with a heroine who's in love with both a werewolf and a vampire. Couldn't all of the characters lighten up just a little? Must every small detail seem like life or death to them?

I enjoyed Eclipse about as much as someone outside the target audience can, but that still isn't enough to merit an outright recommendation. It's certainly the best of the three movies so far. It's also made for a very specific audience, which I do not fit into. This is the third installment, and if I'm not buying the romance at the center of the saga by this point, I probably never will.

•• The Guardian, Andrew Pulver: Rating 3/5
The Twilight films may be as ruthlessly exploitative a franchise as Harry Potter; they may be devoted to a creepy ideological agenda to promote pre-marital chastity; and they may be simply retreading much of the high-school vampire shtick that made Buffy a TV hit more than a decade ago. But in a universe where almost all CGI-laden, blood-spilling tentpole movies are aimed at ensnaring the teenage male, there's something to be said for a series of films aimed squarely – and successfully – at teenage girls.

While the Potter films are the cinematic equivalent of a cold shower, damping down the urges of its adolescent acolytes, the Twilight films, on the other hand, know all the about the vampire-movie obsession for blood, sex, addiction and death, even if it dilutes it for its own ends. At the point Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) presents Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) with the traditional bauble as he proposes marriage, he could almost be a Jonas brother suggesting she join his Silver Ring Thing; significantly, this comes moments after he's knocked back her invitation to go all the way, claiming it's "too dangerous".

This convoluted preparation for carnal union is arguably the high point of this third Twilight movie, which premiered in London last night: it's triggered by the rampaging hormones of a cross-species love triangle, in which human Bella is fought over by vampireEdward and werewolf Jake Black (Taylor Lautner). These two deadly enemies are, however, forced to join together to battle yet another lethal foe – an army of 'newborn' vampires, created and harnessed by maverick vamp Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) to kill off Bella in a convoluted revenge plot against Edward. (Confused? One thing about the modern vampire film is that however elaborate the mythology it invents, no one involved in the story has any trouble understanding or believing it. So neither should you.)

It is the clear-eyed seriousness of its principal actors that gives Twilight its strength: they communicate the urgency and pain of the raw teen emotions unlocked by these supernatural shenanigans. This third instalment, with a new director in the chair, appears to avoided the impulse to do too much explaining and exposition, and has decided to simply focus on the yearning. This, surely, is what its principal audience comes for: a chance to wallow in the midst of a choice selection of sensitive hunks and sassy gal-pals, all emoting like mad, and each with a nicely melodramatic backstory. And just when it looks like things are getting a tad overwrought, some actual laughs are to be had: Edward and Jacob get catty in their squabble over the girl they both love.

It has been pointed out in the past that, without all the vampire superstructure, Twilight would be just a thin-blooded teen romance about kids too scared to do anything really dangerous. But that would be to detract from the operatic, high-voltage kick that its occult stuff supplies. It's not often you find yourself commending a contemporary teen-oriented franchise for sticking to the old values of character and narrative, but Eclipse, in its sulky, lip-biting way, manages it.

•• View London, Matthew Turner: Rating 3/5
Watchable third instalment of the Twilight series, with strong performances and a decent central fight scene but the pacing drags considerably and the character-heavy script sacrifices emotional depth by trying to cram too much in.

The Good - The acting has improved considerably since the first two films and there's genuine chemistry between all three leads, particularly during the scene where they all share a tent (sure to become a fan favourite). The special effects are much better this time around too and the climactic fight scene is both exciting and impressive.

In addition, Eclipse isn't afraid to poke fun at itself and there's a fair amount of self-referential humour in the film, something that was painfully absent from Twilight and New Moon.

The Bad - The biggest problem is that the script is cluttered with too many characters and ends up skimming over scenes that are meant to be important or powerfully emotional, such as the much-touted scene where Edward and Bella almost have sex or the fate of Bree Tanner. Similarly, the pacing drags considerably in the first half and there are a number of laughably silly scenes, such as the sequence where the Cullens train for the upcoming fight by, er, running at each other and growling.

