Monday, November 16, 2015

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Review

Last week I started quite the epic project on this blog by reviewing Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. That was the first part in a seven part series of reviews where I review seven Star Wars movies in seven weeks. This has me absolutely stoked. My excitement level for the brand new Star Wars movie has been through the roof for a long time and all these new trailers and TV spots have me convinced that this is going to be a dang good movie. I will admit, though, that I am done with new footage. I don't want any more trailers or TV spots that show new information. I'm ready for the movie. But before we get to that movie, we have to get through these reviews, which I plan on having a lot of fun with. Like I said last week, I'm usually one to defend the prequels. Although you heard me say that and then you watched me bash The Phantom Menace to the ground for the most part. I'm going to be honest here, the bashing is going to continue with Attack of the Clones. I may defend the prequels as a whole, but I do not defend this specific chapter. I never have. I never well. This is the one bad Star Wars movie.

First and foremost, I do have to be fair and say that the idea behind this movie is a good one. I say this because we are told a bit of the back story of Anakin Skywalker in the original trilogy. We know that Anakin was a great Jedi. We know that he was not only the apprentice of Obi-Wan, but they were good friends. We aren't told much of the why he turned to the dark side, but we know it was a devastating event for Obi-Wan that made him very sad. We do know there was a love interest for Anakin. They had two kids that he never really knew about. Those twins were hidden from him in different places. That love interest did pass away somehow, but not immediately after she gave birth because Leia says she remembers her mother. More on that next week. All of this makes for a very fascinating back story. This back story is what makes Darth Vader one of the greatest movie villains in cinematic history and one of the greatest characters in general. He's not just a random villain trying to kill the good guys or take over the galaxy for no apparent reason. He has a whole lot of depth to him. The foundations were laid for them to make a fantastic movie. And that's why this is a bad movie. It totally misses despite the amazing potential.

Even if I were to ignore all the other Star Wars movies for a moment and focus just on this one movie, there are still a whole lot of glaring problems and I'll get to as many of those as I can. But I can't just do that. The original trilogy exists. And it's beautiful. And it has some of the best written characters in cinematic history. Attack of the Clones had potential to be something epic and great. This is the meat of the story. This is where we tell Anakin's back story. This had the potential to be on the same level of The Empire Strikes Back. The characters, relationships, and twists are all right there for them to just grab and take advantage of. But they screw it up royally. It felt like one of those times where a b-level director and screenwriter gets the rights to an iconic franchise and just totally screws things up because they don't really know how to make a good movie. Like the Terminator franchise. Two amazing movies were made and then the original crew lost the rights and three horrid movies followed. Except here's the thing. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, DIDN'T lose the rights to Star Wars. This was HIS franchise. HIS story. HIS characters. And HE was the one who wrote and directed Attack of the Clones. He screwed up his own franchise. That baffles me.

Let's get into specifics here. I want to talk about a few relationships in this movie that really fail. Before I get to the obvious disaster of a relationship, I want to talk about the slightly less obvious one. Anakin and Obi-Wan. This is the relationship that is supposed to be really good. This is the relationship that is supposed to be really emotional. They aren't just supposed to be master and apprentice. They're supposed to be good friends. But they aren't. There's nothing but bickering and arguing between these two the whole movie. Remember Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan from The Phantom Menace? Yeah, that's how this should've been. There were a few disagreements here and there, but overall Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were good friends. They had a very good chemistry. They were great together on the battle field. That's what needed to be there between Anakin and Obi-Wan, but it wasn't. When they were together, they were arguing and bickering. When they were separated, Anakin spent the whole time complaining to Padme about how awful Obi-Wan is as a trainer. When he does give a compliment, he says Obi-Wan is like a father. He doesn't say friend. Yet Ewan McGregor is only 10 years older than Hayden Christensen. It's all wrong.

