Sunday, 3 January 2010

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)


George Lucas is well known for his vision in creating the Star Wars saga, and his willingness to push the boundaries of cinematic special effects.

His skills in portraying human emotions are a lot less developed.

The middle part of any trilogy is always the trickiest, needing to bridge the introduction with the climax. To further complicate matters for Lucas, Attack of the Clones is very much an emotional bridge: the maturing of Anakin Skywalker and his training as a Jedi coincide with the battle for his soul between good and evil. His inability to control anger, and his willingness to fall in love in violation of the Jedi code, are key triggers to his downfall.

It's all heady human development stuff that would be a challenge to writers and directors who are experienced in story-telling at the human scale. In the hands of Lucas the writer and director, most of the emotional drama falls flat.

The scenes of the developing romantic relationship between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman) are by far the most painful to endure in the entire six-part series. The dialogue is hollow and laughable, the performances stiff, the chemistry toxic. The romantic scenes that Lucas conjures up reek with cliches (they actually roll on top of each other in a green field at one stage) and betray an utter lack of imagination, which is a dismal failure for Lucas.

He is not helped by Christensen, as the teenaged Anakin, delivering what must be one of the worst acting performances of the decade. He appears to be reading his lines in a boring monotone off the nearest wall, and is unable to project any genuine emotion or internal conflict.

The plot revolves around the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Republic, as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who is actually the evil Darth Sidious, continues to secretly fan the flames of war to justify the suspension of democracy. Helping him is Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, delivering a suitably understated and elegant performance), a former Jedi, who has aligned with the Trade Federation and is leading a separatist movement against the Republic.

An assassination attempt against Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo (Portman) results in Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (a much improved Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice Anakin (Christensen) splitting up: Obi-Wan pursues Padme's attacker and uncovers a massive army of clones being readied for a massive escalation of the war.

Anakin is tasked with protecting Padme, but they instead fall in love and take a side trip to Tatooine, where Anakin must confront the destiny of his mother and face the ultimate anger management test -- which he fails miserably.

The action reaches a crescendo with Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, and a number of Jedi including Mace Windu and Yoda confronting Count Dooku and the large separatist army on the planet Geonosis. The Jedi are in trouble until the massive Clone army, now commanded by the Chancellor, intervenes and turns the tide of the battle in favour of the Republic, but Dooku survives to fight another day. Anakin and Padme decide to carry on with their illicit relationship, and Anakin begins to realize that he certainly does have a dark side.

The climactic battle on Geonosis is one of the highlights of the Star Wars opera. It is an all-out epic war sequence, and combines massed troops with impressive light sabre duels. Yoda's confrontation with Dooku is also well done. In all, the final third of the film goes some way towards making up for the clumsy middle.

Other than Christensen's hopeless performance, the cast are actually quite good. McGregor is much more confident as Obi-Wan, and Portman shines as the blossoming, athletic and resourceful Padme. Attack of the Clones is Portman's best moment in the Star Wars trilogy, slotting in between her child Queen role in Episode I and her pregnant-wife-in-panic mode of Episode III. Jackson and Lee add a good dose of gravitas to the proceedings.

A more adult-oriented, darker and more serious film compared to The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones did not mark a return to the greatness of hyperspace, but did place the series back on the right spaceship.







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