JAR JAR -- HARDY HAR HAR HAR
I wanted to record my thoughts on "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" before time, public opinion, and The Dark Side cloud them. I did not read any reviews before I saw the movie and limited word-of-mouth to a few select individuals. Lo and behold, I enjoyed it! It could be a case of successfully managing my expectations or perhaps the fifth installment of the Star Wars saga is not half bad. In actuality, it's probably only a quarter bad.
First off, the quality of "Attack of the Clones" is parsecs better than "Phantom Menace," despite the unfortunate reappearance of Jar Jar Binks in the latest episode of Star Wars. The film is a visual feast, with one incredible digital shot after another. To quote a guy I saw it with who is very much a Star Wars geek and extremely critical, "Everything looked good." Lots and lots of eye candy. The cities were vibrant and humming and infinitely detailed. The spaceships and speeders were all extremely cool-looking. The production design and art direction were as imaginative as anything I've ever seem on celluloid. Even the actors were nice to look at. Although, that does lead me to one of the glaring deficiencies in the movie... Hayden Christensen, the actor playing the role of Anakin Skywalker. Sure, he's pretty, but he was sadly incapable of infusing the part with the necessary versatility and vulnerability. Because of his leaden delivery, the romance between Anakin and Senator Amidala, played by Natalie Portman, fell flat on its face. It's a shame that the movie's weakest link was the actor playing its most pivotal character. Because of his inability to garner the audience's empathy, the overall emotional impact was severly curtailed. I was still intrigued that this was the story of Darth Vader's life, but I didn't identify with the Anakin on screen. Natalie Portman's performance was uneven as well, due in part to the fact that she was acting opposite Hayden Christensen and other inanimate objects. Her power play scenes were played too stilted and cold, lacking in subtlety and feminine warmth, but in a few rare moments, she was note perfect, striking just the right balance of girl power and adolescent longing. Had the romantic chemistry been imported from "Spiderman," "Attack of the Clones" may have been elevated to the "Star Wars"/"Empire Strikes Back" stratosphere.
"Clones" also had an uneven sense of humor. By far, the funniest moments in the movie for me were delivered by Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine. The inimitable way he talked out of the corner of his mouth and the sarcastic sullen eyes simply slayed me. As far as the rest of the film is concerned, the comedic elements I enjoyed consisted mainly of "insider" jokes that I laughed at while watching, but undercut the Star Wars mystique in a way that makes me uncomfortable as I sit with the movie. For example, when Anakin and Amidala kiss for the first time and Amidala breaks it off, the music abruptly cuts off as if someone snatched the needle off the record. Some of the over-the-top art direction during their romantic scenes made me laugh too, but I'm still not sure if it was intentional or not. In another scene, Obi-Wan and Anakin wander into a bar. A barfly tries to sell Obi-Wan some death sticks and Obi-Wan uses and abuses the defenseless drug dealer. "You do not want to sell me those death sticks. You want to go home and rethink your life." Big laugh. But does it cheapen the tried-and-true concept of the Jedi mind trick? In one exchange between Obi-Wan and Anakin, Obi-Wan deadpans "Oh, Anakin, you'll be the death of me." Again, it made me smile because I was in on the joke, but it's a pretty easy joke to make. The stuff that actually bothered me comedically were the groan-inducing one-liners. Obi-Wan's "I hate when he does that" was present in trailers for the film, so I had fair warning for that stinker. What I wasn't prepared for was the flurry of duds spewing from the mouth of C3PO during the climactic battle scene. The worst one, "This is such a drag," coming as R2D2 drags C3PO's head behind him. Even so, I'll take a bad "Attack of the Clones" one-liner over the utter atrocity of Jar Jar Binks stepping in shit in "Phantom Menace."
Ewan McGregor is an actor I like very much and I thought he brought some much-needed credibility to a cast that included an utterly out-of-place in the Star Wars universe Samuel L. Jackson and the surreal sight of Jimmy Smits, who appears to have mistakenly wandered onto the set. By doing his job as an actor and garnering some sympathy from the audience, McGregor ultimately made this Obi-Wan's movie. However, the most memorable element of the movie was clearly its action sequences. Luckily, Obi-Wan was involved in all of them. Obi-Wan and Anakin's high-speed chase with a would-be assasin through the Coruscant air traffic was deftly shot and dazzlingly futuristic; Obi-Wan tailing Jengo and Boba Fett through the asteroid field was reminiscent of classic Star Wars space fun; and the gladiator fight in the arena featuring Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Amidala was the stuff matinees are made of. But, without a doubt, the coup de grace of "Attack of the Clones" was the lightsaber duel between Yoda and Count Dooku (gamely played by Christopher Lee). During that fight scene, you could feel the electricity in the audience. I was so excited I couldn't stop laughing. One of the few sound bites I heard before I went to see the movie was "the Yoda lightsaber fight alone is worth the price of admission." With four solidly entertaining action set pieces, I'd have to say the ten bucks I spent to see it projected digitally turned out to be a bargain.