Worth A Look: 17.19%
Pretty Bad: 14.18%
Total Crap: 25.07%
23 reviews, 560 user ratings
|Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones
by Scott Weinberg
Reviewing the latest entry in the world’s most popular movie series is almost an exercise in pointlessness; one critic is unlikely to sway anyone towards or away from a movie event this mammoth, and even those who were irritated and annoyed by the earlier chapter are still waiting with bated breath for the newest installment.You’ll find as many articulate and varying opinions of the “new” Star Wars movies as you’d find bounty hunters in a Mos Eisley cantina, and I represent just one of those voices. Many have bemoaned a trite screenplay (a seemingly unfair complaint in an outer space fairy tale), wooden acting performances and an over-reliance on CGI wizardry (I’d rather have an overabundance of gee-whiz effects than not enough, particularly in a film that takes place in a “galaxy far, far away”), but those seems like rather grinchy attitudes for judging the Star Wars movies.
"The Force is strong with this one..."
The immortal “original trilogy” contained more than its share of overbaked lines of dialogue, stiff acting performances and FX that bordered on self-parody, yet nobody seems to bash the superlative Empire Strikes Back for its flaws. (And yes, ESB does have some flaws!) While Attack of the Clones is by no means a perfect movie, it more than fits in with its Star Wars brethren, and it’s one of the most sensational movies I’ve seen in a long time. (“Sensational” as in it repeatedly jarred and tickled my senses, and not just as a synonym for “Great Movie!”) Those who felt that Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was an affront to the Star Wars legacy should be suitably impressed with this new entry, while those who actually enjoyed Part 1 (like myself) will be pleased to see that the ‘finer points’ of that movie have been improved upon considerably in Attack of the Clones.
Picking up ten years after the first chapter, Attack of the Clones depicts a universe on the edge of a dangerous revolution. Former Queen Padme Amidala is narrowly avoiding the attention of some nefarious assassins when old friends Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker appear on the scene. Padme is meant to participate in a crucial Senate vote, and there are hidden adversaries who will stop at nothing to bend the Senate’s will to their evil intent. In an effort to protect the beautiful and brave Senator, Anakin is given his first true assignment: escort Padme back to her painfully gorgeous planet of Naboo, while Obi-Wan sets out to discover the source of the government insurrections.
Anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe is well aware that the vile Senator Palpatine is the puppet-master behind the devious machinations, but Attack of the Clones has a great time introducing several new players to the saga. From shape-shifting assassin Zam Wesell to a stunningly powerful Jedi Master named Dooku to the ultra-cool Jango Fett, Lucas and company have taken steps to ensure there are enough baddies to sneer at. If The Phantom Menace was about introducing heroes, this chapter is about newly-discovered villains.
Yet there is a romantic sweetness at the center of Attack of the Clones that’s been absent from all the previous Star Wars adventures. Sure, we all wanted Han Solo and Princess Leia to get together, but that relationship never really approached anything resmbling a true ‘romance’. As Anakin and Padme spend time together on her picturesque home planet, a romantic connection starts to blossom, and it helps invest an emotional interest that’s generally been lacking since The Empire Strikes Back.
OK, Hayden Chistensen may not be the next Laurence Olivier, but he hardly deserves the critical lambasting he’s been receiving up to this point. Christensen is a bit tough to warm up to, what with his cocksure arrogance and impatient complaining, but I think the actor pulls off precisely what Lucas intended; you care for him because he’s a hero, but his underlying intensity and discontent make for a character you don’t entirely trust. If a few of the more ‘sweet’ moments come off as jarring or unrealistic, maybe that’s because they were meant to. Keep in mind that we are watching what is essentially a ‘mythological history’. I for one quite enjoyed the entire ‘romance subplot’, because A) Lucas is wise enough to never allow Anakin to become a ‘puppy dog’ and B) Natalie Portman is easy to fall in love with.
Ewan McGregor easily offers the finest performance in the film. Acting as a surrogate father to the impetuous Anakin, his Obi-Wan gets most of the film’s best moments, and McGregor is a fine enough actor to make lines like “Anakin, you’ll be the death of me” humorous instead of cornball. Portman is also much more accessible than in Episode 1, and this time around she’s given much more to do than parade about in elaborate costumes and Kabuki makeup. Any actor who’s performed to nothing but ‘bluescreens’ will tell you how painfully difficult it can be, but these two have their characters down pat by now and center all the CGI mayhem with an all-too-necessary core of humanity. Conversely, actors like Chistensen and the generally fantastic Sam Jackson seem perpetually constrained by having to perform in an empty room.
While the burgeoning love affair between Anakin and Padme is the backbone for the full-length tale (which will conclude in three years with Episode III), Attack of the Clones features a ton of stand-alone sequences that will thrill and delight the Star Wars faithful. A mercurial space race through the crowded streets of Coruscant kicks things off, and along the way we get numerous battles, chases, escapes and explosions. As in all the Star Wars adventures, we are spirited off to one otherworldly landscape after another, and the result is nearly exhausting.
Avoiding the ‘three movies at once’ style of editing employed in most of the Star Wars flicks, Lucas wisely allows his numerous plot threads to weave into one astonishing finale, during which you’ll have to stop cheering long enough to appreciate the few great surprises. One of our old favorites displays some heretofore unseen fighting prowess, a brief mention of the villain's ultimate plan brought a brief chill to my spine, and the irrepressable droid duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO has its inception in the most manic of places: an all-out arena battle sequence that makes the adventures of Maximus in Gladiator look like a walk in the park.
On the whole, the screenplay (by Lucas and Jonathan Hales) delivers a phenomenal adventure story, intercut with a tentative love affair and the nefarious governmental exchanges that capably bridge Episode 1 to its inevitable conclusion. Yes, there are a handful of uncomfortable moments, but (again) occasionally stilted dialogue is nothing new to this sci-fi series. Complaining that a film this entertaining has a few clunkers in the script is akin to sending back a delicious steak because the corn is a little underdone. Star Wars is not Hamlet, nor should it be.
This is the kind of movie that you can rate on the ‘seesaw’ scale. On one side you can place everything that’s wrong with it: a handful of screenplay howlers, a few wooden deliveries by a young actor, Lucas’s consistent disability at directing human beings, etc. On the other side of this seesaw, you can plop everything that’s RIGHT with Attack of the Clones. All the amazing chases and superlative sound effects, the clever references to future events, the reappearance of characters we love, and the sheer non-stop spectacle of it all. Look at it that way, and I’m picturing a seesaw ride being shared by Jabba the Hutt and a particularly skinny Jawa. Simply put, the ‘good stuff’ in Attack of the Clones so outweighs the bad…that the bad is hardly worth mentioning.
Attack of the Clones is a deliriously fun time at the movies. The special effects are simply unsurpassed in quality, and more than one scene will leave your jaw dangling. Those who grew up on the wildly popular Star Wars films will appreciate the attention to detail and the few early-history surprises, while newcomers will simply adore the visual splendor and rapid-fire action scenes.It’s clear that George Lucas will never earn another Best Picture nomination for this series, but so what? As far as summer-time escapism, big-budget crowd-pleasers, and “popcorn flicks” that DON’T require you to ‘leave your brain at the door’ go, Attack of the Clones is an excellent movie, over 2 hours of the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. Get your lightsabers ready; it’s going to be a busy summer.
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originally posted: 05/16/02 12:37:16