Although The Batman’s Robert Pattinson was once given a hard time by critics for his role in the Twilight franchise, the actor’s portrayal of Edward Cullen across the series proved that he had potential as a leading man. The Twilight movies made a killing at the box office, but the supernatural fantasy romance saga was not a hit with critics. Some reviewers were comparatively kind to the later sequels in the series, but by and large, Twilight was written off by critics as a franchise suitable only for its target demographic of teens and tweens.
The Twilight Saga’s sparkly “vegetarian” vampires and infamous Team Edward/Team Jacob fandom split meant that even horror fans had a hard time taking bloodsuckers seriously for a while after its success. However, while Twilight killed vampire movies temporarily, the scathing write-ups of the series didn’t deter its stars from becoming major names in Hollywood. Kristen Stewart has since become an Oscar nominee while her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson has earned widespread acclaim for his return to franchise roles with his portrayal of the titular antihero in The Batman.
Near the beginning of his screen career, Pattinson was mocked by critics for his early role as Edward Cullen. The actor spent the better part of a decade rehabilitating his image with quirky, self-consciously offbeat projects from acclaimed directors like David Cronenberg and the Safdie Brothers to ensure that critics knew he really could act. However, while many of Pattinson’s movies have allowed him to flex his conservable scenery-chewing muscles, the Twilight series is not a complete write-off when it comes to the thespian’s output. Looking back, Pattinson’s potential can be seen in the Twilight movies, specifically in how his approach to playing Edward Cullen changed from installment to installment.
Although Twilight was a huge success upon its release in 2008, the original movie in the series features the silliest incarnation of Robert Pattinson’s ageless antihero, the 117-year-old teenager Edward Cullen. This is the version of Edward who was turned into a joke by endless parodies, and Pattinson’s performance is certainly over-the-top. However, it’s also full of fun decisions that keep the potentially drab movie lively, complementing Stewart’s sleepy take on Bella Swan. Twilight cut some major character deaths that were in the original script to ensure the story stayed accurate to the book, but the result is a movie that is molasses-slow at times and lacking in narrative drive. However, this problem is effectively ameliorated by Pattinson’s goofy, otherworldly turn as the tortured Edward, a performance that is admirably unafraid of looking laughable, bringing to mind a young Nicolas Cage in some of its more shamelessly campy, cartoonishly earnest moments.
The first Twilight sequel, 2009’s New Moon, is an altogether broader, more predictable movie than the original, and while deeply flawed, it is largely salvaged by Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen. Here he gives an even more over-the-top take on the tortured character as he starts to showcase some of the operatic flourishes he’s now famous for (as Robert Pattinson’s outrageous history of screen accents proves). However, this level of theatricality is only appropriate to the material since New Moon is based on Shakespeare, and Pattinson’s attempts to do justice to the vampire saga’s version of Romeo and Juliet sees the actor give his all as a disconsolate Edward who can’t bear to be with his beloved but also can’t survive the tragedy of their separation. Pattinson’s bluster pairs perfectly with Stewart’s suitably dispassionate Bella, and the duo solidifies the chemistry that carries the Twilight series here despite the surrounding movie’s bland, boring story.
Although director David Slade improved the third Twilight movie, Eclipse, by making its story more violent, there was only so much that he could do to deliver a satisfying standalone story. Robert Pattinson doesn’t have a lot to do in this second sequel, as Edward and Bella’s relationship is relatively sound. Despite the intensity of Team Edward/Team Jacob’s animosity among the fans, the teenage werewolf is never truly a threat to the couple’s stability. As such, there’s a sense of tiredness to this Edward, resigned to his love triangle with Jacob and Bella but not particularly pushed about ending the non-fight. When Twilight’s vampires were parodied for being moody, shiftless emo stereotypes, this was the sequel viewers were picturing.
Breaking Dawn – Part 1
The fourth Twilight installment, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, contradicts Stephenie Meyers’s assertion that Bella is powerless when the until-now meek heroine suddenly becomes desperate for some vampiric action from her new husband. It’s pretty impossible to take a movie seriously when its central conflict is that the newlywed hero refuses to consummate his marriage despite his wife’s demands. As a result, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is where Robert Pattinson finds some easy humor in his portrayal of Edward Cullen, and this second-to-last movie in the series finally sees its star indulge in some self-aware winking at the inherent absurdity of his character. There are some great moments of levity in the almost-plotless tale, and both Pattison and Stewart display the naturalistic charm that they would soon bring to smaller, subtler independent projects once freed from the franchise.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2
The final Twilight installment (until Stephenie Meyers writes another novel in the universe), Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is a bit of a damp squib as far as endings go. With other, more interesting projects filming around the same time and the novelty of celebrity starting to wane, both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart conceded that they were on autopilot for this last movie. In the case of Pattinson’s performance, it shows, with this version of Edward being a barely-there screen presence. Fortunately for the actor, the final sequel in the series has bigger issues, like its infamous fake-out ending, meaning few viewers could single out his Edward Cullen performance as a weak link. Still, after a lot of interesting choices in earlier Twilight movies that proved the future The Batman star had plenty of promise, this was an unfortunately uninspired end to the saga for the actor.