Thursday, December 15, 2016

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

I'm back with another Star Wars review in anticipation of this week's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As I stated in my review of The Phantom Menace, I am one of the defenders of these prequel films... but I can still recognize the obvious problems. However, I do feel that the rhetoric on these movies has gotten way out of hand over the last ten or so years, so hopefully I can provide some semblance of balance to this predominantly one-sided argument. After what felt like an eternity following the exhilaration of seeing Episode I in theaters, I was dying to see how this story would progress in the next film. Seeing an older Anakin Skywalker, some mysterious Mandalorian (which means he looks like Boba Fett), and a title like Attack of the Clones in the trailer, I found myself itching to see what would happen in the continuation of the Star Wars saga.

Honestly, as a 15 year old this was the perfect movie for me. I was just at that angsty teenage stage in my life, and could therefore relate somewhat to what Anakin was going through. As an adult, however, there are certainly some issues here that cannot go unnoticed. Once again the acting is a bit stilted, and though I think Hayden Christensen has the perfect look to be Anakin Skywalker, his line readings don't quite reach the same amount of their potential.

Unlike most people, I'm a bit of an apologist for Hayden, as I'm also one of the few people who has seen his terrific performance (yes, you read that right) in a little film called Shattered Glass. I more or less go with his anger bubbling beneath the surface, even if it is a bit oversold at certain moments. Natalie Portman isn't as bad in this one, though she's still a bit flat for my taste. The one constant in this prequel trilogy is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan, who adds some much-needed levity to the proceedings as he takes his next step toward Alec Guinness's iconic portrayal of the Jedi Master.

Of course, the major problem with this film is the pacing. There are plenty of interesting ideas and plot points, but Lucas draws the mysteries and emotional payoffs out just a little too far. It's not that big of a revelation that Jango Fett is the one behind the assassination attempt of Senator Amidala, and yet there are interesting mysteries that aren't ever explained in the films, such as who Master Sifo Dyas is and why he paid for a clone army in the first place. Of course, if you're a huge Star Wars nerd like I am, you've probably learned the answer in the no-longer-canon, but excellent book by James Luceno, Darth Plagueis (more on that in the next review). Anyway, the mystery is a bit stretched to fulfill this movie's runtime, but with expanded universe material available to fill in some of the gaps, I can more or less forgive this shortcoming.

So how does Attack of the Clones build on the mythology? Well, we learn that Jedi are forbidden to show attachments, such as romantic love. This is explained during the inevitable love story shown between Anakin and Padme. The only reason this love story even remotely works is because both of the actors are undeniably attractive people. Beyond that, I don't really get why they would have any kind of emotional attachment to each other. Neither of them really even has a personality, so trying to get them to play off one another in order to engender our interest is a losing battle. This is easily the biggest problem in the movie, and it's the primary reason I'm docking the score an entire star.

Even with these problems, it's overall a better film than The Phantom Menace. Not only are we rid of Jake Lloyd's cringe-worthy performance, not to mention the insufferable antics of Jar Jar Binks, but we also get a darker tale of the dark side growing in power and influence. This influence is overtaking both Anakin and the Republic as a whole, all thanks to the complicated machinations of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. We also get the start of the Clone Wars, which is iconic to any die-hard Star Wars fan from its brief mention in A New Hope way back in 1977. Finally, we get a terrific battle sequence and a pretty cool lightsaber fight that ends in a slightly downtrodden stalemate. There are too many good things in this movie for a Star Wars fan not to enjoy it, though it will probably leave the casual viewer wanting.

Episode II is a bit of a mixed bag, if I'm being perfectly honest, but despite its flaws, it still has some iconic moments in the Star Wars saga that cannot be discounted. It's a necessary journey to take in order to understand the nature of Darth Vader as well as the gradual descent into darkness of the Republic as it morphs into the Empire. There may be a bit too many call-backs to the original trilogy, but these are fanboy complaints. Most people will smile rather than roll their eyes when they see C-3PO and R2-D2 bickering, or when they hear the name "Fett" associated with a feared bounty hunter.
I'm definitely a biased reviewer, but to me there is no reason not to recommend Attack of the Clones. The action scenes alone are worth seeing, even if the movie as a whole may overstay its welcome. I'm therefore giving this film three stars. Check back with me soon for my reviews of Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which I'm seeing tonight)!

STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES is rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence