Cast : Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Oliver Ford Davies, Silas Carson.
Synopsis: Anakin starts his journey to the Dark Side, boinks Natalie Portman and marries her, and starts to detest Obi-Wan’s control of him. The Jedi miscalculate just how bad things are going to get, and Yoda finally, after decades of waiting, shows us just how bad-ass he can actually be. No Darth Maul (boo!), and barely any Jar Jar Binks (Thank God!).
Maddening, stupefyingly awful, a malignant scab on the carcass of George Lucas’ generally good sci-fi saga, Attack of The Clones is about as close the worst case of inept filmmaking as you’ll ever see. From it’s debacle-ridden opening, featuring Queen Amidala returning to Corsuscant to vote on a major piece of legislation, and being nearly assassinated, to the frenetic, incomprehensibly complicated and impossibly overblown battle between Clone troopers, Jedi and those stupid robots army dudes at the end of The Phantom Menace, Attack of The Clones is a very, very unsubtle attempt to try and increase the dramatic impetus of the prequel films in order to attain the emotional weight needed for the third film, where Anakin Skywalker will change into Darth Vader. It fails utterly. It’s fair to say that watching this film is likely to give you a headache. Flat, stilted dialogue, ridiculous (and preposterous) plot clichés and developments, and an over-abundance of special effects, make this film a true chore to sit through. Even though it boasts some serious talent in front of, and behind, the camera, the film remains mired in awkward scripting, flashy, commercialised effects and a video-game mentality of direction from Mr Lucas, who I am beginning to feel couldn’t direct an orgy in a brothel.
Here’s the plot: a decade after events in Phantom Menace, Anakin (Hayden Christensen) is now a Jedi, still under the training of Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), and when they meet up with Padme (Natalie Portman) after all this time, sparks fly and the two soon encounter some romantic feelings for each other. These feelings, as we know, will eventually lead to Luke and Leia being born, but that’s for the third film. Anyway, there’s some rubbish about a clone army being developed by some long-dead Jedi, a rumbling of the Dark Side of the Force from Yoda and Mace Windu (Sam Jackson), and the hint that not all is as it seems with the bad guys involved. The evil Darth Sidious, a shadowy, dark garbed entity (who we met in Phantom Menace) rears up again, pulling the strings that will see the Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) elected to Chancellor of the Republic, which pretty much means he runs the joint.
The problem with the prequel trilogy, in the main, is the overuse of special effects to try and “enhance” the storytelling process. It seems to me that Lucas has mistakenly confused this with using his effects to “be” the story, rather than help tell it. After all, all three prequel films seem more like an extended showreel for ILM than a Star Wars film. Lucas thinks that by shooting the majority of the films on green-screen, and shoving any and all kinds of effects in afterwards, makes for a quicker, more dynamic filmmaking process. The problem is, the effects overshadow a plot that is so stupidly self-indulgent and badly written that the audience finds itself uncontrollably laughing at moments of intended seriousness. Case in point: the worst double-act of romance in film history, with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, the latter of whom is reduced to cloyingly squirming dialogue about love and all that stuff, while Christensen is about as wooden as Sherwood Forest, his version of Anakin freakishly uneven. These two are supposed to be the love story of all time, the pivotal romance in the entire Star Wars saga, and yet they have about as much romantic chemistry on screen as a bucket of afterbirth. It’s like watching nails scrape down a chalkboard, and removes you utterly from the film’s narrative. They’re simply not believable, and the script doesn’t help: a rancid, insipid, pseudo-hippie effort from Lucas, who seems to think love can be classified merely as a series of emotional beats and some soppy words of wisdom…
Fandom was initially incensed that Yoda was going to be a totally CGI character this time, given that in The Phantom Menace Lucas (and puppeteer Frank Oz) had utilised a puppet in a similar vein to the original trilogy. They feared another Jar Jar Binks, and perhaps rightly so. The digital Yoda is a marvel, a completely developed creation with all the subtle nuances and mannerisms of the original puppet. Yet it stands tall as a success surrounded by ineptitude, especially a strangely generic performance from the normally great Christopher Lee, as the twisted Count Dooku. Lee looks utterly out of his depth here, as if Lucas cast him simply to cast a great actor for his past roles than an actor suitable for the role on offer.
Aaargh, there’s so much wrong with this film it’s hard to know where to begin.
Attack Of The Clones is perhaps one of the greatest travesties of Lucas’ revisionist prequel trilogy, and one of the most idiotically un-fun films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s hard to know where to look to enjoy this movie, as it tries to bludgeon you over the head to entertain: and will end up giving you a migraine. Dreadful acting (especially from those who should do better) and a truly awful script, Attack is the worst of the Star Wars films, and one of the least entertaining you’ll ever see. It really is a chore to watch.
First, there’s the story. Overly political and complicated, let down by the fact that none of the characters are really developed beyond a generic level, and you have a lot of exposition that simply exists to pad out the films’ running time. Poor Ian McDiarmid, trying desperately to develop Palatine as the crafty, evil backstabber he will turn out to be in Revenge Of The Sith, is given short thrift again here, his dialogue with the exceptionally wooden Hayden Christensen so woefully cobbled together that you get the creepy-crawly skin chills just watching it. The story tries to cram in assassinations, battles of epic proportions, Anakin’s mother making a short reappearance, only to croak it, and send Anakin spiralling into the kind of angsty teenage depression and anger you’d find in any episode of daytime soap. It all feels contrived, unfortunately, and I can’t figure out if that’s the result of Lucas’s anaemic script, which seems more designed to endure as a video game than a feature film, or some bad performances by the key cast. Lucas seems incapable of generating any real emotional weight behind the performances his cast give him, and I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy when your cast are spouting lines like “I’m not afraid to die. I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.” You’re kidding, right Lucas? Can you imagine Princess Leia saying that line? Lucas must have dragged this preposterously cloying rubbish from stupidromanticlinesforwankers.com. I dare you to stand up, go to a mirror and try reciting that line to yourself, giving it the dramatic weight it needs to get the emotional content across. You’ll find it’s impossible to do without laughing or vomiting.
