First is the worst and you know what? Second is not the best.
Taking place about ten years after the events of the Phantom Menace, we now see that Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has grown up quite a bit. Though he is still learning a lot under the guidance of Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), he’s also beginning to understand his strength and power, while also using it for the greater good of the world. But now that Anakin’s a whole lot older too, that means that he’ll be experiencing life in different ways than ever before. That’s when Queen Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman) reenters his life and reminds him of all those feelings he had for her when he was just a kid. And since Anakin is tasked with protecting Padme after an assassination attempt on her failed, he’s made to spend a lot more time with her in which he gets to know more about her, discuss life, politics, romance, and most of all, realize that he may actually be in love. While this is all going on, the Galactic Republic and Jedi council are also trying to prevent from there being an all-out war from a separatist movement with the help of a clone army.
So yeah, is Attack of the Clones better than the Phantom Menace? Well, yeah, of course it is. But then again, look at how low the bar has been set. Then again, I do have to give credit to Lucas for at least stepping back up to the plate with the Star Wars franchise, seeing what he could bring to the next installment and, while maybe not totally listening to the haters and their complaints, at least giving them something that they can still enjoy, regardless of if they’re old or new fans of the franchise.
And by this, I mean Lucas gives us plenty and plenty of action.
Sure, the problems with the story and character-development are still here, but they’re not on such full-display as they were in Episode 1; instead, they’re now just used as filler to get us from one action sequence to the next. In all honesty, I would much rather have that, than to be stuck watching as Anakin grew up and as Jar-Jar goofed-around and generally pissed everybody off. Speaking of the later, he’s definitely thrown on the back-burner, although, at the same time, it’s still a tad ridiculous that he’s now playing Padme’s senatorial representative.
Still though, hardly anywhere Jar-Jar anywhere is fine, because, like I said, there’s still plenty more to focus on here. One of Lucas’ strong suits has always been his skill of setting-up and handling action set-pieces, which here, all seem to work out well. There’s a nice piece between Obi-Wan and Boba Fett that not only remind us how crafty and skilled of a Jedia Obi-Wan actually is, but why Jango Fett was considered such a deadly assassin in the later movies. While he’s only seen as a kid here, the movie still sets up the fact that he’d grow up one day to be a scary, trained hitman just like his daddy. Of course, the CGI, despite being somewhat choppy, still helps these scenes to be more intriguing and fun-to-watch, although they were still clearly miles away from having everything look genuine.
And of course, yeah, the movie still does a nice job at setting-up what’s to come with this story next and just how exactly this galaxy gets set into the Clone Wars. Though most of us expect it to come very soon, while watching this movie, it’s hard not to get tense and be curious as to where all the pieces of the puzzle fall. While prequels can get annoying doing too much setting-up and not actually delivering on anything, Attack of the Clones does a nice job in that it sets a lot up for the next, action-packed installment, while still giving people a lot to lock onto here and, overall, be entertained by.
Once again, it’s not a perfect installment, but it’s still far better than anything that the Phantom Menace tried doing.
However though, the one key factor that keeps Attack of the Clones away from going anywhere towards being considered “great”, is that Anakin’s a lot older now and is played by Hayden Christensen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t really hate Christensen as an actor; sure, he’s definitely weak and doesn’t seem to have that certain screen-presence that grabs you from the very start, but I’m hesitant to call him “a terrible actor”. In movies like Shattered Glass and even to a certain extent, Life as a House, Christensen has shown that, with the right script to read from, as well as a talented director to help guide him along, he’s actually quite fine. Not terrific, but just fine.
But what he’s forced to work with in Attack of the Clones, is what sets him so far back and really, Lucas doesn’t help much. Though the script here is nowhere near as cringe-inducing and as scattered as the first flick, Attack of the Clones still suffers from a lot of the poor-wording and corniness of what we can come to expect from Lucas, and it doesn’t help that Christensen is, more often than not, the one delivering these sorts of lines. That his story-line is mostly focused on a supposed romance he has with Padme, already makes it hard to watch, but the movie constantly gives Christensen nothing to do except bitch, moan and act as if he’s never had a conversation with anyone else in his entire life.
Which is a huge problem because, well, Christensen is supposed to be the leading-force of this movie – he is, as we know, going to become the one and only Darth Vader. So why he’s such an annoying pain-in-the-ass, is totally beyond me. All I do know is that Christensen spends the majority of this flick whining or kissing, neither of which he does so in a compelling way. Is his poor acting-skills to be blamed? Potentially, yes. But at the same time, I’m still not going to rag on him too much considering I’ve seen him do well before and really, with Lucas, sometimes, you’re just left to fend for yourself.
Which, sadly, Christensen seemed as if he had to do here.
Anyway, the rest of the cast seems like they’re trying too, but like Christensen, aren’t allowed to do much beyond the boring stuff Lucas gives them to do. McGregor is more believable this time as a more seasoned, skilled and disciplined Obi-Wan; Natalie Portman seems like cynical this time around as Padme and is, sadly, left to drop the same corny lines as Christensen had to; Samuel L. Jackson gets more time as Mace Windu here and shows why he’s more of a bad-ass than most of the other Jedi’s hanging around; and Christopher Lee, despite seeming like he was a last second call to fill out a villainous role, does a nice job as Count Dooku, showing us why he’s so menacing and deserving of being a baddie that our heroes can’t seem to defeat.
Oh, and yeah, we get more of Yoda here. Which, honestly, never gets old.
Consensus: Despite the occasional script and tonal issues, Attack of the Clones is still a step-above the Phantom Menace, which may not be saying much, but still says enough if you remember Jar-Jar Binks and all the pain and torment he caused.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire
I’ll disagree with you a little – both Attack Of The Clones *and* The Phantom Menace are two of the worst films of their respective years, Star Wars or otherwise. For me, AOTC is the nadir of Star Wars filmmaking, a turgid, lifeless, flat, creatively dry wellspring of mediocrity, of which all the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Lucas’ massive ego.
The problem is that seemed to have lost the ability to direct a film between his previous effort (Star Wars) and TPM. Actors on green-screen “sets”, delivering risible dialogue (just close your eyes and listen to the film, instead of watching it, and the lines are just awfully pretentious and clumsily handled, not to mention badly delivered by actors who must have wondered what the hell they’d signed on for. Most of the conversations are static, energy-free gabfests with little-to-zero emotional resonance to an audience, while the action sequences flail about between CGI overloaded irrelevance and hugely choreographed dance routines with almost zero tension. The Yoda/Dooku showdown got a fist-pump from me in the cinema, but was quickly withdrawn given it’s short lifespan (I mean, Yoda’s first on-screen brawl and it lasts about as long as I do in the sack? FFS!), and is indicative of all that’s wrong with this crudfest.
The huge armies of clones or stormtroopers or whatever they were all at the end just blasting at each other is a meaningless cacophony with absolutely zero weight behind any of it – and the Jedi are practically useless as a narrative impetus because they spend all their time taking about stuff rather than actually doing much (until it’s too late).
For the record, my score for AOTC was 2/10. My score for TPM was a 5/10, only because it was the one film in the Prequel Trilogy to make significant use of live-action sets, instead of almost total green-screen like we see in AOTC.
And Jar Jar was an abomination, no question.
I was going to leave a long detailed comment, but Rodney already said everything I was going to say, practically verbatim.
Saw this…ahem…five times at the theater. Despite its flaws I quite liked this one.
Better than Episode 1 (what isn’t?) and, in my view the best of the prequels. However, it’s been a looong time since I’ve seen it! Nice work Dan.