Now I'm not just saying that this is wrong because it is inconsistent with how the back story was told in the original trilogy. The conversation between Obi-Wan and Luke is very brief and, in theory, could be interpreted in different ways. But in my opinion, this is how it needed to happen. Of course we needed Anakin to be a broken person. But despite being a broken person, that relationship between him and his master needed to be a very strong, positive relationship. Having Anakin complain and whine about Obi-Wan for the whole movie is really ridiculous. There is no relationship there. Not in this movie anyways. I'll continue this conversation in next week's review, but in this movie it's really dumb. Of course I don't blame Ewan McGregor for this. He was fantastic in this movie. It's the writing in the movie that kills it. And the acting, or lack of acting, from our main man Hayden Christensen. Man was casting this guy a huge mistake. I don't know who exactly made this decision to make this guy our Anakin, but that person deserves to be grounded. Granted, the writing of his character was horrible. And apparently George Lucas doesn't know how to direct anymore, which probably didn't help. But unlike Ewan McGregor, who did the best with what he was given, Hayden takes what he was given and screws it up even more.

That leads into our next relationship. The relationship that I would argue is possibly the worst on-screen relationship in movie history. Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Let me tell you the first reason why this is wrong and I'm going to do so through one of the many awkward conversations that the two have at one point. Padme looks at Anakin and says that he looks grown up. Anakin looks at Padme and says that she looks the exact same as he remembered her. I don't know if laughable irony was intended in that conversation, but it's definitely there. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is supposed to be 9 and Padme is supposed to be 14. Jake Lloyd was 9 years old. Natalie Portman wasn't. She was 17. Okay whatever. You have a 17-year-old playing a 14-year-old character. Fine. Whatever. But then you set your second movie 10 years into the future and as such, you decide to recast Anakin, but keep Padme. And you cast a guy is the exact same age as Natalie Portman to play Anakin. So the actors have an 8-year difference between them in the first movie and no difference in the second movie. It's just weird and doomed to begin with because Anakin has aged 10 years, but Padme has only aged two or three years. Yet we're supposed to believe that the age difference is the exact same. Nope. Someone screwed up there.

Oh but that's only the beginning of the problems with these two. I think Hayden Christensen was given dialogue that was supposed to be sweet and romantic. To say that he has a big crush on this girl is putting it lightly. He has dreamed about this girl every single night in the 10 years that they have been separated. He is madly in love with her. I don't really blame him. This is Natalie Portman we are talking about. Had Hayden Christensen actually been a charming, loving individual, this could've worked. I know guys that have the ability to just dish out compliment after compliment and have that work. They'll just go up to a girl and say how beautiful she is and how much in love with her he is and because of their charm and persona, it melts the girl's heart and the romance is quick and believable. I've seen this happen in real life. I've seen this happen on film. I think this is what they were trying to go for, because, you know, Luke and Leia had to be born. But this DOESN'T work. Anakin doesn't come off as charming and lovable. He comes off as the biggest creep ever. His delivery and the look on his face as he tells her these things that are supposed to be romantic make him look and sound like a serial killer. I'm not kidding there.

Then someone makes the genius decision to decide to send these two off alone, which makes no sense at all, but I'll get to that in a second. They are going off to Naboo and watching things this time around I honestly felt like I was suddenly watching a crime thriller. This man is a creep. This man has been thinking and dreaming about this girl every day for the last 10 years. The look on this man's face is horrifying. If they were going for a romance, they were way off, but if they were going for a thriller, Hayden nailed the role. Here we have a guy who we know turns into Darth Vader. This man could very well be a psychopath and he's gets sent off alone with this girl who has been visibly creeped out by what he has done and said. She even said it to him at one point that he was making her feel uncomfortable. Suddenly I am envisioning a situation where he tries to go for her because they are all alone and she's going to outright reject him and because he's a creepy psychopath, she's going to end up dead. Then he's going to go back to his master who he apparently hates and he's going to make up some sort of believable excuse as to how she died. Then Anakin and Obi-Wan would move forward with life, Anakin having done something that he knows he can't come back from and he eventually lets the darkness and hate flow through him, becoming Darth Vader.

