Throwback Review: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
A Film Review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
(read our throwback Phantom Menace review here)
The second chapter in the Star Wars saga is yet another technical marvel of special effect driven Hollywood film production. It is an entertaining enough popcorn film that improves on the cinematic capturing of fantastic action by blending live action with some fairly impressive CG. However, it also happens to be a film that bleeds the very definition of “awkward” regarding its general pacing, plot and character development thanks exclusively to an unfocused exploration of this film’s main character: Anakin Skywalker.
One part of the “Anakin problem” is a fundamental weakness the script reveals when presenting the initial transformation of Anakin into one of the most iconic villains in film history. It is less of a “transformation” and more of a rudimentary “escalation.” In the first film Anakin was merely a secondary character that is established as having an unknown secret power, a massive affinity for his mother and a pre-teen crush on a pretty face. By Episode II Anakin is a fully fledged young adult, but the importance of his character and power becomes the epicenter of everything. Anakin may look like the strapping young man that Hayden Christensen was, but almost immediately, is re-established as still worrying about the fate of his mom, still obsessing over Padme and not being able to deal with any of these feelings outside of random temper tantrums like the little boy he still is. Anakin may be older, but he has not grown. He is Peter Pan: childish, defiant, and arrogant. His lack of growth is completely ignored by the entire story. What? Jedi training had no classes regarding personal development, dealing with loss, handling disappointment or learning to cope? A Jedi shall not know anger, nor hatred, nor love and the best way to “not know” these things are by learning how to swing a laser sword with your eyes closed and how to throw things around with your mind.
Another part of the “Anakin problem” is his erratic behavior on display throughout this film which has justifiably awarded Mr. Christensen the surname: “Manic-kin Skywalker.” By the film’s end, an engaged audience understands that this behavior is necessary to convey his inner struggle, but we are taken aback by its unexplained intensity and random placement. Is Anakin a crazy person? He sure didn’t demonstrate any elements of emotional instability as a boy. A more subtle approach to the performance of this character and a gradual development of his emotional distress would have made more sense, but the unrefined thespian ability of Hayden himself is not the only culprit to this fiasco. The writing, direction and overall juxtaposition of these outbursts are as curious as their emotional highs and lows and those jobs were all George Lucas’ responsibilities according to the credits.
A perfect example of this conundrum occurs very early in the film where Anakin tells Padme that “we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us.” That sounds like a mature Jedi thing to say and Padme rewards him by saying that he has grown up. Well, not really because he immediately goes on a rant about Obi-Wan holding him back (boo hoo) and how he’s surpassed his mentor (waa waa). The fact that Natalie Portman plays her character’s reaction calm and cool (like that outburst didn’t actually happen) makes this entire moment even more clumsy and uncomfortable than it already was. Every moment that follows where Anakin has a one on one dialogue scene with Padme or Obi-Wan reproduces varying degrees of the same dramatic instability that one can’t help but raise an eyebrow, roll your eyes, make a face or fold your arms in response.
There was a clear dedication to making more action scenes with more variety, but more isn’t always better. Better chases sequences, better space flight, better mass battles are here, but the climactic light saber duel at the end wasn’t so grand.
The cinematography is much more vibrant in this film especially in action sequences featuring more dynamic angles as well as double push-ins to give added depth, immediacy and tension to these scenes.
Ewan McGregor is solid once again while Hayden Christensen is all over the emotional map as his moments of calm clarity are far superior to his moments of anger and rage. Also, I truly, deeply don’t understand how Natalie Portman was a better actor as a child in The Professional than in this film.
Superior effort by the supporting cast here. Could’ve used a bit more scenes with Christopher Lee getting more mileage out of that intimidating voice of his. Samuel L. got to be his bad Jedi self. Absolutely loved Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett.
John Williams adapting the Star Wars passion music using flats instead of sharps in the melody to accentuate the corrupting nature of the story is his simple genius.
Still the industry’s benchmark of the excellence of Skywalker Sound.
“Moving” = 28/33
It’s never a question of the beauty of CG in Star Wars films, it’s their effectiveness. This film features a vast improvement on depth, light, shadow and tone of fabricated settings and characters. Slave I’s space mines were a joy to see as well as Jango Fett’s combat and jetpack flight.
A bit more explosions being used here as well fire thanks to a certain character’s arsenal.
This Amidala fashion show had an unhealthy addiction to bearing that midriff at almost every turn. I appreciated Jango’s silver armor as something unique in between the brown vs. black concepts of Jedi and Sith garb respectively.
Hair & Makeup
Is it me, or did the elected Queen of Naboo that came after Amidala get the B squad in applying her makeup?
Much better variety at work in this film. Much more difficult to distinguish between live and CG sets.
A near flawless concept to practical and digital execution. Personally loved the entire look of everything on Kamino.
“Picture” = 26/33
So the Jedi are called in once again to protect Amidala/Padme because she’s an important Senator now for a vote in the Republic. Still weak, but at least the story develops this angle into a simple revenge assassination plot.
Jedi vs. Sith becomes the featured conflict using other entities like the Republic and Separatists as pawns for their greater disagreements. We still don’t know why they want to destroy each other. Anakin’s inner turmoil is a quagmire of nonsense. He might actually be a crazy person.
The Jedi win (kinda) and Padme makes the ultimate commitment to Anakin with some of the most sterile chemistry ever generated for the screen? Frustrating to say the least.
When Anakin doesn’t completely lose his mind to hormones, he has a couple of humane moments with Obi-Wan and Padme. Too bad they’re almost always instantly ruined by pouting.
So Anakin went from cute little boy who races pods to issue-riddled, mama’s boy with homicidal tendencies? And no one questions Jedi training after this?
I liked a slightly more diplomatic and grandfatherly attempt to persuade Obi-Wan to the dark side by Dooku. I also liked Mace Windu’s “assertiveness” on the battle field. Seeing Yoda as a warrior instead of lecturer for the first time was interesting.
I don’t understand why Padme falls for Anakin. I don’t understand the Jedi sitting on a ticking time bomb and no one doing anything about it. I don’t get Obi-Wan always berating Anakin instead of trying to reason with him. Several characters take curious turns here.
“Story” = 13/34
Overall MPS Rating: 67/100
Seeing how the prequel trilogy is the story of Anakin’s fall and succumbing to the Darth Vader persona and the dark side, it is disappointing and unsatisfying to realize that the impetus for it all was nothing more dramatic than a scared little boy with mommy issues. It also remains to be seen how much height Anakin actually falls from because the only “greatness” he demonstrates is the potential for his power and nothing else. He demonstrates no unique kindness, insight, leadership or even ability as he and Obi-Wan get dominated at the end even with their numbers advantage. The only thing Anakin is exceptional at is mouthing off. It is very difficult to find any sympathy for Anakin throughout this film because everything he does is motivated by pure selfishness and impulse; a complete 180 from anything he ever was in the first film. The only thing tragic about this hero is that his back story and motivation is just plain weak.