New Moon a dazzling addition to Twilight franchise

Smashing box office records even before its opening night, The Twilight Saga: New Moon delivered one for the fans in the best way possible.

By now you probably know the story: Girl meets Vampire. Girl falls in love with Vampire but he wants to eat her. Girl is OK with that. Girl campaigns for immortality so she can be with Vampire forever. Vampire loves her but refuses.

In New Moon, a near-fatal vamp-related accident at Bella Swan's birthday party causes her bloodsucking boyfriend Edward Cullen to abandon her for her own protection. Bella is plunged into a deep depression until she latches onto Native American werewolf-to-be Jacob Black.

A series of misunderstandings eventually lead to Edward's involvement with the Volturi (basically, the vampire Mafia) and Bella rushes to Italy to rescue him from a painful death.

Thanks to director Chris Weitz, New Moon easily tops its awkward, somewhat unsatisfying predecessor Twilight, featuring better pacing and dialogue as well as some killer action.

Where Twilight felt more like a quiet indie movie, New Moon is all Hollywood - but not in a bad way. The werewolves look real enough to touch, especially when two of them get in a scuffle and smash a boat in half.

Liberties were taken with the story, originally authored by Stephanie Meyer, but most were for pacing and action. For example, a few intense fight scenes were added to emphasize a sense of danger that wasn't as prevalent in the book.

There are a few laughable, poorly-done moments - like a flash-forward of Bella and Edward jogging in slow motion through a forest in tacky period clothing.

Kristen Stewart brings emotion to the broken Bella, and Robert Pattinson, while arguably not ideal as Edward (note to director: please keep his shirt on next time) is able to portray strong emotion even in his smallest eyebrow twitches.

But even hardcore members of "Team Edward" might find themselves gravitating toward the wolf camp after Taylor Lautner's heart-wrenching performance. Lautner, who put on 40 pounds of pure muscle to reprise his role as Jacob, steals every scene with his honesty and passion.

Billy Burke shines in the part of Bella's awkward, endearing father Charlie, and Michael Sheen is delightful as the vampire equivalent of the Godfather.

As in Twilight, the filming locations are dazzling. You can't help but get drawn into the rainy, mysterious world of Forks, Wash., where a family of "vegetarian" vampires poses as normal humans and the reservation down the road hosts a pack of rowdy boy-wolves.

Say what you will about the Twilight phenomenon, but New Moon delivers a love story 10 times more layered, inventive and thrilling than the average chick flick, and this fan loved every second.