Critics may lambaste the "Twilight" series for the redundant nature of the films (Girl loves vampire! Werewolf loves girl! Werewolves and vampires hate each other!) but the movies have found a sweet spot that adds up to regular nine-figure grosses. They succeed by that rarest of gifts: Understanding the audience. As long as relationships splinter and families drift apart, there will be a market for fantasies of everlasting romance and unshakable clan loyalty.
"Breaking Dawn: Part 1" moves the long-simmering courtship between Edward and Bella (and Jacob) to matrimony, pregnancy and beyond. It is by far the weirdest entry so far, a superheated stew of contradictory messages about sexuality and self-sacrifice. Bella's premonition of her wedding is a blood-soaked dream sequence that climaxes with the corpses of her loved ones piled up like cordwood, but that's misdirection. It's Bella herself who will suffer, enduring the grisliest supernatural childbirth since "Rosemary's Baby."
After her dream wedding to Edward there's a modest honeymoon montage of entangled body parts (slender arms, frail alabaster shoulders, a dainty chest -- all Robert Pattinson's, I think) and a discreet fadeout. Cut to their wrecked bedroom the following morning, Bella's numerous bruises, and an exchange no newlywed wants to hear. "I'm terribly sorry for hurting you." "You're not going to touch me anymore, are you?"
And so it begins. Edward shows no further matrimonial interest in his bride, magically pregnant after one night of PG-13 bliss. A vampire-human "abomination" swells her belly like a prize pumpkin, breaking ribs and draining her bodily fluids. It's sickening to see Kristen Stewart photoshopped down to the skin and bones look of a famine victim or fashion model. When she suffers morning sickness, the urge to purge along with her is strong.
Taylor Lautner's warm-blooded Jacob disowns his furry tribe, joining Bella's vampire family to give her cuddles and emotional support in her time of need. Edward selflessly encourages this nutty ménage a trois, a setup even harder to swallow than Bella's pregnancy diet of blood milkshakes. As for the birth of little half- human Renesmee, don't ask. The absurdity quotient of the movie begins high and rapidly escalates to bedlam.
The characters don't grow much. Bella remains a passive, sulky martyr. Her father, the chief of police, exhibits zero curiosity about his peculiar new in-laws. Jacob may have great abs, but where his love life is concerned, he still hasn't developed a spine. (When the wolf-boy does "imprint" on the child of his lifelong love, it's hard not to see it through the lens of pedophilia.) Edward still doesn't own a comb.
The film has the technical gloss one expects from a deep-pocketed franchise. Guillermo Navarro ("Pan's Labyrinth") photographs the proceedings handsomely. The computer-generated wolves look all right, though they're now the size of SUVs. Bill Condon's direction isn't at the level of his "Dreamgirls," but it's on a par with the material he's given.
The best moment comes after the film proper has ended. A coda in the middle of the end credits brings back Michael Sheen's witty, prissy Euro-vampire prince. As he sets up the premise for the final episode, his one-minute cameo outshines the preceding movie. If this is escapist fantasy, which way is the escape hatch?