Director: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee
MPAA Rating: (for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence)
Running Time: 2:18
Release Date: 5/16/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
All doubts of George Lucas’ capabilities of weaving the tale before the tales that made him famous are put to rest with Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. A visually stunning confection of giddy science-fiction fun and a dead-serious continuation of movie mythology, Attack of the Clones is comparable to the two most successful segments of the original trilogy (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) while still generating genuine excitement about this new trilogy. A vast improvement on The Phantom Menace (which I still found very enjoyable on a visual level) in terms of relatively every aspect, Lucas has recaptured and accentuated the elements that made the original films such a joy to experience. The film contains a world of visceral marvels, from its incredible design to its mature but simplistic storytelling. Attack of the Clones represents the best features that a derivative piece of escapist entertainment can offer.
The film opens a decade after the events in The Phantom Menace on Coruscant, a planet comprised entirely of an extensive metropolis, where the Senate of the Republic is meeting to attend to the issue of a separatist movement in the galaxy. There Senator (formerly Queen) Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) of Naboo has arrived to help settle the dispute but immediately becomes the target of a failed assassination attempt. Fearing for the safety of an important official in upcoming peace talks, two Jedi knights and old friends Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect Amidala. After another failed assassination attempt and a spectacular chase through the skies of the city, Obi-Wan discovers that this recent activity is stemming from the forgotten world of Kamino, where its inhabitants are reputed as highly skilled in cloning. The Jedi Council appoints Obi-Wan to search Kamino for the origins of the assassin and directs Anakin to take Amidala back to Naboo and guard her.
The story in this installment has much ground to cover and does a superlative job of telling it. The film intertwines political upheaval, detective work, chase and action sequences, a love story, and character development while still maintaining a firm grasp of the whole tale—what’s past and what’s to come. Lucas and Jonathan Hales’ screenplay handles its central elements with a surprising deliberateness of intent. The film takes its time establishing its main thrust, allowing the audience to indulge in it to the fullest. The repressed love affair between Anakin and Amidala is where the story stumbles slightly due to its lack of depth, but its importance and overall effect remain despite the rushed feeling. More important than what happens in the film is the way in which it’s presented. Here Lucas finds his greatest success. Unlike The Phantom Menace, which suffered partially due to an almost somber seriousness, Attack of the Clones has a more joyous, amused tone. Even when darker elements begin to appear, they are not overwhelmingly drab. Humor is effectively interlaced throughout, particularly from Ewan McGregor’s dry delivery (great moment of dramatic irony: Obi-Wan telling Anakin, "Why do I get the feeling that one day you’ll be the death of me?").
Like all of the Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones is the result of giant, imaginative leaps of faith, and this may well be the most visually impressive of all the films so far. Relishing in the freedom of a digital canvas, the special effects artists of Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) have outdone themselves in creating an expanse of worlds. From the urban extent of Coruscant to the beauty of "natural" Naboo to the stormy, ocean-covered Kamino to the harsh outskirts of Geonosis, where the climactic battle takes place, the film is full of wonders. Shot entirely on digital video and transferred to film (unless you are fortunate enough to find a digital projection of it), the quality of images doesn’t appear anywhere near as poorly as some will lead you to believe. The action sequences are exhilarating in their execution. The final confrontation offers a fight with giant creatures, a full-scale Jedi battle, and a light-saber fight featuring a character whose meditative qualities betray his fighting abilities.
The performances here are about as impressive as we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars movie. Hayden Christensen plays Anakin as a cocky, whiny, overly ambitious young adult, which I guess should be expected from the future Darth Vader. He’s effective enough, even if a few of his lines come across more mumbled and incoherent than quiet and antagonistic. Natalie Portman shows much more conviction and heart here than her dull, monotonous performance in The Phantom Menace. Christopher Lee makes a late appearance as the traitorous Count Dooku, and with this and The Fellowship of the Ring, he shows that he’s great at that susceptible-to-the-dark-side type of character. Samuel L. Jackson gets a much-deserved bigger part than before. The show-stealer, though, is McGregor who showed subtle traces of Alec Guinness’ portrayal of Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, but here takes it head on to great effect. McGregor is slowly but surely fleshing out this character to the place we find him at the beginning of Star Wars.
Attack of the Clones reassures us that, yes, this is Star Wars in all its capacity. For longtime fans of the series, the film will either spell redemption or disaster, and for casual filmgoers, it will provide in the very least hugely entertaining eye-candy. These facts have been known for some time, though, and I’ll be one to say that Attack of the Clones gave me a sense of excitement and awe akin to the experience of watching a Star Wars movie.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.