Well, through the power of the Internet, I was able to watch Star Wars: Episode II last night. I still fully intend to see it at the theater, but I couldn’t possibly pass up such an opportunity at a sneak preview. The movie is nowhere near as vapid as the The Phantom Menace, but it’s still a far cry from the exciting fun of the previous three. Mostly this is once again a problem in the story’s construction. In Empire, for instance, our heroes fought the Imperial forces on Hoth and then escaped to Dagobah and Bespin. Nice and simple. Here, in Attack of the Clones, our heroes chase an assassin but then find out the assassin was actually working for a bounty hunter whom Obi Wan has to chase to a planet called Kamino where he uncovers the plot to build a clone army — but the army is actually supposed to be sent to Geonosis, so Obi Wan goes there too and discovers a rival army being built. And that’s all within the first hour. Not forgetting Anakin has been asked to protect Senator Padmé, which involves their flying to various planets too.
In short, the movie is a mess. It’s been so jam-packed with chases and battles and romance and intrigue and torture and duels that about halfway through sensory overload kicks in and everything turns into a loud blur. The movie also suffers from the Pixar Syndrome, where the climax has about eight or nine endings. Just when you think the war is finally over, there’s another battle to follow. “Didn’t like our attempt to outdo Gladiator? Then how about a full-on battle! No?, then what about a chase scene! That not to your liking? Then what about another lightsabre duel!” The acting is still poor too, though Hayden Christensen does a better job than I’d been led to believe (thank God). He starts out roughly — with an annoying knack for emphasizing the wrong word in each line — but once he’s called upon to start expressing emotions he does a decent job of conveying his conflicts. Natalie Portman fares better as well, since she’s no longer required to voice Amidala’s royal monotone. Jar Jar is still with us, and a bit more than I’d expected after reading the leaked screenplay. Christopher Lee is his usual malevolent film self, but I can’t help wondering why if he’s such a poweful enemy he wasn’t mentioned in the first movie — or does George intend to remedy that in The Phantom Menace: Special Edition?
The dialogue is as silly as in other Star Wars movies, but this one suffers even more since it engages in “sweet nothings” as Anakin tries to woo Padmé. Anakin hates sand, we learn, because it’s “coarse and rough and irritating, and gets everywhere. But not like you…” meaning, I suppose, that Padmé is “soft and smooth” and doesn’t get wedged in his ass-crack. Thanks George, I’ll have to remember that pick-up line. But fall in love they must, even though Padmé’s fall seems a little arbitrary. The direction is as awkward as the script, but that’s not much of a surprise since Lucas is known as an action director more than an actor’s director. Still, I was surprised to find some rather awkward editing in certain scenes. On more than one occasion, George and his editors insist on cutting to a close-up of the wrong thing. In an early conversation between Anakin and Padmé there’s a close-up of Jar Jar’s reaction shot, even though no one in the room (and in the theater) cares how he is responding. Later on, when something dire happens to Jango Fett instead of showing his son Boba’s reaction we cut to a close-up of Count Dooku. Very strange — especially since Lucas started out as a film editor and should know better.
Apart from the mundane aspects of writing and acting and editing, the action scenes are quite gripping. The chase through Coruscant is dizzying fun and some of the scenes of hand to hand combat (such as on Kamino) are exciting. The big climactic battle is so fast and furious that it’s almost a blur of lightsabres. So at least the movie has that going for it. But to be perfectly honest, I need more. We know going in the special effects will look great. For the next few months these effects will be state-of-the-art. But the one thing that will keep people coming back is a fun story to go with it, and that’s still missing here. Sure I’ll see the movie and I’ll buy the DVD, but instead of watching the whole movie over and over I’ll probably just skip around to a few selected scenes. And that’s a shame.
Update: I have to take back one of my complaints. Anakin was not referring to Padme when he talked about sand. He said “not like here”, not “not like you”.
To which contributor JFathers replies, “AOTC sucks. You suck. Life sucks. I’m going back to bed now.”