Worth seeing? - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is never less than watchable, thanks to strong performances, likeable characters and the chemistry between the three leads, but it suffers from trying to cram too much in and lacks emotional depth as a result.

•• Empire, Will Lawrence: Rating 4/5
Trust David Slade to bring the house down. The Hard Candy helmer has experience of blood-guzzlers, and while Stephenie Meyer’s teen-titillating romance doesn’t permit the storm of gruesomeness that rained down on 30 Days Of Night, he’s cast darkling clouds over Twilight’s once sunny horizon. There are still pretty faces, and more bare-chested bravado than a Tarzan casting session, but he’s boosted Meyer’s saccharine infusion with a dose of bitterness and, crucially, humour, irony and a sense of foreboding.

The third instalment, Eclipse is the most action-packed yet, with Victoria returning to exact revenge on Edward (Robert Pattinson) by sinking her teeth into his fragile paramour, Bella (Kristen Stewart). She engineers an army of ‘Newborns’, led by Riley (Xavier Samuel), to unleash fury in the Pacific Northwest, track Bella and destroy both mortal girl, and her immortal protectorate, the Cullens. Clairvoyant Cullen Alice (Ashley Greene) knows something is afoot but can’t identify the source: it is Victoria’s secret.

Indeed, secrets are bubbling to the surface in Eclipse. The Volturi are up to no good, and there’s dark revelation in two lively back stories (for Nikki Reed’s Rosalie and Jackson Rathbone’s Jasper). Elsewhere, Jacob confesses his passions for Bella (“Doesn’t he own a shirt?” asks Edward at one point) and steals a kiss, which earns him a punch in the mush, while Ed asks for Bella’s hand in marriage. Choices, both good and bad, inform the entire series, and Bella must now decide whether to admit she loves Jacob as well as Edward. Or should she give herself fully to Edward, whom she loves most? Also, she’s feeling frisky: should she finally get laid? It’s tough being a teen.

All three corners of the love triangle look sharper than before: the most accomplished actor, Stewart, still lip-biting, Lautner still pec-flexing, and Pattinson not fully shaking that fiery-eyed pout. But all have grown into their roles, cutting loose in a film that (thankfully) sidesteps the melodrama of its prequels. Edward and Jacob must pull together to protect Bella, and Slade jives with their wiseacre conversation: as Bella freezes in the snow, Jacob’s naked torso offers radiation, and the wry line that, after all, he is the “hotter” of the two.

The fan base will enjoy the maturation of characters and plot, while Slade brings great energy to the climactic battle between the Newborns and the Cullen-Wolf Pack alliance. Under his guidance, the series has evolved into something most unlikely: Twilight is in danger of becoming cool.

Verdict - By far the best Twilight film to date, Slade should satisfy the fan base while opening up the series to more sceptical viewers…

•• QNetwork, James Kendrick: Rating 3/4
Either I’m getting worn down or else the Twilight movies are getting better, as Eclipse, the third entry in the four-part series based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer, is easily the best so far, and not just in comparison to the previous entries. Perhaps it is because it was helmed by David Slade, a British music video director who made the unnerving thriller Hard Candy (2005) and the over-the-top vampire comic book adaptation 30 Days of Night (2007). As the third director to tackle the series so far (following Catherine Hardwicke and Chris Weitz), Slade has the benefit of working with established characters and a narrative momentum that has been building, but he also brings a smoother, more confident style and tone that balances the romance and the violence in a way that gives the film more weight. Rather than a sense of just going through the motions, Eclipse feels like it’s actually about something, and its moments of romantic tension and visceral danger carry a charge that is more than just the sum of its previous parts.

The story’s melodramatic threads pick up right where New Moon left off, with the vaguely alienated teenage Bella (Kristen Stewart) firmly (yet chastely) in the arms of her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) after having chosen him over Jacob (Taylor Lautner), her childhood friend who recently embraced his Native American tribe’s werewolf heritage. Things are hardly settled, though, and Eclipse effectively continues to build the heat of this swoony human-vampire-werewolf love triangle, with Jacob becoming more and more determined to win Bella away from Edward, who she wants so desperately that she can’t wait to be turned into a vampire after high school graduation (how’s that for marking a major life transition?).

The teen-pulp romantic travails are only one thread of the story, though, as a much darker development looms on the horizon in the form of a newly formed army of vampires being created in Seattle by Riley (Xavier Samuel), a recently turned vampire under the sway of the fiery-headed Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose lover was killed by Edward in the first movie and has been nursing bitter dreams of revenge ever since. Bella is the ultimate target because Victoria wants Edward to feel her pain, and to protect her the Cullen clan must form a tentative alliance with the tribe of werewolves, who are their sworn enemies. Slade’s work in the much darker and gorier 30 Days of Night shows in his depiction of the growing vampire army, which is desperate and violent and frenzied and therefore truly dangerous. If there is one thing that has hampered the Twilight movies up until this point, it has been the lack of real menace; for all the talk of blood sucking and shape shifting, they have been relatively restrained, and Slade and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (who also shot New Moon) bring a much darker edge to this chapter, and it’s all the better for it. The climactic battle that pits the Cullen clan and the werewolves against the new vampire army is as intense and viciously enthralling as just about anything that’s been on screen this summer.

The performances continue to improve, as well. Kristen Stewart has grown into Bella as Bella has grown up and matured, and she has dropped all of the irritating tics that made her character seem such a powerless pawn; she’s still pretty much at everyone’s mercy, but in Eclipse she is allowed to make some fateful emotional decisions that better define her as a person. Pattinson and Lautner are still stuck playing various tones of steamy brooding for the most part, although they both benefit from a crucial scene that takes place in a tent in which their characters are allowed to let down their guards (if only momentarily) and see that they share more in common than mutual animosity. And, because the characters are growing and developing, there is a little more room for comedy, particularly between Bella and her always well-meaning, but completely clueless police chief dad (Billy Burke), who has no idea what his daughter is involved in (he doesn’t like her boyfriend, but for all the wrong reasons). Eclipse probably won’t win over any new fans to the series (if you’re not into it by now, you’re probably avoiding the film on purpose), but it still represents a significant improvement over the previous entries and, one can only hope, sets the stage for an even better conclusion.

•• Illinois Times, Chuck Koplinski: Let’s be honest – all this vampire and werewolf nonsense in the Twilight films is silly. What drives this series is the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. In Eclipse, this relationship takes center stage, providing the series with its best moments yet. However, the film is a long haul hobbled by pregnant pauses, melodramatic moments and a plot that moves at the speed of an ice floe.

As the film opens, clairvoyant vampire Alice (Ashley Greene) is in a tizzy. She senses a breed of fierce newborn vampires are being made by Riley (Xavier Samuel), a new bloodsucker who’s forming an army for Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard). She’s out for revenge as Edward (Robert Pattinson) killed her mate. Her plan is to do away with Bella (Kristen Stewart) who’s in the midst of an emotional quandary – does she devote herself to Edward or give herself to the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner)?

Fans of the novel will be pleased with this adaptation as it is the most action-packed entry in the series and Lautner appears regularly, sans shirt. The film is at its best when it focuses on the plot’s emotional concerns. Effective period flashbacks show us why the vampires and werewolves are at each other’s throats and we discover how Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) entered the realm of the undead. These sequences are engaging and generate sympathy for the characters that’s been missing.

Meanwhile, macho confrontations and pointed conversations between the three principles give them a depth that’s been missing. Stewart does a fine job with Bella’s anguish while Lautner is solid channeling Jacob’s anger and frustration. But Pattinson finally gets the chance to shine, particularly when he expresses his true feelings for Bella to Jacob while they’re trapped in a tent. Some real heart and humanity shows through here. Too bad the rest of the film is cold and lifeless.

