Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

2 out of 5

Directed by: George Lucas

R… right.  So I can accept the appeal of the bad boy – snarky, willfully misobeying jedi-in-training Anakin (Hayden Christensen), with his wacky forehead rat tail thing – especially in George Lucas’ limited character writing skills, but I’m really not sold on how some of the most depraved, outwardly stalker-y and downright creepy behavior manages to be misinterpreted, within the span of a few days, by the object of that behavior – Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) – as, y’know, cute boy love.  Let’s get married, cute boy who has forced his hands and emotions upon me!  Furthermore, while George is being “clever” at using this dark mirror Han Solo aggressiveness to “foreshadow” Anakin’s dark side tendencies, I think the movie also sort of wants us to see this duo’s flirtation as charming.  This is certainly one of the main flaws of the second episode of the prequel trilogy: spending time on a romance that is in no ways convincing, or visually interesting.  While other parts of Episode II show off some of Lucas’ flair for imaginative concepts, Anakin and Padmé’s dalliance is visually comparably stale to the embarrassing high-school level dialogue, and as unmotivated as… well, most of the dialogue, I suppose.  This is again a movie where people make proclamations that are either fortune cookie overflow or joke book puns.  The excessively stilted delivery has thankfully been corrected (as have some other elements…), and so there are select moments where the story actually threatens to get interesting and the actors are able to serve that, but most of the time the exposition is there as function; you can sense some kind of line count in mind, and often just exists to explain exactly what we’re seeing.

Which is where Attack of the Clones finds some success.  Picking up ten years after Phantom Menace, our trade federation disagreement has turned into a full blown threat of succession from the Republic, and threats on now-senator Padmé’s life brings a grown up Anakin and his teacher, Obi-Wan, on employ as her bodyguards.  Lucas stumbles across an interesting mystery when our jedis try to track down the source of these threats – secret planets; secret armies – but any intrigue is bungled as we move on to perfunctory (though pleasing) action sequences.  But that’s sort of okay; I think if we were expecting plotting competence by this point, we’d have been fooling ourselves.  Instead, you can go into the movie for sights and sounds, and Clones follows the Empire model of being the “dark” film of the trilogy, allowing for nighttime settings and rain-soaked planets, and it’s a good change!  Light sabers spin around and around alluringly; limbs get chopped off (sans blood, but still); and there’s, like, a legit showdown between Obi-wan and a baddie that has some exciting stuntwork!  Towards the end of our 2 hours and 20 minutes, Lucas’ hesitative tendencies sneak back in, making the final squareoff incredibly lacking in impact – I don’t get why the force is all powerful and lets us jump about like gazelles and fling boulders, but then it’s a struggle to get one’s lightsaber back – but prior to that, a madcap pit fight and some pretty badass all-out war sequences temporarily make the Anakin-is-a-creeper nonsense forgotten.

Temporarily.  There’re are too many sins to move past here, mainly as a result of writing / directing by formula instead of what would best serve the story or movie: Jar-Jar Binks is downplayed but we still need comedy relief, so C3PO and R2 pick up the “slack;” Anakin needs to be given concrete reasons to rebel, so he’s given a horribly cliched rescue mission for his mother; story stakes are only maintained while they’re on screen; and on and on.

Phantom Menace definitely had me gagging throughout its last chapter, and Attack of the Clones at least bests that by stuffing its worst elements into its middle.  It’s a little bit darker, and so has some assumed maturity that comes with that, but it’s still wholly a pretty dumb and boring movie.