Wednesday, December 9, 2015
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a better film than THE PHANTOM MENACE, but that's not really saying much. The second film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy has plenty of problems, the biggest being that it is essentially supposed to represent the love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. The last hour of the movie is basically one long action scene, broken up into a number of mini-sequences. These are all technically impressive but a bit too much like watching a video game. One saving grace about ATTACK OF THE CLONES is that it has less George Lucas-style humor than THE PHANTOM MENACE.
The movie begins with an assassination attempt on former Naboo Queen, and now Naboo Senator Padme Amidala, as she arrives on the planet of Coruscant. Many star systems have left the Galactic Republic, and this separatist movement is led by the mysterious Count Dooku, a man who left the Jedi Order on his own accord. Chancellor Palpatine asks that the Jedi give Padme special protection, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, are assigned to the Senator.
Obi-Wan and Anakin of course helped Padme ten years ago in THE PHANTOM MENACE, and Anakin has been obsessed with her ever since. Another assassination attempt leads Obi-Wan off to chase down a clue while Anakin escorts Padme back to Naboo.
While on Naboo Anakin and Padme fall in love. Wait, let me rephrase that. We are supposed to believe that the two fall in love. And--as far as I am concerned--you don't believe it.
And if you don't believe it--then the whole point of the prequels gets thrown out the window. Because if you don't believe that Anakin and Padme love each other, then you don't believe in the main reason that Anakin supposedly turns to the dark side of the Force. And if you don't believe in that, then there's no real point in Anakin becoming Darth Vader. Vader might as well be just some ordinary bad guy. The entire Star Wars Universe springs from the relationship between Anakin and Padme, and if that relationship doesn't work--then the Star Wars Original Trilogy has less of an impact.
Hayden Christensen certainly deserves a fair share of blame for Anakin coming off so underwhelming in ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH. But in all fairness, Spencer Tracy could have tried to recite Anakin's dialogue and it still would have come out flat. The highlight (or lowlight) of Anakin's wooing of Padme is his declaring that he loves her because she does not remind him of sand. Anakin isn't a teenager in love--he's a whiny creep. He may be infatuated with Padme, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's in love with her. This younger version of Darth Vader isn't dark or dangerous--he's annoying and childish. Anakin might be played by a pretty boy actor, but it's hard to see why any young woman would fall for him--even if you buy into the theory that good women usually wind up with bad men. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman have very little on-screen chemistry (pro that she is, Portman still looks genuinely uncomfortable during their love scenes). The most important romance in modern day popular cinema simply does not work. (I must point out here that Natalie Portman must wear about 30 different costumes in this film. Portman is a gorgeous woman, and I'm not complaining....but it's kind of hard to take her seriously as a strong-willed politician when she looks as if she just got off a catwalk.)
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan's clue takes him to the planet of Kamino, where he discovers that the natives of that world are creating a giant army of clones for the Galactic Republic. The clones are all based on one being--a Mandalorian bounty hunter named Jango (not Django) Fett. The Kaminoans have given Fett his very own clone--a young boy named Boba Fett.
Now, here I've got to start venting. Re-watching ATTACK OF THE CLONES made me realize that there is absolutely no reason for Boba Fett to be in this movie, no matter what his age. I can buy the idea that Boba Fett's dad was the wellspring for the Clone Army--but why is a young Boba around? Just so the audience can exclaim, "Hey, look! It's Boba Fett as a kid!!" You don't need a little Boba present to make people realize that Jango Fett is his dad--Jango wears the same type of armor that Boba would wear, and Jango uses the same spaceship that Boba would fly. If Boba wasn't in the movie, I'm sure those watching it would figure out on their own that Jango was his daddy. The little Boba sub-plot feels forced....and how can you look at the adult Boba Fett the same way again once you know that he was a curly-haired, cackling kid??
We are told in ATTACK OF THE CLONES that the Clone Army was ordered by a Jedi named Syfo-Dyas ten years ago. Lucas missed a great opportunity here--he should have revealed that Qui-Gon Jinn was the one that ordered the Clone Army. This would have given more weight to Anakin's future decision to go to the dark side, especially if he knew that his mentor was so upset over the status of the Republic and the Jedi Order that he went behind their backs and started up an army on his own. It would also have made the separatists and Count Dooku appear more than just typical bad guys....how bad could they be if Qui-Gon Jinn had something to do with them? The entire sub-plot on how the Clone Army really got created gets thrown under the rug, and that is a mistake--Lucas could have used it to give the storyline more dramatic tension.
Obi-Wan tries to capture Jango Fett, but the bounty hunter and his little boy get away. Obi-Wan tracks them to the planet of Geonosis. It is there that Kenobi stumbles upon a Trade Federation droid factory (yes, the lousy villains of THE PHANTOM MENACE are back) and a meeting between Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the separatist leaders.
I can't helped but be biased when it comes to Christopher Lee. He brings a huge amount of welcome gravitas to the role of Count Dooku....in fact, you can say that Lee has more screen presence than the rest of the human cast combined. Just like Darth Maul is the most memorable character in THE PHANTOM MENACE, Count Dooku (also known as Darth Tyranus) is the most memorable character in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. His backstory--a powerful Jedi who left the Order because he was disgusted at the state of the Galactic Republic--is fascinating. Did Dooku go to the dark side because he was truly evil, or did he go that route because he felt it was the best way to make the Galaxy better? The complexity of Dooku's situation is not explored nearly enough--by the end of the movie he's just the main bad guy.
