Attack of the Clones

Rated: PG
Runtime: 2 Hours and 22 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: B

I'm gonna be quite honest with you: it's better than "The Phantom Menace". It's got some nice action, the acting is better than in Episode One, and there are several moments where you can almost touch that ethereal essence, that passion, that sprightly sense of playfulness and wonder that made the original "Star Wars" trilogy such a treat. The original "Star Wars" films were fast and loose and a hell of a lot of fun. The last two haven't been perfect, and neither were the others (but "The Empire Strikes Back" was awfully damn close) but they were onto something. They were spiritual cousins to those matinee serials that our grandparents enjoyed. They were kid-friendly, but adults could enjoy them without worry. They were fun yet they also had their moments of darkness and ominousness. They had glorious creatures, yet they also had human characters that you cared about. They took you to new worlds and brought those worlds to life. They were dazzling, action-packed and you could still respect yourself in the morning.

When watching "Attack of the Clones", there were many things I enjoyed. There were a lot of great special effects and nice moments that had nothing to do with special effects. But that playfulness, that sprightly energy which seethed through the original trilogy, that "force", if you will, that made them such a treat seems to be in short supply this time around. "The Phantom Menace" may have been, by and large, crap. But it was entertaining crap. I knew from the first viewing that it wasn't that great, but I had so much fun I went to see it again anyway. I cheated myself into loving it until I saw it on video and the experience of watching it in my own home laid all its flaws bare. After seeing "Attack of the Clones", I know that it is a much better movie. But I have no desire to rush out and see it again.

That may not seem like a big deal. But, to a guy who was born and raised with these movies, who feels some element of them in his blood, that is a stumbling block.

"Attack of the Clones" has two stories going on within its running length and they never quite jibe. The most interesting one is a plot to kill Senator Padme (Natalie Portman, who was a queen last time, but oh well). Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, who actually gets to do something in this installment) is assigned to hunt the assailants down and find out who is behind these assassination attempts. The plot involves an army of clones (we have a title!), political corruption (even in galaxies far, far away politicians can be dirtbags), Sith Lords, and a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. This plot brings a nice sense of mystery back to these films and is by far the most intriguing element.

Unfortunately, for the most part, we also have the romance between Padme Amidala (Portman) and her Jedi bodyguard Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). It's not terrible. Don't get me wrong. It just isn't particularly great. The dialogue is often lame in these sections of the film, but it isn't as lame as the trailers or Episode One might suggest. It just doesn't convince. The romance feels very flat, and whenever the film goes back to it, one sighs and wants to check one's watch. Christensen and Portman have absolutely no chemistry together, and the whole affair is fairly dull.

As a result, the entire film is mired by a sense of dullness. The film seems eternally long, and the pacing of the movie can best be described as "glacial". It has enough great moments to recommend it. A light saber fight between Yoda and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is alone worth the price of admission. A chase through the sky streets of Coruscant was also very pulse pounding: it reminded me of an airborne version of the "French Connection" chase. And all the scenes in which Ewan McGregor is hunting down his leads are very compelling. I also loved a scene taking place in a futuristic sports bar of sorts. In this scene, you get a tangible sense of what makes us so excited about these movies in the first place.

And though it did bore me much of the time, I cannot go so far as to say it was a bad movie. There is a great deal to recommend about this picture. The moments where Hayden Christensen asserts himself and actually shows that he is the man who will be Vader are chilling. Portman actually stops being wooden long enough to give a good performance in one or two scenes. And you get to see both Yoda and Samuel L. Jackson kick some ass Jedi style. But the movie seems to think itself too much of an institution. It lets its hair down once or twice, but for the most part it adopts a ponderous and regal style much like the "Godfather" films. Which is too bad. There is the potential for some pulse-pounding filmmaking here that is only capitalized upon in a dozen or so scenes. It seems to distance itself from the audience. It seems to want to be a legitimate picture rather than just a fun time. And that's fine and dandy, but...well, something is missing here. I never thought I would say it, but "The Phantom Menace" had a better bead on the feel of a "Star Wars" picture than this one does. It had the feel, but it didn't have good dialogue or great characters or a streamlined story. This one has a better story, better dialogue (most of the time) and a few characters that you are interested in. But it doesn't feel right. It feels like a hollow spectacle, albeit an impressive one. Much like the battle toward the end of the film, in which an army of clones fights an army of droids. Sure, it looks nice. But we really don't care. Who gives a rat's ass which one wins? There is no emotional stake here whatsoever.

If this movie had more heart, we might really be getting somewhere. But as it is, it's a pretty good step in the right direction.