Samuel L. JacksonIan McDiarmidEwan McGregorHayden Christensen
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Included in: Star Wars 1-6
Medium: film
Year: 2002
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Keywords: Oscar-nominated, Razzie-winning, action, SF
Country: USA
Actor: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Pernilla August, Rose Byrne, Temuera Morrison, Daniel Logan, Jimmy Smits, Jack Thompson, Leeanna Walsman, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Joel Edgerton, Bonnie Piesse, Kenny Baker
Format: 142 minutes
Series: << Star Wars >>
Website category: SF
Review date: 9 July 2002
It's the only outright failure of Star Wars. Everything else is at least functional, but Attack of the Clones is a romance between (a) a creepy stalker having wet dreams about his mother and (b) Natalie Portman.
Visually, there's no question that Attack of the Clones left all the preceding Star Wars movies in the dust. I saw this on a huge cinema screen, sitting up at the front. It was almost like being in the theatre, where you can't take in everything at once and must continually choose where to look. It's overwhelming. Admittedly the image was rather fuzzy (Roger Ebert's right there), but at last Lucas's beloved CGI had come of age. Here at last we have all the scope and imagination without The Phantom Menace's antiseptic, plastic look. This was the authentic, grimy Star Wars-y industrial look and I loved it. Any shot including a spaceship is to die for. We have nifty new aliens, great worlds... this is an animated movie that happens to include live-action sequences. It looks fantastic.
Unfortunately there's also the story.
All the preceding movies had made things both epic and personal. Our heroes were in immediate danger, had to solve their own problems, etc. Here it's all politics and duty. Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme do what they're told. The threat is a vague, nebulous thing that's left carefully undefined throughout (perhaps because, as with The Phantom Menace, you've got evil's long-term plans succeeding through the short-term triumph of good). Trying to understand the villains' schemes is like trying to wrestle with smoke. What's more, the film's half over before any of our protagonists goes somewhere for their own reasons rather than orders.
Of course it shouldn't have been like that. Theoretically this is a love story. Unfortunately the film gets this so badly wrong that one almost forgets it's there. If watching on DVD, you'd either fast-forward through those scenes or talk over the top of them. "Look, Anakin's having a wet dream about his mother! Quick, Padme, the tissues!" If that's a romance, there's hope for stalkers yet. Who could possibly be more creepy than Anakin? These scenes are so anti-romantic that it almost becomes a peculiar, slightly sinister character study of the guy who'll become Darth Vader.
Meanwhile the failure of Natalie Portman hurts even more than last time, given her greater importance to the plot. It's a love story! This will be the foundation of the tragedy in Episode 3! It's shocking to think that despite her woodenness, she's still in danger of being the movie's only sympathetic character. She's not superpowered like the Jedi, just a plucky, bewildered girl trying to do the right thing. Like Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale in Batman, she adds a human dimension to the comic-book antics around her. Sadly her main contribution to the film is showing off nipples when she's dressed up like Princess Leia in the second half of the film, and even then they seem less prominent on DVD.
There's sinister fun in seeing the original trilogy get assembled piece by piece. To me at the time it felt almost like fanwank, but I'm happier about it now the saga's complete.
Ewan McGregor is okay, but he's no Liam Neeson. In my opinion, he's basically not a movie star. The best actors can make themselves the most important thing on the screen, forcing you to look at them whether you like it or not. Ewan doesn't. He does his Jedi thing efficiently enough, but he doesn't have star presence. Even back at the start of his film career, in Shallow Grave, he was the one you weren't looking at. However at least there he wasn't actively bad, as he was in A Life Less Ordinary, and to a certain extent what we're getting here seems to have been deliberate. He was a walking null in The Phantom Menace, he's a bit more commanding here and then in Revenge of the Sith he's getting down to business.
On the other hand, Hayden Christensen is actively bad. Jake Lloyd gave a better performance as Anakin in Episode One. Ian McDiarmid is great but gets almost no screentime. Samuel L. Jackson is mostly wasted as Mace Windu, but gets one cool hard-guy moment. However the biggest star is, of course, the one and only Christopher Lee. Dracula lives again! If you're not interested in CGI ships and 'splosions, he and Natalie's nipples are the two reasons to watch this film.
Oh, I nearly forgot R2-D2 and C-3P0. They're a sort of Greek chorus, completely irrelevant to events but throwing in random comments anyway. I liked them. The whole cast is so stiff-necked that it's refreshing to see the odd character who's more of an individual but not Jar-Jar Binks. Jar-Jar's better too, i.e. largely absent.
Reasons why this is better than The Phantom Menace:
1 - awesome visuals.
2 - less Jar-Jar.
3 - CHRISTOPHER LEE! ...but I liked Darth Maul too.
Reasons why this is worse than The Phantom Menace:
1 - Weak, meandering story. The Phantom Menace had its problems, but it also had a dynamic story with active if silly baddies and clear goals for its heroes.
2 - Hayden Christensen instead of Liam Neeson.
3 - Undermining the tragedy of Episode 3 by being so rubbish as a romance, which is after all the whole reason for the film's existence in the greater story.
4 - No, really, it's risible.
5 - I mean, dropping Natalie Portman into The Sound of Music.
6 - Fundamentally, it fails. At what it's trying to do, it fails. It's a love story that doesn't particularly succeed at being much of anything, except as an exercise in uncovering sinister political maneuverings.
Theoretically, it shouldn't be such a crime that Attack of the Clones treads water for a while before the characters start having to make choices and have things happen to them. That Coruscant chase sequence doesn't count. A New Hope was more than leisurely about getting underway, too. Unfortunately Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman have no chemistry together and don't have enough screen weight to carry things. Thus the excitement feels empty unless you're cheering on Christopher Lee. I nearly was!
What's more, it ends even more hollowly than it begins. The last half-hour is full of action and 'splosions in which our heroes are completely redundant. Deus ex machinae and Yoda are what save the day, not the movie's supposed heroes. Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme do nothing of significance and achieve nothing. Those battle scenes look amazing, but I find them boring. There's no human interest to keep me watching. It's visual noise.
The original trilogy was a classic because it had awesome villains, charming heroes and exciting battles between 'em. This new trilogy's villain is a shadowy presence, manipulating greedy alien races who don't impress because they're basically stupid. He has some kick-ass sidekicks for the Act Three showdowns (Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Anakin himself), but too little, too late. Meanwhile our heroes are politicians and monk-like supermen. Their battles are more spectacular than in the originals, but that's all they are: spectacle.
But having said all that, on a visual level Attack of the Clones really is astonishing. It's the failure of the six Star Wars films, but it should still be seen in theatres. Sit at the front.