•• The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt: It took three films, but "The Twilight Saga" finally nails just the right tone in "Eclipse," a film that neatly balances the teenage operatic passions from Stephenie Meyer's novels with the movies' supernatural trappings.

Where the first film leaned heavily on camp and the second faltered through caution and slickness, "Eclipse" moves confidently into the heart of the matter -- a love triangle that causes a young woman to realize choices lead to consequences that cannot be reversed.

With the momentum of a movie series that sees installments arriving like clockwork every year, "Eclipse" looks primed to be the most successful film yet in Summit Entertainment's franchise. The action is pretty much relegated to the climax, but it's nifty enough that young men may get into the series too even if "Eclipse" isn't their first choice on a Friday night.

The film starts a little slowly with its classic reintroduction of its main characters, heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), more determined than ever to go vampire for her undead boyfriend; the gloomy dreamboat Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), an ancient being who still hasn't graduated high school; and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a perennially bare-chested Native American who shape-shifts into a wolf at a moment's notice.

Even here the film doesn't mind kidding itself. Edward takes one look at Jacob and complains to Bella, "Doesn't he own a shirt?" The script by Melissa Rosenberg offers a few more opportunities like this that wink at its own silliness.

Things pick up rapidly once intros are done, with the ramifications of the girl/vampire/werewolf triangle becoming increasingly intense for all parties while an outside threat looms over them all.

A crime wave has hit Seattle, a few leagues from the bucolic Washington town that shelters so many supernatural creatures apparently without any townspeople catching on. A series of vicious killings and disappearances tip off the Cullen clan that a vampire is creating an army of newborns -- newly turned vampires whose ravenous thirst makes them stronger and more deadly than "old" vampires.

This army recruiter is red-headed Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, the epitome of sensual, feline cunning), who, in seeking revenge against the Cullens and Edward in particular, means to destroy Bella. Which causes Edward and Jacob to contemplate the unthinkable, a temporary alliance to protect the girl they both love.

It's like the uneasy partnership between lawman Wyatt Earp and outlaw Doc Holliday against the Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral in "My Darling Clementine." Well, why not a Western? "The Twilight Saga" already mixes together high school melodrama, outsider fiction and teen romance into a mishmash of sci-fi and horror genres.

Since Rosenberg's writing has never been the problem in the series, much of the credit for the success of "Eclipse" probably belongs to the series' third director, David Slade ("Hard Candy," "30 Days of Night"). He quickly establishes a rapid yet unhurried pace, a willingness to let tongue perch in cheek and an unapologetic indulgence in this basic fantasy of every teenage girl -- that two high school hunks are in love with her and willing to die for her, except, of course, that one is already undead.

The three leads shine under his direction. Stewart anchors everything with a finely tuned if not slightly underplayed performance that catches her character in moments of doubt about the course and the man she has chosen. Pattinson makes you forget the white makeup and weird eye contact lenses to concentrate on a person torn over his love for a woman and the sacrifice he knows she will have to make to stay with him.

But it's Lautner who nearly steals the movie with his ripped muscle and steely acting. He definitely has the "it" factor Hollywood always looks for.

The high school scenes and those between Bella and her police chief dad (Billy Burke) are quick and light and doubly effective for not dawdling. The series' more peripheral characters are coming into better focus as well. The film delivers backstories for both Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) of the Cullen family as well as the origins of Jacob's family, the wolf pack, without any of these flashbacks seeming like intrusions.

Speaking of the wolf pack, the CG wolves, huge creatures whose ferocity fails to mask their tenderness, are very cool, and the fight at the climax among wolves, vampires and one poor human is no letdown. It delivers the goods without overstaying its welcome, which is more than can be said about most CG movie fights.

Production values are aces with DP Javier Aguirresarobe and production designer Paul Denham Austerberry very much taking advantage of the dark, woodsy and utterly beguiling beauty of British Columbia.