Of course we all know that this doesn't happen, but that's what I thought of as this "romance" was starting to develop. As I'm typing that up, I'm suddenly thinking that something like that could've been interesting. What actually happened when they went off alone together was much, much worse. The awkward conversations not only continued, but they got worse and worse. It got so bad and so awkward that I wanted to turn the TV off. I wanted to stop the movie. But I continued because I know I wanted to write this review after watching the entire movie. So I continued. But I was writhing in pain. Every single sequence with Anakin and Padme was hard for me to watch. And do you know what makes this even worse? Anakin's serial-killer-level creepiness worked! Padme fell in love with him. HOW?!?!?!?!? What did this man do to win your heart? Nothing! But we had to have a romance, so they had to fall in love. I don't blame Natalie Portman for this. Yes, her acting was as stiff as a board in the first movie, but she actually improved in this one. And just like Ewan McGregor, she was a good actress trapped in a bad movie. And just like the problem with the Obi-Wan and Anakin relationship, Hayden Christensen as Anakin is to blame here. Although Natalie Portman doesn't get a complete pass here. She did deliver the cheesiest line in all of Star Wars. The line is when she finally confesses her undying love to Anakin right before they enter the Gladiator-esque ring. Man is that a bad line.

I said I wanted to talk about a few relationships in this movie, not just a couple. That was a deliberate word choice because there is a third relationship in this that stood out to me in this movie. Except this one is possibly the one thing this movie did right. I'm talking about the mother/son relationship. I may not have been a huge fan of the 9-year-old, annoying Anakin in The Phantom Menace, but the saddest part of that movie is when he was saying goodbye to his mother. "Am I ever going to see you again?" All he's ever known is living with his mother and now he has to leave her, hoping that one day they will be reunited. Now we fast-forward 10 years and suddenly he is having dreams of his mother in pain. Immediately he and Padme go to Tattooine and once he learns where she is, enter the fantastic John Williams score while Anakin is speeding on that bike to save his mother. That culminates in easily the best scene of this entire movie. The scene where he finds his mother, tries to save her, but watches as she dies in his arms. I don't know why, but that scene really got to me emotionally. Sure they ruin the moment when Anakin talks to Padme about what he did, but the scene itself was still pretty good. I'd call that my Darth Maul moment of this movie.

Now I'm this far in and I haven't even really talked about the plot of this movie? That's because these three relationships are the meat of the movie and thus I feel that they are what I needed to focus on most when analyzing this film. But yes, there is a plot. And for the most part it is all fluff. Boring fluff to be honest. Remember in my Phantom Menace review where I talked about it being stuffed full of politics and council meetings? People standing around talking? Yeah, that's the same with this movie. Apparently they still thought that this was the good idea because there are a lot of useless politics in this movie. Something is happening with their government and other people are starting rebellions. For some reason Padme is being targeted by Jango Fett which leads to an opening scene where the assigned bounty hunter is given poisonous bugs to try to kill Padme, which is really dumb mainly because she sat there and watched the bugs crawl around the room when she could've just shot her in the head. Bounty hunter fail. This leads to a mildly entertaining chase scene in which we learn that Jedi have the ability to float in the air when they fall that ends in a random bar in which we get the best conversation of the movie. "Want to buy some death sticks?" "You don't want to sell me death sticks." "I don't want to sell you death sticks." "You want to go home and rethink your life." "I want to go home and rethink my life." You know you've quoted that many times.

This being the second failed attempt on Padme's life, the Jedi Council makes the decision to send Anakin off with Padme to protect her, which makes no sense especially since Obi-Wan knows how obsessed he is with her. If we go with this weird idea that just shows up for the first time in this, the fifth theatrically released Star Wars movie, that love is forbidden for Jedi, then why in the heck would Obi-Wan be okay with this arrangement? Anywho, since the Jedi Council apparently do nothing with their lives except for sit and talk in the Council Room, they send Obi-Wan out on a wild goose chase to figure out where this bounty hunter came from, which leads them to learn that the Jedi now have a clone army in their disposal. In order to use this army for their advantage, they have to get Jar Jar, who somehow made it to the level of a Senator, to be the one to give all the power over to Senator Palpatine. Yep. The eventual near annihilation of the Jedi is all Jar Jar's fault. But now we can use this clone army, which will immediately come in handy because Obi-Wan has now gotten himself captured as do Anakin and Padme when they decide to try to rescue him. We learn that R2 now randomly has a jet pack and C3-PO is now the comedy relief as his head gets put onto the body of a droid.

