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Children of the Night 

Vampires are sensitive, werewolves are decisive and girls are idiots. Nice message, Twilight.

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The sparkly vampire guy and the shirtless werewolf guy, they’re still fighting over perfect, perfect Bella in Twilight: Eclipse.

Bella is so perfect and delicate and adorable, in fact, that’s she’s an idiot. It’s not just that she can’t choose between these two supernatural dudes; she doesn’t even know her own mind and desires. She may think she knows what she wants, but she doesn’t really, the boyfolk assure her. The lads know what’s best for Bella, and they’ll decide her future for her.

This is what passes for romance in the early 21st century: a sexless, passionless tug-of-war among children. I can just about understand why very young teenage girls might find the Twilight nonsense appealing, for it does touch on female adolescent angst about sex that pop culture rarely broaches. (Male adolescent angst about sex, meanwhile, appears to be the dominant pop-culture theme of our time.) But I’m mystified by the apparently huge numbers of adult women who find this romantic. Because Twilight isn’t about romance — it’s about a childish terror of grown-up life.

I didn’t realize it during the first Twilight film, nor its sequel, New Moon, but suddenly it smacked me in the face in Eclipse: Edward Cullen, the putative modern Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy all in one sparkly vampire package, is as much a child as Bella Swan, the blank-canvas human teenager he falls in love with. He’s a century-old immortal, he’s richer than God, and he’s not even bound by the clichés of vampirism to avoid sunlight: he could be doing anything and everything fabulous with his endless, privileged life. What does he choose to do? Attend high school in the rural Pacific Northwest, where he met Bella, back in the first film. It’s where he fell in love with her, for some unknowable reason, and she with him.

At least from her perspective, there was at first the understandable allure of the exotic, though over the course of now three films, he turns out not to have much to recommend him. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) here continue their courtship consisting of mostly, it appears, moping around and kissing a bit, followed by high school graduation. Bella wants to make love with him, which seems like a perfect natural thing to do when two people are, we’re told, this deeply in love. But he keeps demurring: it’s “dangerous,” he insists. If there’s any sort of neat-o vampiric danger to this act, we never learn about it. Instead, sex is simply scary in some nebulous, unfathomable way... like when you’re 12 years old and are just starting to grasp what sex is all about.

And anyway, Bella doesn’t really love Edward — she really loves Jacob the Native American werewolf (Taylor Lautner). She may insist that Edward is the sexless manchild for her, but Jacob is in love with Bella, Jacob is “exactly right” for Bella, therefore Bella must secretly be in love with Jacob and must actually belong to him. “She’s not sure what she wants,” Jacob insists, and damn if he doesn’t turn out to be right! She’s only a girl anyway, someone to be lied to and controlled by sparkly vampire dudes and shirtless werewolf dudes who only want to “protect” her. This — plus Jacob’s violent male jealousy — is “romantic.” I find it terrifying.

Far less terrifying is the alleged horror content of Eclipse, about a mysterious vampire who is creating an army of vampires in order to wage war on the “peaceful,” non-human-blood-consuming Cullen clan of Forks. And then war comes, with the Cullens and the Native werewolves, longtime enemies, teaming up to fight the newborns. All of this, lazily deployed by director David Slade, seems like an afterthought, way down on the list of Important Things for Eclipse To Cover after voiceovers by Bella to explain what we can plainly see, history lessons about the beef between the vampires and the werewolves, and a few Hammer Horror appearances by the vampire aristocrats the Volturi.

By the time someone warns that “something terrible is coming,” all I could think was: “Yeah, Breaking Dawn. In two parts.”

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