Here’s the short version: New Moon is a much better movie than Twilight. Director Chris Weitz’s slick, showy visuals are the antithesis of Catherine Hardwicke’s awkward adaptation of the first book in the young-adult romance series, and slickness is what these books need to be translated to the screen. When Weitz throws the camera around—plunging off a cliff, or slowly circling Kristen Stewart’s sullen Bella three times to suggest the monotonous transition from fall to winter—you can almost forget the flaws of the source material.
New Moon is a tougher book to adapt than Twilight—dreamy vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) is barely in the thing. Because he can’t allow Bella to love a soulless monster, he abandons her for all but the first and last few chapters of the book. Instead, Bella falls into the arms of the hunky young werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner, whose high-pitched, genial voice just can’t pull off uninspired threats like “Things are going to get very ugly”). Without Pattinson’s pouting to get in the way, Stewart confidently carries the bulk of New Moon all by herself.
In the book, Bella mopes for hundreds of pages. Stewart conveys this sorrow convincingly (even as the script forces her to deliver dreck like “The pain is my only reminder that he was real”), but her Bella is nowhere near as passive as the book’s. One of the film’s most unexpected pleasures is watching Stewart watch the men of the movie—her Bella takes great, unabashed pleasure in the beefcake that Jacob and his tawny, wolfy Native American brothers provide. (Men take off their shirts at every opportunity, and Jacob wanders around in nothing but a pair of ratty shorts for the majority of his screen time.)
But the flaws of the book become the flaws of the movie: Author Stephenie Meyer couldn’t resolve a plot if her life depended on it. The primary threat in New Moon is an evil vampire named Victoria, but she’s forgotten by the end of the film and the climax involves a completely different threat, that of the ancient Italian vampire Illuminati, the Volturi (whose leader is played by Michael Sheen as a mincing, and unintentionally hilarious, fop). New Moon’s resolution drags, then leaps from out of nowhere, and ultimately crashes and burns. People who have not read the book will no doubt feel bored, and then cheated, and bored again.