I appreciate what Lucas is trying to do, with Attack of The Clones. The key point is the death of Anakin’s mother, which sets his life journey off onto the path towards becoming Vader. He’s an arrogant, angry young man anyway, and all he needs is the kick over the edge. That moment does it, and it’s hard to watch, because you know what’s coming. A major butt-kicking. Lucas is trying desperately to set up the emotional content of the film for the third prequels big pay-off, and the expected return of Vader to the big screen. He tries, with dialogue and new characters all giving us glimpses, sly winks to the devastation to come, but there’s no real sense of urgency within the film. No real tension. It’s like everyone’s going through the motions. The story is sound, but something else is undoing all the good work, and I think it’s the overly complicated story threads: all of which compete for equal screen time, and consequently, reduce the cohesiveness of the whole.
Another of the films problems is the stupendously bombastic action sequences, all of which are utterly pointless, contrived and derivative. The finale, an enormous land battle between the Republic army, the army of the Separatists, and the Jedi, is nothing more than an experiment with digital CGI and how much you can cram into a single feature film. I found myself unconsciously rubbing my temples waiting for the noise to stop, I was so overwhelmed with the conflagration of effects, surround sound and increasingly incoherent plot. The fight between Obi-Wan and the originator of the Storm Troopers (whom we see plenty of in the original trilogy), Jango Fett is okay, I suppose, although I still wonder why it needed to be shown. It’s almost like the battles and fights are there for no other purpose than to look cool, not because they really advance the story in any way. The fact that you can, George, doesn’t mean you should. Trashing your Star Wars legacy for the sake of making a little more cash from the merchandising, in this case, the cool battle robots and stuff, is annoying, and detracts from the filmmaking experience. And the film is far too long. The story takes an eternity to develop, and while it moves at a consistent pace, that pace is mind-numbingly slow. Coupled with the action stuff that proves how good ILM are, and adds nothing to the story, and you have a film so filled with imaginative advertising and such little story you wonder why on earth you’re bothering to watch it.
Then, there’s the acting. To say Hayden Christensen is a poor actor is to not give him his due. He’s probably a very good actor. As long as he doesn’t have to emote, or say anything, or appear on screen. In one of cinema’s worst gaffes, Lucas has cast somebody to play one of the movies’ most influential characters, and somebody whom has been talked about almost as long as Star Wars has been around, who is utterly incapable of generating any emotion, either out of himself or the viewer. It’s an appalling thing to see, since we all know Anakin is going to have to descend to the Dark Side of the Force in the next film. Christensen has almost no screen chemistry and what little he has is generated more often than not by Lucas’ effects and camera work than the actor himself. His on-screen chemistry with Natalie Portman is like watching two tree trunks collide, they’re both so wooden. Portman looks like she’s embarrassed of him the entire time, and he looks like he’s slightly constipated whenever they are in a scene together. Admittedly, their dialogue, as written by Lucas, is truly diabolical, and almost inexcusable for a major feature film, but they can’t overcome a sheer lack of chemistry together: this fatally hamstrings the film, and adversely affects events in the next one. Portman, herself no stranger to the screen, is normally pretty decent in front of the camera, but here, it’s like she’s a robot, delivering lines like a machine blessed with an incredibly hot body.
Samuel L Jackson must be ruing signing up for this, since the majority of his scenes are with a character who simply isn’t there: Digital Yoda. Although Lucas refrained from unleashing a digital Yoda upon us with The Phantom Menace (due, perhaps, to the fact that the computer technology wasn’t quite up to the challenge at that point), here, the decision was made to allow Yoda free reign in the computer graphic world. While it’s pleasing to see just how far CGI has come since Phantom Menace, the Digital Yoda almost stands up to scrutiny, but doesn’t quite have the same feel as the puppet version. I say almost, because there’s a key scene in Attack Of The Clones that had fanboys across the planet cleaning their pants after watching this. Yoda and Count Dooku, a dwarf creature and an old man, have a singularly brilliant lightsabre fight towards the end, and we see Yoda like we’ve never seen before. To say this scene will have you punching the air with delight is an understatement. To see Yoda in all his Jedi-like glory, going at it with the stunt-double-enhanced Lee is dynamic, stunning and exciting. Perhaps the most genuinely exciting moment in the whole film.
John Williams’ exciting score cannot possibly be more brilliant. The man is amazing, able to concoct the most moving, eloquent music to accompany the visuals on screen: it’s just a pity all his sturm und drang cacophony cannot possibly hope to elevate a story and film so mired in averageness that it borders on B-grade rubbish. The musical themes recurring between the original trilogy and the prequels are slowly morphing into each other, a thematic link between the past and the present, and Williams has cleverly done this in a way that seems natural and easy. No doubt it’s not, but there you have it.
As far as films go, Attack Of The Clones is a boring, silly, pretentious waste of everybody’s time. In what I consider to be the greatest travesty to condemn Star Wars from being a truly great series to merely adequate (well, almost) George Lucas has allowed his unfettered imagination to bury what was once a magnificent example of cinematic craft beneath an overblown, arrogantly bloated, conceited film misfire of the highest order. After this and The Phantom Menace, there was almost no hope that the third film could possibly hope to bring anything new to the table. Which is the frustrating thing, because the entire world wanted these prequels to succeed. But Lucas’ bad decision making on many levels led to the prequels slowly becoming a singular mess of storytelling, something that no matter how much you spin it, still wouldn’t make a great film.