Thursday, 4 June 2015

Film Review: Star Wars Ep II - Attack of the Clones



Director: George Lucas
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels
Runtime: 142 minutes

Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones arrived in theatres in 2002, three years after the crushing disappointment of The Phantom Menace. Advancing the plot a full decade, Clones sees a 19-year-old Anakin Skywalker begin his path towards the dark side of the Force as political rumblings escalate into all-out war. 

So, 13 years on, how does Attack of the Clones stack up today?

Easy question with a simple answer - it's not great. I vividly remember loving this film to the ends of the Earth when 9-year-old me rushed to see it in 2002, but I'm sorry to say it hasn't aged well. Attack of the Clones suffers from many of the same issues as its predecessor, The Phantom Menace. It's overlong, all razzle-dazzle with little substance and hampered by a flat script and creaky actors.

I think the main issue with Attack of the Clones is the narrative - everything is still building towards the legendary Clone Wars conflict Obi-Wan tells Luke about in A New Hope. Except, we're not there yet. We have to continue waiting. We have to suffer through more political waffle and old men farting around in Senate chambers. Battle lines are still being drawn, sides are still being taken and allegiances are still taking shape - as a result, the stilted dialogue is laden with lengthy exposition as characters slowly advance along their predestined arcs like silent chess pieces sliding towards checkmate. 

Padme and Anakin (who are reunited for the first time in a decade) are forced into an awkward and painful doomed romance where his courtship of her has all the charm of a seedy onlooker behind a nightclub at 2am. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is sent on the thankless task of charting how the Republic's clone army comes into being. Because the audience totally care about seeing that - it was the question of everyone's minds of course.

Is the sarcasm coming across? I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea and think I really do care about that.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Palpatine's rise up the political food chain continues with another orchestrated crisis where everyone is six steps behind him. It's a wonder how the Jedi ever gained power in the first place if they're so unbelievably blind to everything happening right under their damn noses.

Anyway, back to my original point - by the time Master Yoda (Frank Oz) utters the line "Begun, the Clone Wars have" and the credits roll, the audience is left feeling more than a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. Did we really just watch a 142 minute movie where the most exciting element is left dangling until the next film?

The wooden dialogue is an easy target but hey, it really is easily the weakest element of Attack of the Clones. Dull, stiff and lacking in flair, Lucas' script affords the characters no memorable one-liners or emotive moments that resonate in a big way. Scenes such as the one in the Lars' workshop where Anakin confesses to Padme how he slaughtered the Tusken Raiders that killed his mother fall flat with a resounding flump;
"I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM!"
This line isn't exactly Shakespeare, but in the hands of a capable actor they could've worked. Hayden Christensen is not a capable actor - he's just a sulky and horny teen who needs a good talking to. It's really detrimental to a film's overall quality when the lead actor is as whiny and unlikeable as Christensen is.

Ewan McGregor is a highlight as Obi-Wan - his occasional punchline delivery and shared scenes with Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) are some of the best in the Prequel Trilogy. That scene on the landing pad where Obi-Wan and Jango lock horns is brilliant, only topped by the asteroid field chase not long after. Portman suffers from being placed alongside Christensen but she also has moments that sparkle - even if they are extremely fleeting.

This leaves us with the lingering question of how Attack of the Clones has aged - does it still stack up today? Whilst The Original Trilogy is still the flawless masterpiece is was back in the early 80's, Attack of the Clones already feels dated, despite only being 13-years-old. The effects, whilst colourful and inventive, are very rough around the edges and don't pack the same punch as the Battle of Yavin or Jabba's sail barge. The flashy arena battle has so many lights and colours it's like a nightclub rave that got out of hand. The action scenes are well-choreographed but often drawn out, as evidenced by the opening speeder chase through the skies of Coruscant.

The quality of other elements is undeniable - John Williams is once again in a league of his own with a rousing soundtrack that adds gravitas to the doom and gloom ending whilst the costume design is amazing - Natalie Portman looks incredible with an array of brilliant dresses and outfits that recall visual motifs from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back - if there's one memorable moment from this film, it's that white number from the Arena scene. I mean, dayum.

The Verdict: 6/10


Attack of the Clones has a lot going for it - but what does work is overshadowed by a sluggish narrative, creaky acting and dialogue so flimsy it feels assembled from alphabet spaghetti. Poor VFX and messy, cluttered action is white noise that blocks out what should be a powerful and resonant chapter in the series.

4 comments:

  1. Boy, are you generous. I hate this film with a passion. Forget about aging well, I hated it immediately after walking out of the theater where I plunked down too much of my hard earned cash to see it. It's just terrible. Slow paced and creaky acting would have been a step up from what's going on here. It's basically a series of congressional hearings a long time ago in a galaxy far away...C-Span: The Empire. When we're not watching meetings, we get the most awkward romance of all time complete with HC giving the worst performance I've ever seen in a big-budget movie. And then, the big moment they sold us on, finally getting to see Yoda fight, looked horrible. Sigh. I'm sorry, this whole thing is so dreadful. The Phantom Menace wasn't great, but it was 1000x better than Attack of the Clones, imho.

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    1. I still feel like Phantom Menace is the weakest, but not by much - this one does come close. I think what puts it ahead in the end is that it does bear some relevant narrative material, whereas you could discount Phantom Menace entirely and it wouldn't make a shred of difference. Why Padme and Anakin had to meet as children only to spend 10 years apart makes almost no sense to me.

      But I can see what you're saying - there are so many downsides to this movie. Christensen is abysmal, and how he ever got cast in one of the most anticipated films of all time is utterly baffling to me. He has absolutely zero charisma.

      Thanks for commenting Wendell! I'm glad you're taking an interest in my retrospective reviews of Star Wars and hope to hear your thoughts on the rest over the coming months! :)

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  2. This film was released at the peak of my childhood Star Wars fandom. So, although I do see the issues with the film, it holds a special place in my heart. For two years or so, I watched Attack of the Clones over and over and over, and I could still quote it all, today.

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    1. I hear you man! I was so obsessed with everything Star Wars around the time this one came out. I think that's why I'm being a little generous with this one, given that like yourself I do remember loving it to no end back in 2002/03. Thanks for commenting Tanner!

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