Friday, September 13, 2019

Green Phoenix - Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Review

Film poster. A young man is seen embracing a young woman. A man holds a lightsaber. In the foreground, there is a man wearing a suit.According to the Machete Order, following the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back, we as an audience are expected to go back in time and watch Episodes 2 & 3, in order to see the fall of Anakin Skywalker, the rise of Vader and the Empire, and the collapse of the Jedi Order, so as to see the connective tissues and elements that will be critical for Episode 6's story when we come back to it.

With that in mind, we now move to the second film in the Prequel trilogy, skipping The Phantom Menace due to its narrative superfluousness and will instead treat Episode 1 as if it were a supplemental film like Solo or Rogue One.

Released in 2002, Attack of the Clones acts as a reintroduction to the characters introduced in The Phantom Menace and shows the start of the Clone Wars and the beginning of the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, a Senator in the Galactic Republic.

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  • Directed by George Lucas
  • Produced by Lucasfilm
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 142 Minutes

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SUMMARY

The Galactic Republic is on the brink of war. A secessionist faction has arisen within the Senate desiring either reforms or independence from the Republic. While many hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, violent elements on both sides begin to pressure war. One such pressure arises when Senator Amidala, a member of the pro-Republic peace faction has an assassination attempt committed against her.

To ensure her protection, the Supreme Chancellor, Sheev Palpatine, enlists the help of two Jedi knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who are old friends of Amidala. Their duty is to protect Amidala and discover who is behind the assassination attempt. This mystery will result not only in the discovery of a conspiracy at the heart of both factions to incite a galactic war, but also reignite a relationship between Skywalker and Amidala, in opposition to the will of the Jedi Order.

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REVIEW

While removing The Phantom Menace improves the subsequent two prequel films immensely, I have to say that Attack of the Clones is still largely hot garbage where narrative and characters are concerned. While it looks and sounds great, the romantic elements, which are so vital to the rest of the franchise, remain incredibly awkward and unsatisfying due to the peculiarly unnatural way in which characters interact (though somehow still less awkward than if The Phantom Menace was included in the viewing experience).

On the whole, while this film is necessary to understand Episode 3 and introduces characters and elements that are vital for the rest of the Saga's viewing, it remains a clunky and weak entry into the series.


VISUALS - 8/10

When the prequels came out, it was almost an absolute certainty that any amount of money spent on the production of the film would be earned back with ease. That was the power of the Star Wars brand at the beginning of the 2000s. With that in mind, Attack of the Clones had some revolutionary visual effects and the increased budget and technological advancements make the prequel trilogy a marvel to behold.

Now it makes sense that the prequel trilogy is going to receive high marks when it comes to its visuals. No one really complains about the prequels because of their effects (that's honestly the last thing I would think about). But that doesn't mean that Attack of the Clones is perfect. There are quite a few scenes where the prodigious use of CGI is incredibly distracting. The entire final battle between the droids and clones feels like watching a video game cutscene. A well done one to be sure, but I never bought for a second that what was before me had ever been real.


Image result for separatists attack of the clones
AMAZING! This PS2 game looks amazing!
I think that Attack of the Clones could have benefited from more practical effects. Everything just seems to clean and sterile. The gritty and grimy look of the universe in the original trilogy made it feel lived in and genuine. We get a sense of that in the Coruscant underground (which was also one of the best parts of the film) but areas like Tatooine, which should feel rustic and ancient, just feel too busy and clean.

Regardless, I still give the visuals high-marks. They still hold up, for the most part, and most visual problems just stem from a sheer amount of them used relative to practical effects. CG works best when it is inter-mingled with practical, so the audience has to continually guess what is real and what is created in a computer.

SOUNDTRACK - 9/10

All of the prequels have incredible music. Regardless of your opinions of the trilogy as a whole, one cannot deny just how amazing John Williams' score is. I've already gone on record in my previous Star Wars review about my opinions of the music in the franchise, so I won't into too much detail.

Suffice it to say, Attack of the Clones' soundtrack will invariably raise up the final score on this film, because it does improve even the elements that are incredibly weak in this film; that being the uncharismatic characters and widely inconsistent story.

