With 'Eclipse,' the Twilight saga's getting better

Or maybe my expectations have finally been lowered enough.

Don't get me wrong, the third installment of this series won't be winning any awards. But it was far more entertaining than either of its predecessors, thanks mostly to some intense fight scenes between the evil vampire army and Bella's werewolf friends.

Watching (and hearing) the vampires get torn apart like icicles was strangely satisfying, chilling and best of all not bloody.

The movie begins with a scene that's not in the book -- a young boy is attacked in the streets of Seattle by an unknown vampire. This is, of course, the genesis of the army vindictive Victoria creates to avenge Edward's killing of her mate, James, way back in the first movie.

Remember that one? With the bad acting? Yeah, that acting hasn't gotten any better, in case you were wondering.

While showing some of the action in Seattle, most of the mystery from the book "Eclipse" is lost -- but I found it ridiculous that no one thought that Victoria might be behind the city serial killings in the first place.

So by avoiding a slavish devotion to the source material, I found I was able to enjoy this movie for the nice bit of fluff it's intended to be.

Likewise, I find I like many of the supporting cast a lot more in their movie forms: Jasper is soulful (watching his backstory is a really nice touch that I didn't enjoy much in the book itself), Charlie is less obtuse and Rosalie has purpose, rather than simply being a mindless foil for Bella.

And for the record, I'm totally Team Charlie. He's hands down the coolest guy in Forks, and he never even brandishes that gun in his holster. He intimidates vampires and werewolves alike with the sheer strength of his steely gaze.

And, yeah, maybe the mustache helps. (Here are Eclipse reviews from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and others.)

But the best part about catching "Eclipse" at the Maryland Science Center's midnight showing in all its IMAX glory was simply the audience reaction.

These are some dedicated fans, and some even more dedicated parents. I saw some amazing homemade memorabilia, including shirts and even an intricate bracelet. We had quite a few sparkly vampires, sporting fangs and fake blood, obviously.

There was even a very young girl sitting behind me in the 400-seat auditorium dressed in her pink pajamas and a matching sparkly pink headband. And she didn't fidget or cry once.

Such is the magic of "Twilight."

"Eclipse" is an anomoly in another way, as well. While it clearly sets up the next installment, you don't spend the entire movie waiting for something to happen. More than one mid-series movie has fallen prey to the set-up role, rushing through exposition and character development so that the players are all in the right place when things actually get moving in the next movie.

In fact, "New Moon" was a big snorefest for me for exactly that reason.

Whether you're on Team Edward or Team Jacob, the sold-out crowd seemed to appreciate one thing equally: Taylor Lautner's supernaturally toned torso. Whenever he showed up sans shirt, which was nearly all of his scenes, the place went wild. Only Edward's marriage proposal before the big fight came close to rivaling those pecs.

But really, while comparing a vampire's physique to that of a werewolf? Well, there's really no competition.

Sorry, vamps.

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