The romance between human teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) reaches its climax as the two are married and head off to a lavish island location for their honeymoon. But Bella's sudden and unexpected pregnancy creates an unknown danger not only to the expectant mother but threatens to tip over the already uneasy truce between the Cullens, the Volturi and the werewolves in Forks.
What we thought:
Teenagers and unprotected sex - will they ever learn? It's quite something that the thrust of Breaking Dawn Part 1, the penultimate film in the Twilight Saga, is so concerned with a little mistake Bella and Edward make on their honeymoon. Edward insists that he had no idea vampires could even biologically sire new life. Everyone else outside of the pent-up supernatural franchise is wondering exactly the same thing, down to a physiological fault.
But that's just something that will have to be left to the imagination because in Stephenie Meyer's vampire mythology, where vamps go vegetarian and sparkle in the sunlight and live curiously incestuous lives, Edward Cullen - the otherworldly hero of the saga - is more man than even he realises.
The Twilight Saga has, thus far, not been known for its cinematic excellence, despite the feverish fandom and box office rewards, so it's not really accurate to say that Breaking Dawn Part 1 has much to live up to. As far as director Bill Condon is concerned, there is no other direction for the franchise's fortunes to go but up and he sets about injecting some much-needed excitement and, perhaps most important of all, humour into the series.
Breaking Dawn can't help but have as many flaws as its predecessors though it must be said that Part 1 is a vast improvement on what came before. Everyone involved - from much-maligned screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg to the saga's tabloid fodder leads Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson - have spent the off-season working at their game and have given more flesh and colour to these ridicule-ready characters.
Stewart, in particular, approaches Bella with a new confidence that feels like a natural progression of her character's first foray into womanhood. Gone is that insipid girl who gasped for breath and fell to her knees at the very thought of her beloved Edward. She's finally found some peace with the Volturi, who are not actively seeking her death (just yet) and her exhausting love triangle with Edward and best friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is finally a thing of the past.
The series has never strayed from its almost sickeningly sweet romantic notions, so the promise of a wedding means that it must be staged on the grandest of scales. Fans, of which there may be a few, will be clutching at their breasts and wiping away tears as Bella walks down the aisle in her simple but stunning wedding gown and exchanges those immortal vows with the man-beast who stole her heart. And then follows the almost perfect island honeymoon off the coast of Brazil... It's nearly impossible NOT to get swept away by the loveliness of it all.
Though that comes to a crashing halt with Bella's shocking pregnancy and the even more alarming realisation that the creature she is carrying is growing at an exponential rate. This leads into the much darker second half of the film - and also gives screentime to Jacob's side of the story as he breaks away from his wolfpack in order to protect Bella. The two halves of the film could not be more distinct and almost feel like different films entirely. While splitting the final novel in the series makes great business sense, it also serves to drag out what should be the most cutthroat and action-packed instalment.
Much is made of Bella's first night with Edward (don't worry, it's very purposefully kept in the PG range. Passionate wall-shattering is as kinky as it gets) though they hit a snag very early on and before you know it you know far too much about the sexual impulses of a teenage bride. Bella's freak pregnancy is haphazardly sped up and then slowed down again to allow the rest of the plot to catch up. But the sight of Bella literally wasting away for the sake of her bloodthirsty baby is one that will not easily be forgotten. Her weak and emaciated appearance is the most disturbing image from the saga thus far, with the controversial birth scene finally earning The Twilight Saga its horror chops.
So while Breaking Dawn has all the looks and charm of the most popular boy in school, you just know there isn't much else going on underneath. Jacob's love-hate relationship with both Bella and his own wolfpack unfortunately needs to be explored, in perhaps too much detail, and since so much of the book is given over to his perspective. While the werewolves themselves are there to add tension to the fate of Bella and her hybrid baby girl Renesmee, they feel oddly superfluous to the story. Perhaps because it's so hard to take them seriously after watching their snarling CGI wolf forms communicate via voice-over telepathy. The wolves have been very poorly served this time around.
Maybe it helps accepting that The Twilight Saga is overcooked fantasy to really appreciate the small but special moments in Breaking Dawn Part 1, like the revelation that Bella's mother Renée is a bit of a ditzy lush, and that her ex-best friend Jessica (played by the adorable Anna Kendrick) has perhaps the sanest, sweetest insight into the bridal couple's whirlwind romance. Though who could blame her for being bitter about Bella's place in Edward's heart?
And spare a thought for Twilight's unsung hero, Bella's long-suffering father Charlie (played by Billy Burke) who remains completely clueless about the supernatural craziness he has married his daughter into and the fact that he is now a grandfather.
Breaking Dawn Part 1 will almost certainly satisfy the legions of Twihards - it is a sumptuous feast for the senses (not that the 3D effects hold much sway in this regard) and sets up the final, final chapter with a knowing wink that makes all the absurdity it churns out rather charming.
Oh, and do stay behind for the end credits. There's a little treat tucked away in there that will surely make the wait for the November 2012 release of Breaking Dawn Part 2 almost unbearable.