See all of this is fine. It's not bad. But it's nothing too exciting. It's certainly better than watching the half of the movie with Anakin and Padme, but none of it excites me like the action scenes in all the other Star Wars movies. Even though The Phantom Menace is boring for most of the movie, it at least has an epic finale when Darth Maul shows up. This finale isn't that great. The conveyor belt scene is fine. I don't hate that. The gladiator sequence is kinda fun with the three weird monsters fighting Padme, Anakin, and Obi-Wan. But it's nothing special. I am bothered by how they sexualize Padme in this movie. She goes from outrageously weird outfits and hairstyles to slowly more and more revealing outfits, which culminates in her wearing a very tight and very revealing white outfit that gets partially cut off by the little creature she's fighting, making it even more revealing. This is dumb. The sequence with all the Jedi showing up is pretty cool. Never in Star Wars have we seen that many Jedi fighting at once. But what are they fighting? An army of droids. That's lame. Jedi vs. droids aren't that interesting. They're supposed to be the appetizer for something bigger, not the main course. They are all saved by the clones. That two minute sequence with the clones saving everyone is the namesake of our movie. Title fail.

Now I want to finish up by talking about Count Dooku as the fight with him at the end is the actual finale of our movie. A few quick points I want to bring up. First off, he is completely useless. We a little bit of his backstory. Apparently he was trained by Yoda and trained Qui-Gon. All that is totally messed up. In the original trilogy it is revealed that Obi-Wan was trained by Yoda. That's a consistency error that's always bothered me. The more and more I think about it, the more I conclude that both Qui-Gon and Count Dooku should not have existed in the prequels, which saddens me because I like Liam Neeson and Christopher Lee. But their roles, as written, are not needed. In fact, the prequels would be better without them. Make Yoda Obi-Wan's master like was originally intended. Heck, start the movies with Obi-Wan and Anakin as our two main Jedi and forget about this whole finding Anakin as a kid fluff. And for crying out loud, you had a great apprentice for Palpatine in the first movie. Darth Maul. Keep him! Have him stay around for all three movies. Don't introduce Dooku. He doesn't even shine a light to Darth Maul, especially since we don't even learn why he turned to the dark side after being a Jedi for so long. And finally, for crying out freaking loud, Yoda does not need a light saber. Dooku and Yoda do their little force battle and when that comes to a stale mate, Dooku decides that this can't be solved with the force, but with a light saber. Why? That makes no sense.

So yes, this movie as a whole is a pretty big mess. Even if we pretend the original trilogy doesn't exist, the action sequences aren't that entertaining. The story is kinda hard to follow because it's not that interesting. Every scene with Anakin and Padme is atrociously bad. The best part of the movie is the sequence with Anakin trying and failing to save his mother, but even then they don't do much with that. If The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie ever made and this was the second Star Wars movie ever made, I still don't think that I would like this. But this is in fact the fifth Star Wars movie ever made and it is the movie where we finally dive deep into this fascinating backstory of Anakin Skywalker and see how he became Darth Vader. Had they had a good actor for Anakin and a good script for the story, this could've been one of the greatest movies ever simply because that backstory as given in the original trilogy is so good and interesting, yet the direction that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, decided to go with this movie is so bad that it is an insult to Anakin Skywalker's character and thus an insult to the Star Wars universe. It has enough semi-entertaining sequences to prevent me from giving it a completely trashy score, but this doesn't even shine a light to The Phantom Menace and so I'm going really low with this. I'm giving Attack of the Clones a 4/10.

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