LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The moon may be new, and the director may be different (Chris Weitz takes over the reins from Catherine Hardwicke), but otherwise, the second installment of the "Twilight" saga remains, for better or worse, exceptionally faithful to its 2008 beginnings.
Understandably not wanting to mess with that $350 million worldwide success, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," is content to stay within those tonal parameters rather than venture out in potentially more intriguing or substantial directions, which should suit its ferocious adolescent female fan base just fine.
The uninitiated, meanwhile, might find that the film's deliberately unhurried 130-minute running time feels like a Cullen clan eternity.
Anticipation is sufficiently high that opening weekend box office for the Summit Entertainment release is guaranteed to be anything but anemic, most likely eclipsing the $70 million taken by "Twilight" this time last year. The film bows Friday (November 20).
Alluding more obviously to the "Romeo & Juliet" vibe of author Stephenie Meyer's books, "New Moon" finds heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) caught in a tricky triangular relationship with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
Not wanting to give away too much of the plot (though chances are most of the movie's audience will have already read the book), let's just say brooding Bella is having a tough time where both objectified males are concerned, and that it turns out Jacob's been keeping a little secret of his own -- and it's not just finding a personal trainer in the middle of Forks, Washington.
Given that he's directed both the more intimate, character-driven "About a Boy" and the fantastical "The Golden Compass," incoming director Weitz (who also helms the back-to-back third installment due this summer) is a smart choice for the material. He definitely gets to have things both ways here, using the CG effects sparingly but generally effectively, though even his restrained touch isn't enough to prevent the occasional smirk or two that's coaxed by some of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's more stoical dialogue.
Once again, the three young leads give committed performances, with Lautner's character allowed a larger share of the spotlight this time around.
Stewart's Bella remains a sturdy anchor, and if they were ever to give a best supporting nomination for hair gel, Pattinson's particular brand would be a shoo-in.
Among the newcomers to the "Twilight" saga, Michael Sheen, who played an enslaved werewolf in the "Underworld" pictures, is given the opportunity to vamp it up as Aro, the 2,000-year-old leader of the Volturi.
Production values are suitably dark and moody, with able assistance from production designer David Brisbin's pre-Raphaelite visual cues to Alexandre Desplat's opulently ominous score.