The Good: COSTUMES! Ewan McGregor's Acting, The Lone Character Scene
The Bad: Speed, Lack of Real Plot, Purpose or Sensibility
The Basics: In an act of heresy, rating this like any other film and confessing that it doesn't stand up as it's largely special effects that are too fast to be special.
The day after George Lucas announced that the title of Star Wars Episode II was Attack of the Clones, Ewan McGregor was quoted as saying it was a horrible title for the film. It's true, it's a horrible title for this film. On one level. On the one level, it's a horrible title, especially considering that the clones don't appear for most of the movie and they're not attacking, they're defending. Second, it's an okay title because it implies the sheer camp of this film.
Attack of the Clones begins ten years after The Phantom Menace and finds Lucas being a one trick pony as a writer. The film opens with an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala, one that is successful in killing her decoy. Remember her decoy from The Phantom Menace? Well, it's an old trick by the time Attack of the Clones begins.
So, the Senator gets some protection, Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker show up to protect her and from that point on, the film becomes a series of chases. Remember the pod race from The Phantom Menace? My opinion on that was that was ten whole minutes of my life I could never get back. Well, after Anakin and Kenobi meet up with Amidala, the film becomes a two hour + chase. Anakin chases an attempted assassin, Obi Wan chases the bounty hunter who is linked to the assassin, Anakin and Amidala have a little fling, Obi Wan fights the bounty hunter Jango Fett, Anakin chases his mother, Obi Wan and Jango have a space battle, Anakin and Amidala get chased through an assembly line and then there's a final battle.
If it seems to you like I'm simplifying the plot, all I can say is I wish I wish I was. Alas, though, I'm not. The problem with Attack of the Clones is that it lacks the character development and reasonable quality of The Empire Strikes Back. That is to say, The Empire Strikes Back is essentially a chase film, but there's a whole philosophical journey Luke goes on that is lacking from Attack of the Clones. Moreover, Empire's literal chase scenes go at a realistic or sensible pace. Attack of the Clones chase sequences are huge, fast and visually overwhelming. In all, they don't make much sense, either.
I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars films, but this episode I find little to recommend about it. Sticking with the chase aspect, as I mentioned above, they tend not to make much sense. For example in an assembly line scene, Amidala leaps and bounds forward through the machinery as opposed to staying put or getting off the equipment an easy way. It doesn't make much rational sense. In fact, the whole purpose of the scene seems to be to tease the audience. We know what becomes of Anakin and so we expect at some point he will lose limbs to get bionic limbs. In the assembly line scene it seems the only purpose is to tease the audience by making them think this is a moment Anakin will lose a limb. That and to provide C-3P0 with a pointless comic relief scene. That is to say that the film doesn't need comic relief when this scene comes along.
The film is a visual mess, with extraordinarily fast special effects working to the detriment of the plot and character development. In fact, it seems here that Lucas is sacrificing the storytelling for creating massive special effects which are difficult to watch because they go by too fast.
The effect that works is the costuming. Amidala is exquisitely clad and VERY easy on the eyes. In fact, the redeeming factor of the film is the amazing costuming. This is the episode that deserves the Oscar for costuming and I know I rooted for it back in the day.
But the acting is generally shaky, with the notable exceptions being Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. Both give excellent performances. Despite the wonderful costumes, Natalie Portman often seems uncertain as Amidala and Hayden Christensen - who definitely has the look of Anakin - even more often seems like he's flubbling his lines. It seems like he's an actor playing a character instead of the actual character, especially in the key scene where Skywalker and Amidala confront their feelings.
The sad truth is that outside of the single scene where Amidala and Skywalker express their feelings for one another, the film is devoid of character development. And plot. The way Lucas wrote Attack of the Clones, he segregates plot and character in a very literal way. Anakin and Amidala are responsible for any and all character development. Obi-Wan, who has almost as much screentime is responsible for all furthering of the plot. Obi-Wan's detective work advances the plot to the point that when the villain of the film is FINALLY revealed, there's a large exposition of plot. That is, when Count Dooku appears, he TELLS Obi-Wan everything that has been going on. It's insulting to the intelligence of the viewer.
The problem with Attack of the Clones comes down to the problem with many films these days; the writing stinks and the director sacrifices genuine emotion and character for plot and special effects. In this case, the lines tend to be pure camp and the plot is terribly simple. The film is extended by especially long chase sequences.
Right before the film was released, Joel Siegel on Good Morning America said George Lucas has reason to be confident with the film. I agree, but for a different reason. Lucas has created the ultimate film that has to be seen twice to know what it is you're seeing and appreciate, if it may be appreciated at all.
On DVD, Attack Of The Clones has a two-disc version that has a commentary track where Lucas discusses how the film fits into the larger work. Most of the featurettes on the second disc are focused on the special effects and how they progressed from the first film, as well as the casting of Christensen as Anakin. There are also bonus features which focus on the hype surrounding the film and a handful of deleted scenes.
For other Star Wars cinematic endeavors, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars - Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.