Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Jack Thompson, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, Susie Porter
It seems as though George Lucas has at least listened to much of the criticism leveled at The Phantom Menace, his disappointing 1999 effort to revive the Star Wars series, which will be good news to fans. The fifth installment in the Star Wars saga is a vast improvement that also captures much of the spirit of the original, released some 25 years ago.
Lucas has brought in co-writer Jonathan Hales, who also worked on his Young Indiana Jones chronicles tv series, and the results of this collaboration are immediately obvious. There is far more action and humour in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, and the film offers the sort of roller coaster thrills and cliff hanging moments of the old Saturday afternoon matinee, which will please fans of the series. The film even contains a number of in-jokes and cleverly irreverent lines that refer to other memorable Star Wars moments.
The central action in Attack Of The Clones takes place some ten years after the scene-setting events of The Phantom Menace, when the stability of the Republic is being eroded by a separatist movement, and begins to fill in the gaps between the last film and the original trilogy. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) assumes greater power to deal with the threat and begins building a formidable army. Headstrong and impetuous, Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker (played here by Hayden Christensen, also seen in Life As A House), the apprentice Jedi, is assigned to protect Princess Amidala (again played by Natalie Portman), the former queen of Naboo who is now a respected senator with the Republic, and their romance inevitably blossoms.
Meanwhile, Obi-wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) investigates the origins of a threat against Amidala’s life, which takes him to a remote planet where a clone army is also being built by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a sinister former Jedi Master with ambitious plans to rule the galaxy. Overshadowing these events though is the growing threat to the Republic. Eventually, Obi-wan, Anakin and Amidala face Dooku’s fearsome army in combat in a spectacular Gladiator-inspired scene, as the threat to the Republic’s future becomes more defined.
Lucas is a director in love with the visual elements of film making, and exploring the full potential of computer generated effects, and Attack Of The Clones is certainly spectacular to look at. David Tattersall’s cinematography is spectacular. The action scenes are also superbly staged and are rousingly exciting, even if they are a trifle unoriginal. There are a couple of high-speed chases that one can almost imagine being replicated for thrill rides at a theme park in the not too distant future! Attack Of The Clones was filmed in a variety of locations ranging from Tunisia and Italy to Australia, and a number of local actors (including stalwart Jack Thompson, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne and Susie Porter) crop up in small roles, although they have little impact.
McGregor seems to have developed more of a sense of humour in the past couple of years, and has settled nicely into his role as Skywalker’s mentor, while Portman is given a meatier role as a feisty heroine worthy of Princess Leia. Samuel L Jackson reprises his role as Jedi Master Mace Windu, and actually gets to do more than talk here, taking part in one of the film’s key action sequences. Lee seems to be enjoying himself as a villain here, although his role certainly echoes his recent turn as the evil Lord Sarunum in the first film from the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
There are still a number of digitally created characters here, but irritating characters like Jar Jar Binks are thankfully relegated to smaller supporting roles. And fans finally get to see the pint sized green guru Yoda actually take part in a light sabre duel!
In The Phantom Menace Lucas liberally borrowed from the classic Ben Hur for the film’s most exciting scene; here he has borrowed key moments from films as diverse as The Fifth Element, Gladiator and even his own The Empire Strikes Back for some of the undeniably exciting major action sequences.
However, for all his technical efficiency and bravura, Lucas still seems to have little affinity for human characters and emotions and this is where the film falls down. The dull romance between the teenage Anakin and Amidala slows the film down to a crawl for some of the film’s overly generous running time. These cliched moments feature some of the most clunky and stilted dialogue ever committed to screen.
Despite its flaws though, Attack Of The Clones is great stuff. Unlike The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones leaves audiences wanting more, and heightens expectations for Episode III!