Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Attack of the Clones

  There is a sad and artificial quality to Attack of the Clones that is almost unshakeable. It mirrors not only the unevenly written Anakin, but also Hayden Christensen's acting skill, which leaves much to be desired in some key moments. There's no denying the boy can emote, but it's too little, too late and never hits the mark when absolutely necessary. The fantastic orchestral theme music by franchise mainstay John Williams fills in the gaps that his performance leaves making for a very half hearted experience most of the times. However, newcomer Christensen is not the only thing wrong with Episode II, he is only the tip of the iceberg.

  Fortunately, there is more of what makes Star Wars fun in this movie, and less political bumbling. Lots of speeder chases, galactic dogfights, wit, humor, and Jedi battles. However if the opening crawl doesn't let you know what kind of plotting you're about to be in for, I don't know what will. My heart sank as I realized all over again, this movie is just as plodding and political as the last. Each interlude between action scenes serves only to further the forced romance between Anakin and Padme, or to show us more political scheming. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor breathes new found life into the role of Obi Wan Kenobi that he laid the groundwork for in Episode I, but was never able to fully explore. He's a delight to watch, and his investigations into a certain mystery is without a doubt the biggest highlight of the movie.

  Most of the action scenes are pretty fantastic, the set pieces don't disappoint. From an intense opening gambit with a speeder chase through a vast Blade Runner-esque city, to a Jedi vs. Bounty hunter showdown on a rainy waterworld, and then to a climactic battle between hundreds of jedi, thousands of droids, and the coming of the clone army- there's no shortage of awe to be had in this Episode. However the whining and pouting of Mr.Christensen that we must endure so often - feel less like the brooding of a tortured young man, and more like the tantrums of a brat who can't follow orders very well. He's keen on throwing things and complaining about being told what to do. He's not a very pleasant character to watch.

  Natalie Portman is marginally better than him as she tries her damndest with the material she's given. It's not her fault she has such weak to nonexistent chemistry with Hayden, and it's also not her fault she's given such clunky and cliche dialog to deliver. It comes across as just that, clunky and cliche, yet you can tell it's often meant to be deeply romantic or foreboding. The way she emotes almost sells it, but so much is lost by that point, she can't possibly save every scene that goes awry. Of course that's not to say that every scene does, there are a few moments when the dynamic between Padme and Anakin are more than plausible, but almost emotional. These are far and few inbetween, but they serve as a glimpse into what this talent could've accomplished under a more seasoned director. No offense George.

  Oddly enough, the special effects were a big problem for me this time around. Like I said, so much of the movie itself feels artificial. A character could be in a very simple environment, like a room, or laying on a floor, and you can simply tell that green screen or computer generated imagery was involved. It's perfectly fine when CGI is used in big sweeping cityscapes, or in outer space, but it's used to a mundane level here and it's not always as convincing as it needs to be. It's distracting, unnecessary and frustrating. Things lose scale, surroundings feel fake, entire scenes feel... artificial. I have no doubt they are too. This abuse of CGI irritates me as the technology was not yet ready for such overuse.  Lucas put off the prequel trilogy to let technology mature and grow before he made them, but he should've waited a little more. Maybe we'd have a more polished trilogy. Back in 2002 or whenever this was released, the effects seemed fine. Yet, the effects in 1999's The Phantom Menace still look good, and the effects in Attack of the Clones seems far more dated than they have any right to. I have no doubts it's only because of the extreme extent that Lucas used them.

  That issue, coupled with a meandering plot, more political complication, and the lack of an iconic villain make Attack of the Clones an inert entry into the franchise. One that not even it's set pieces and action scenes can save. I've seen it many times, and this time, as usual I did enjoy myself... but only to an extent. Again, it's serviceable. Watchable. The Star Wars franchise deserves better. This is, for a complete flip flop of reasons- more or less on par with Episode I. Though I actually consider Episode I to be the better movie thanks to the inclusion of Darth Maul, and a much more memorable final Jedi showdown. That's not to say Episode II is awful either, it's okay. It's even pretty fun if you're in the mood for it. Yet it's still a disappointing entry, maybe not as disappointing as Episode I was... but nonetheless. Here's hoping that Revenge of the Sith will redeem this trilogy.

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