CHARACTERS - 5/10

As I will go into further detail in the story segment of this review, the particular narrative elements of Attack of the Clones heavily rely on us connecting with the characters presented to us. It really is a shame then that Attack of the Clones has some of the least charismatic, awkward, and frustratingly insufferable characters in the entire Star Wars franchise. Everyone, from main to side characters, comes off as strangled and struggling to make this film seem natural.

Image result for anakin skywalker
Behold Star Wars' own Magic Psycho Boyfriend!
Anakin Skywalker is one of the most unlikable characters in the Star Wars franchise, it is incredibly strange given how the prequel trilogy outside of Machete Order is so reliant on you following and being invested in his story. He is a spoiled, entitled brat who constantly acts in ways that are uncomfortable to watch and it makes you constantly question how Amidala could ever fall for this unstable weirdo.

Though that may be primarily be because Senator Amidala is so bland and stiff that its almost impossible to be interested in the chemistry between our two so-called "romantic leads". They have all the chemistry of neon gas, which is largely the result of awful soap-operaish dialog and almost no natural interactions. For which the blame can only really be placed on the director and writers, as both Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman have incredible skill in acting and playing romantic leads; though you wouldn't know by this movie.

The only character that kind of saves this film and remains likeable throughout is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. His lines are the best, and he seems to be the only actor who can make the god awful script sound somewhat natural. He really does evoke the presence of Alec Guinness in his performance and it also gives me confidence that an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie could be an absolutely incredible piece; assuming the script and story are up to snuff. 

STORY - 4/10

The story of Attack of the Clones can be divided up into three major story threads. A political thriller detailing a conspiracy of secessionist organizations seeking war, a mystery story starring Obi-Wan Kenobi as he chases bread-crumbs that lead to the titular clone army and their peculiar origins, and a forbidden romance between Anakin Skywalker and the Galactic Senator who he is assigned to protect.

Image result for separatists attack of the clones
Behold! The Evil League of Evil
And every single one of these story threads is kind of a disaster. The romance subplot fall flat because, as stated in the Characters section of this review, the chemistry of our two romantic leads is about narratively equivalent to passing a kidney stone. There is just no connection between these two that doesn't also possess an incredible amount of unfortunate and troubling subtext (which is still improved in Machete Order by removing the uncomfortable age elements introduced in The Phantom Menace). And if we are supposed to connect with the relationship between these two, and we probably should given their connection to Luke Skywalker (the overall saga protagonist), they need to have some degree of chemistry for us to buy that any such relationship could form.


Now as for the mystery and political thriller, these two stories are tied almost from the beginning and they operate fairly well up until the end. But the mystery elements are rather weak throughout, as anyone with any degree of pattern recognition will be able to spot the "mystery" almost from the beginning, and the few questions that are raised in this film are never actually answered in this film or its sequel (for those, you'd have to watch the Clone Wars TV show; which I recommend anyway). So you have a mystery which never truly answer the underlying questions at the heart of that mystery and a political thriller which, because the mystery isn't really a complete mystery, leads to an answer that is absolutely unsatisfying.

All the political subtext and narrative grayness that could've been introduced by presenting the Separatists as a well-meaning political organization with hawkish members is completely swept aside in favor of them being led by an obvious Sith Lord and the mustache twirling droid makers who want to murder Amidala. This film could've been fascinating but the movie presents politics as a narrative shorthand, rather than an active instrument which effects the plot; and the film is all the worse for it.

In summation, the story is honestly a mess. It's connection to The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith perhaps improve on those elements, but the story really is just a difficult slog for me to get through.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For all the people who dislike and rage against The Phantom Menace, I honestly think that Attack of the Clones might be even worse. For all that I like Machete Order and I do think it improves the second episode, its really hard to improve all that much from something this awful to watch. For all its visual and audio wonders, the paper-thin characters and muddled, unnuanced story really drag what could've been an incredible political thriller and first part of a tragedy down into the muck of mediocrity.



VISUALS
  • 8/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 9/10
CHARACTERS
  • 5/10
STORY
  • 4/10

 FINAL SCORE - 6.5/10

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