At the beginning of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Bella and Edward are lying in their favorite field of flowers as she recites Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice”. I’m no poetry expert, but I think “Solitude” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox may have been a better fit:

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you./Weep, and you weep alone…”

Sure, had Eclipse been the same non-stop mirthless marathon that the first two movies were, people wouldn’t have walked out in protest, but, wow, what a difference a sense of humor can make.

Since director David Slade (30 Days of Night) is the only new blood (ba-dum-dum!) to come on board for the third installment, I’ll credit him with injecting some much needed life into the franchise (though I’m sure screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg also realized she didn’t need to take things as seriously as she did in the first two movies.)

Eclipse picks up right where New Moon left off. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) still wants to become a vampire. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) still wants her to marry him (in fact, he asks her no less than three times in the opening five minutes), and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is still roaming the woods looking for a shirt.

Meanwhile Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over the role from Rachelle Lefevre) is on the warpath, recruiting an army of ‘newborn’ vampires to put an end to Bella (and also the entire Cullen clan) once and for all.

Sure, it’s still rainy and gloomy (it is the Pacific Northwest after all), dramatic, dark, and sometimes depressing… but on more than one occasion, you’ll actually crack a smile and (dare I say it?) laugh out loud.

Some of the jokes come with a wink and a nod (Jacob’s “I’m hotter than you” to Edward, and Edward’s “Doesn’t he have a shirt?” to Jacob), and some are just solid, light-hearted comedy (including virtually every scene with the vastly underrated Billy Burke as Charlie, Bella’s father). Either way, it’s just what the franchise needed, and it makes Eclipse easily the best and most entertaining of the three movies.

Also of note is Slade’s (presumed) decision to have cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe get closer to the action. Instead of having us sit on the sidelines marveling at how mopey everyone is, we get to be right in the thick of edge-of-your-seat craziness. As the Cullen family joins forces with Jacob’s werewolf clan for the big showdown with Victoria and the newborns, Slade makes sure we’re right there, and it’s a move that pays off in spades. All of a sudden the Twilight saga has a pulse.

Another wise decision was to not short-shrift the attention the books gave to the secondary characters. The back stories for vampires Jasper and Rosalie, as well as the Quileute (werewolf) tribe, are all given appropriate consideration, and each scene is surprisingly poignant, adding some much-needed depth to the story.

Of course the big issues remain, not the least of which is why everyone allows all the carnage, fighting, and general mayhem to be waged over one little, pouty high school girl– but if (assuming you’re not a devout Twi-hard already) you can just sit back and enjoy the action (and allow yourself a chuckle or two), you probably won’t be able to help getting into the whole Twilight phenomenon…

…at least a little bit.

3/5 stars