By KEVIN BOWEN – July 7, 2010

Loving a vampire really is forever. When the minister says Til Death Do You Part, it comes with a distant expiration date. Facing sex, marriage, and permanent transformation into a creature of the night, “Twilight: Eclipse” finds Bella and Edward exploring the neuroses of eternal love.

Should Bella Swan say sayonara to her human friends to be with vampire Edward Cullen for eternity? Shouldn’t Bella graduate high school before making eternal decisions? Will this puppy-dog romance ever bark its last breath? “Twilight: Eclipse” is the first in the popular vampire-romance series to see that love has a downside.

Take a look at the side stories: the film is haunted by images of eternal love distorted into something else. One vampire’s back story ends in revenge on an ex-lover while dressed in a wedding gown. “I was much more theatrical in those days,” she says. Then consider the motives of the widow Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard): raising an army of newborn vampires to avenge the death of her lover. The red-headed villain is motivated by love and loss, the permanence of affection and the impermanence of existence.

Still, “Twilight” is selling the mythologies of youthful love and youthful perfection. As such, the film plays up romance’s appeal and glosses over the problems in its werewolf-vampire-cockteaser triangle. Robert Pattinson’s steely cool softens Edward’s gentlemanly detachment. Taylor Lautner’s genial personality and burly physique deflect the fact that Jacob is kind of a manipulative asshole. And does Bella really love both men? Or does she love the fact that they love her? Twilight insists that it is driven by the purity of teen-age love, but in reality it is driven by the blindness of teen-age narcissism.

Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way if not every thought revolved around Ms. Swan. Shouldn’t young men talk baseball? Instead they talk Bella. Yet we never feel why she’s so special, why so much is risked for her sake. Perhaps we would feel more if Kristen Stewart were improving alongside the rest of the cast, rather than being outdone by the help. Instead, Stewart seems lost, or stuck, or generally apart from the proceedings.

Directed by David Slade (“30 Days of Night”), Eclipse is the most normal of the Twilight movies. Catherine Hardwicke’s hormonal original rode the line between swoony and corny. “New Moon’s” Chris Weitz, oft criticized, brought a greater cinematic sense to the series. As his contribution, Slade turns the series to both horror and coming of age. While I appreciate its willingness to treat its characters as blossoming adults, very little of this film lasts. Will this ever-popular series ever produce a true winner? It’s losing daylight.

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