WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: Tensions in the Republic are highlighted by an attempt on the life of Senator Padmé Amidala, under the protection of Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his headstrong apprentice Anakin Skywalker. While Obi-Wan heads off for answers as to who ordered the hit, Anakin takes his duties to heart; he should, however, be mindful of the bigger picture, for a war is looming that threatens the future of the whole Jedi order.
It is not a period of civil war – not yet – but there’s a storm brewing. When Queen-turned-Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) arrives on Coruscant to vote on action against Count Dooku’s (Christopher Lee) seditious separatists, she’s targeted by an assassin despite having Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and her quick-tempered young friend Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) as bodyguards. Counselled by Yoda and Mace Windu (the voice of Frank Oz and all of Samuel L. Jackson), Kenobi follows a trail to the mysteriously hidden planet of Kamino, where he discovers that Bounty Hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) is being cloned millions of times to create an army for the Republic, supposedly at the behest of long-dead Jedi Sifo-Dyas. Meanwhile, Anakin and Padmé fail to conceal their feelings for one another on Naboo, though Anakin is troubled by thoughts of his mother and returns to Tatooine to rescue her from Tusken raiders. The young lovers then attempt to rescue Obi-Wan, whose curiosity has resulted in the discovery of a droid army factory on Geonosis; if Dooku – led by the powerful Sith Lord Darth Sidious – has his way, Kenobi and Skywalker will merely be the first of many Jedi interlopers dispatched, allowing for the creation of an all-powerful new weapon called a Death Star.
Please believe me when I say that I approach every film with an open mind. Just because I’ve never been a big fan of the Star Wars Universe and The Phantom Menace was terrible, doesn’t mean that I won’t find things to like about Attack of the Clones. On the other hand, I tried to watch this film on two previous occasions and fell asleep both times, and whilst I concentrated hard and saw it through this time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain was doing its best to protect me those other times. For while Attack of the Clones is better than its predecessor, it’s a bit like saying that Spanish ‘flu is better than bubonic plague because it killed slightly fewer people.
Where to start? Well, taken as a whole, the plot of Attack of the Clones is more engaging than the complete nonsense of Phantom Menace, since it at least sets Kenobi off on a quest rather than meddling with midi-chlorians and Pod races. I’m not sure that the Clone Army plot makes sense (Google has given me the spelling of Sifo-Dyas and a vague explanation of what’s going on – it would have helped if the movie had condescended to do the same), but it moves along with action at regular intervals to a massed Gladiator-like brawl and a Jedi tag-team climax against Dooku*. The other plotline, Anakin and Padmé falling in love, is less successful (see below), but there are interesting flashes of rage in Skywalker, not least whilst rescuing his mum, which hint at the tyrant to come.
Regrettably, Lucas kills most of the intrigue in his story stone dead with his ham-fisted execution. The first big action sequence of Clones is Kenobi and Skywalker’s pursuit of Zam Wesell, the would-be assassin; however, it’s a big nothing, a five-minute mess of actors flinging themselves around against green screens with CGI business going on all around them. As a viewer, you know that none of it exists, and therefore there’s no sense of peril. The same is true of Anakin and Padmé’s adventures in the droid factory which are as engaging as someone else playing a video game, or – tragically – anything involving Yoda, the venerable character turned into a hibbitty-hobbitty fighter. It’s all so unconvincing, yet Lucas seems to love it: if we see the sky-traffic on Coruscant once, we see it a million times. It’s little surprise that when a real landscape eventually turns up, it looks like a gaudy effect.
If his visuals fail to convince, Lucas’ dialogue is even worse. There’s the standard Star Wars guff: Obi-Wan tells Anakin to be mindful of his feelings so many times, it’s no wonder the padawan feels like telling his master to shove his lightsaber up his robe. Clones compounds this by giving McGregor leaden one-liners to show his exasperation, the prime example being the groansome ‘You’ll be the death of me’ (nudge nudge, wink wink…). Yet none of the screamingly awful sci-fi guff holds a candle to the part of the adolescent ‘Annie’. Christensen has been criticised for his lack of acting skill, but (like Andie MacDowell in her infamous Four Weddings moment) I don’t see how Laurence Olivier in his prime could have injected sincerity or feeling into some of his lines. I’d rather not repeat them here, but suffice to say that Shakespeare might not be held in such high regard had he penned the line Shall I compare thee to sand? Portman’s acting is game but she’s no better served by her dialogue; she is also hamstrung by a variety of costumes which remind you that while very pretty, she’s no Carrie Fisher. Finally – you thought I’d forgotten, hadn’t you? – Lucas shows misguided loyalty to a fictional character by wheeling out everyone’s favourite Gungan, Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). Hilariously, Attack of the Clones greatly reduces Binks’ screen time, instead concentrating his infuriating stupidity into just a few scenes: as Amidala’s representative in the Senate, Binks is the f**kwit who suggests Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) should have the authority to do whatever he wants. Way to go, you floppy-eared spanner.
I may be generalising horribly, but I guess Star Wars fans most like the bits of Attack of the Clones that look forward/back to the original trilogy: a young Boba Fett picking up his dad’s helmet, R2-D2 and C-3PO bickering like the queeny old couple they always were. I wouldn’t dare ridicule or belittle anyone for showing enthusiasm towards the franchise, because they obviously can take some enjoyment from George’s universe. I couldn’t, however; and I will ridicule Lucas, that sad multi-billionaire failure. His only success in Clones is making a movie infinitesimally less rotten than his last one.
NOTES: Being British, and childish, this name just makes me think of Count Duckula.