Not unlike a TV sitcom, in which maintaining the status quo is job one, "The Twilight Saga" is a film series not big on plot momentum from one episode to the next. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" has almost the same plot as the previous installment, "New Moon."
As before, peeved redheaded vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over for Rachelle Lefevre) lurks out of sight, plotting the revenge murder of waifish human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). As before, Bella frets over this threat to her life, but frets far more about her love triangle with vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). And most egregiously, "Eclipse" sends audiences out with the same ending as the previous installment, having advanced Bella's marital plans not a whit.
Despite this fundamental puzzlement, "Eclipse" is the most bearable (by which I mean least boring) of the three "Twilight Saga" films based on the runaway-hit young-adult novels by Stephenie Meyer. I strongly suspect fans will go gaga for "Eclipse," which dutifully stokes the romantic embers between Bella and soul-mate Edward, escalates the confusion Bella feels regarding love-professing Jacob, and more than ever keeps Lautner in a state of undress (about 75 percent of his performance is shirtless).
Surely some unwilling males of the species will grudgingly accompany their dates to "Eclipse," and director David Slade ("Hard Candy") keeps them in mind with a pseudo-Narnian storyline of interspecies battle training in the woods. Anticipating an army of trouble-making vampires from Seattle, the Forks, Washington vamps and the native Quileute tribe of werewolves form an uneasy alliance to practice their butt-kicking -- make that jugular-biting. With more success than his forebears, Slade calibrates the balance of moony romance to CGI-enhanced action (with a dash of monster mythology).
"Decisions, decisions," sez dry-witted bloodsucker Jane (Dakota Fanning), one of the Volturi overlords who police vamp activity. The two words sum up the sole theme of "Eclipse," which matches "New Moon"'s "Romeo and Juliet" allusions with a film-opening reading of Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice."
The symbolism is bleedin' obvious to anyone paying attention: cold-as-ice Edward or fever-warm Jacob? The film doesn't much succeed in convincing us that there's any doubt in Bella's mind, but the scripting, acting and direction show enough micro-improvements to make the prolonged mooning and smoldering seem a bit more substantial and even, for a fleeting moment, fun (Jacob's not-quite double entendre to Edward, "Face it: I'm hotter than you").
The life choices of "Eclipse," aligned as they are with Bella's graduation anxieties, neatly reflect the angst of transitioning tweens and teens. Sure, most of them aren't considering becoming a vampire to spend an eternal married life with their (puppy) loves, but the principle applies to college selection, the custody conflicts of divorce and the like.
Plot or no, increasingly picturesque photography, amped-up action, borrowed poetry, and age-old romance have "The Twilight Saga" on its surest footing yet -- that is, until the youngsters grow up and realize "True Blood" tells the same story so much better.