•• ReelFilm, David Nusair: Rating 3,5/4
The Twilight saga continues in an installment that follows Kristen Stewart's Bella as she's forced to finally choose between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), with her efforts complicated by the creeping realization that Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) is assembling an army of newborn vampires to avenge the death of her mate. There's little doubt that Eclipse effectively builds on the irresistibly cinematic atmosphere established by its immediate predecessor, 2009's New Moon, as filmmaker David Slade does a nice job of balancing the elements that have come to define this series - including larger-than-life action sequences and the romantic entanglements of the three protagonists. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Eclipse generally seems content to appeal solely to fans, as casual viewers (and detractors) are sure to find themselves growing more and more frustrated with the film's unabashedly loose structure (ie New Moon's comparatively plot-heavy sensibilities are noticeably absent here). Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's character-based modus operandi is heightened by a welcome emphasis on backstory, with the ongoing exploits of the central trio augmented by flashbacks detailing the tragic pasts of such periphery figures as Jackson Rathbone's Jasper and Nikki Reed's Rosalie. It's fascinating stuff that goes a long way towards infusing the proceedings with an unexpectedly epic feel, while the over-the-top battle between vampires and werewolves that closes the film cements Eclipse's place as one of the most satisfying big-budget extravaganzas to come around in quite some time. It's worth noting, though, that the movie is generally at its best in its quieter moments, as Slade comes impressively close to capturing the intensity of Stephenie Meyers' depiction of Bella and Edward's love for one another (which, not surprisingly, ensures that a pivotal marriage-proposal sequence stands as the film's emotional highlight). There is, as a result, no denying that Eclipse and its two predecessors stand as ideal examples of how to adapt a beloved property for the big screen, and one can only hope that the trend will continue with the series' upcoming two-part finale.

•• Beliefnet, Nell Minow: Rating B
Things — and people — heat up in this third chapter in the “Twilight” saga. Bella (Kristen Stewart) begins by quoting Robert Frost’s famous poem about whether the world will end in fire or ice. That will be more than a metaphor as she must decide between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), both more than human, and both utterly devoted to her. Both, too, have sworn to keep her safe, and at times during this chapter that forces them into a grudging and very uneasy alliance.

Bella met Edward, a vampire, and they realized they loved each other in “Twilight.” And then in “New Moon” being separated and almost losing each other showed them that they could not be apart. But it also gave Bella a chance to grow close to Jacob, a shape-shifter who is part of a wolf pack. In this chapter, Bella and Edward are back together and she wants to become a vampire so they can stay together forever, even though it would mean giving up everyone else she has ever cared about. But Jacob insists that he loves her and is better for her. “You wouldn’t have to change for me,” he tells her.

And at graduation, Bella’s friend Jessica (“Up in the Air’s” Anna Kendrick) addresses the class, telling them that this is not the time to make irrevocable decisions.

Edward does not want her to change. He misses his human life and knows what it would mean to give it up. And his sister Rosalie tells Bella she feels the loss of her dream of living in a normal world. Bella worries that she might lose what it is that Edward loves about her if she becomes a vampire. But if she does not, she will lose him as she grows old while he stays forever young.

Edward and his family are benign vampires, living among humans and confining themselves to a sort of vampire vegetarianism, with animals as their only source of blood. But two groups of evil, destructive vampires are after them, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over from Rachelle Lefevre), bent on revenge because Edward killed her lover when he attacked Bella, and the Volturi, a ruling body that destroys any members of the vampire community they believe put them at risk of exposure.

Director David Slade ably takes over from Chris Weitz and Catherine Hardwicke, staying consistent with their vision but demonstrating his own take on the key elements of the story, adolescent longing and primal physical confrontations. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, continues her skillful adaptation of the books, respectful of the source material but translating it for cinematic story-telling. They maintain a connection that makes the the Northwest settings and the intensity of the fantasy battles feel like a physical manifestation of the between the teenage angst and desire.

Stewart and Pattinson still have the chemistry that launched dozens of magazine covers and Lautner really comes into his own in this chapter, showing more confidence and maturity as his character grows up. Like the book, this chapter has more action, more romance, and more drama, and sets us up very nicely for the grand finale.