Back on Naboo Anakin is having bad dreams about his mother who was left behind on Tatooine. He tells Padme that he must go to her, and the couple (along with R2-D2) head out to the desert planet. Upon arrival Anakin learns that his mother was freed by a moisture farmer named Lars, who she married. Anakin and Padme go to the Lars homestead, where they meet Cliegg Lars, his son Owen, and Owen's girlfriend Beru. The Lars family tells Anakin that his mother was kidnapped by the Sand People, and Anakin goes off to find her. Anakin sneaks into the Sand People's camp and comes upon his mother, but she dies before he can rescue her. Seething with anger, Anakin kills everyone in the camp. (Movie buffs are going to cringe at me saying it, but this sequence owes a great deal of debt to THE SEARCHERS).
Back at the Lars homestead Anakin breaks down and tells Padme what he did to the Sand People. This is the scene where Hayden Christensen is at his most annoying, and any underlining meaning the scene might have had goes out the window.
On Geonosis Obi-Wan is captured, and he is confronted by Count Dooku. It is one of the best moments in the film, and it would have been even more striking if Dooku had told Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon had been behind the separatist movement. Before his capture Obi-Wan was able to send out a distress message. Anakin and Padme receive the message and transmit it to Coruscant. The message enables Chancellor Palpatine to be given emergency powers by the Imperial Senate. Mace Windu decides to take as many Jedi as possible and go to Geonosis to help Obi-Wan. Yoda chooses to go to Kamino and see firsthand what the Clone Army consists of.
Anakin and Padme also decide to help save Obi-Wan. They take C-3PO with them (the droid was left behind on Tatooine along with Anakin's mother). The rest of the movie now becomes one long battle after another. Anakin and Padme arrive on Geonosis and are trapped inside one of the droid factories. There they are captured, and sentenced to be executed along with Obi-Wan inside a Geonosis arena. The arena sequence feels like an example of what Ray Harryhausen might have made out of the script for GLADIATOR, with the trio of heroes fighting various large, strange creatures.
Suddenly Mace Windu and the Jedi show up, and a large battle breaks out between them and the Trade Federation droids. It appears the Jedi are licked.....but then Yoda and the Clone Army show up.
Okay, I realize that for the last decade the Clone Army was being prepared on Kamino....but Yoda just picked them all up, and they were all totally ready for a war? And not only that, but they just happened to be properly fitted out with arms, artillery, and numerous battle vehicles? Yeah, I know I'm nit-picking, but hey, that's what geeky bloggers do. An even larger battle starts between the Trade Federation droids and the Clone Army, while Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme go after Count Dooku.
The two Jedi catch up to Dooku, and a lightsaber duel begins. The Count is too strong for both Obi-Wan and Anakin, and the latter gets his right hand cut off (this is a Star Wars movie, after all). Dooku is about to dispatch the Jedi when Yoda shows up.
When I saw ATTACK OF THE CLONES on opening day, the audience went absolutely nuts over the Yoda vs. Dooku lightsaber duel. I loved it too....but after seeing it a number of times, I have come to the conclusion that it wasn't that much of a great idea after all. The Yoda of ATTACK OF THE CLONES bares little resemblance to the Yoda of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The peaceful, wise, spiritual Yoda has been replaced with a creature that is a combination of John Wayne and Errol Flynn. I know that this is supposed to be a "war-time" Yoda....but seeing him leading troops and engaging in lightsaber duels feels wrong somehow. The ATTACK OF THE CLONES Yoda is a prime example of how CGI can give a filmmaker too much freedom. Just because you have the ability to create something doesn't mean you have to create it. It's fun to see Yoda swing a lightsaber....but is it an integral part of the story, or is it just showing off?
Yoda stops Dooku from killing Obi-Wan and Anakin, but the Count gets away. The aftermath sees the Galactic Republic preparing for all-out war with the separatists, while Anakin and Padme secretly get married on Naboo (the thing about that is, how secret could it have been?). Begun, this Clone War has.
George Lucas tried to make ATTACK OF THE CLONES have some parallels with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Both are the middle films of a trilogy, both have scenes involving spaceships in an asteroid belt, both have C-3PO getting torn apart (it works in EMPIRE, but in CLONES it is a bad excuse for comedy), and both have the young hero getting his right hand cut off in a lightsaber duel. But the two movies are as different as night and day. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK may be the greatest special-effects film of all time, while ATTACK OF THE CLONES is so filled with CGI that the audience is removed from caring about the characters or the situations. An expansive war between droids and clones will not move anyone. It make look exciting, but it's all very pretty, and very empty, pictures. (Ironically, the animated series STAR WARS; THE CLONE WARS did make the conflict between droids and clones exciting and interesting....and the actor who voiced Anakin Skywalker gave more impressive line readings than Hayden Christensen.)
ATTACK OF THE CLONES could have been so, so much better than how it turned out. There's the makings of a great, epic story here...but it's stifled by an unlikable leading man, a weak romantic sub-plot and an excess of CGI.