Episode II. Attack of the Clones. Worth seeing? Yes... but... for the first time in the history of this site, I feel the need to give two grades: One for the first half of the film, and one for the last half of the film. It is like two different 1 hour and 10 minute films and, while neither are great, one stands high above the other. I will explain.
I don't know that I need synopsize this film, since everyone and their uncle's step-brother knows what it's about. The further adventures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the Republic begins its slow descent into Empire-dom and the romance that shouldn't be blossoms. As a synopsis, this story works on almost every level, giving a hint of romance, action, suspense, intrigue and the never-ending battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In synopsis, it works. When expanded by a pair of hack wordsmiths, the glory that could have been falters and dies in the hands of the ego-blinded creator who has yet to realize that his creation is dying because he is too proud to ask for real assistance, and his inept flunky Jonathan Hales (whose few writing credits include such gems as "The Scorpion King" and episodes of the campy and unappealing "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicle").
If this sounds overly harsh, it isn't. I am a fan of the Star Wars series. I saw the first film, in the theatre, over 50 times as a teenager. I had all the toys. I collected the comic books, played the Role-Playing Game, and own all three "Dark Forces/Jedi Knight" games for the computer. What you're hearing isn't harshness, it's bitter disappointment, a sense of betrayal of what could have been by pride and arrogance over wisdom and caring. What you're hearing is George Lucas's own dark side taking sway and doing damage to a loved one, his own child if you will, and he seems unable, or unwilling, to save it. In his clinging to absolute control of the Star Wars franchise, he has become as arrogant as Anakin is becoming in this film.
The first half of the film would be entitled "Young Jedi in Love". It is the story of a reckless young kid with the force at his disposal, who is the epitome of the stereotypical rebellious teen who falls in love and does dumb things because of it. That in itself would be an ok story, I guess, were it not in a Star Wars film, and were it not filled with dialogue that elementary school children could top with crayons. This is where the film dies a slow, lingering death. The dialogue, especially in the romance storyline, is so deadly dull and cliche that, when Anakin said to Padme at one point "I'm in agony...", I couldn't help but mutter "So are we." This was apparently said loud enough that my comment was heard, and it was greeted with agreeing laughter, so I know it's not just me. It was awful. As a dear friend would say, it was truly trite, superfluous and overdone. Every scene with Anakin and Padme that dealt with any of their romantic entanglement brought groans from the audience, audible but not overwhelming, as if they were afraid to say anything too loud, for hope it might actually get good.
The other parts of the first half were passable. Obi-Wan is given a full supporting role, and a good plotline independent of babysitting whiny Anakin, and when he is off on his own, he is almost balm-like, so enjoyable is his storyline. Perhaps it seems wonderful merely because every time he's on the screen, Anakin and Padme aren't. But enough. You've gotten the idea that the dialogue kills this film. So how can I say that there's anything good in it? Simple: They ditched about 95% of the dialogue in the second half of the film and let the action drive the plot, and boy does that work.
The second half of the film would be titled (with big nods and grins to Kevin Smith) "Don't fuck with a Jedi Master, son." Once the action starts, we get to see the strength of this film. The action does what no words from Lucas and Jonathan Hales could, and brings the movie home to a dazzling conclusion, confirmation of suspected facts, and a horrific glimpse of the future to send us out of the theatre. And Yoda. Yoda, Yoda, Yoda. Not only does Yoda save countless characters in the film, but he saves THE FILM ITSELF. Not bad for a little green guy.
The film suffers not only from a flaw in writing, but a flaw in direction as well. Both Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are good actors (see Life as a House if you don't believe me about Christensen), and it comes through only once in the film. One scene, shortly after one of the events on Tatooine, actually moved me almost to tears, so intense and honest was the emotion that came from these two. That they could do that through the dark cloud of writing that formed the words in their mouths is nothing short of amazing, and they should be given credit where credit is due. Their acting was stilted and wooden, but both have the range to give more, so the fault must lie with the director, and does.
I hear you saying "Wow... he hated this movie!" I hated parts of it. Overall, however, I enjoyed the hell out of it. The effects were what we've come to expect, and the CGI has gotten noticeably better, just from Episode I. The cinematography was better, I believe, since we weren't treated to so much "simulator ride" camera moves designed to sicken those prone to motion sickness. This film also had a much better overall atmosphere. There was a shadow to the tone of Episode II, a sense that doom was just around the corner at all times. The new places we were shown were dark, dirty and wet, and actually... that describes much of the mood set by the film as well.
As I've said, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman did a good job of dealing with what they were handed. Several times, Portman showed flashes that caused a "So THAT'S where Leia gets it" reaction. Ewan McGregor was superb as Obi-Wan, hands-down the best live-action actor in the film. His attitude, his facial expressions, his vocal mannerisms, and most of all his ability to make you believe that he'll become Alec Guinness in a couple decades, lent his portrayal the most credibility of any of the roles. Samuel L. Jackson and Frank Oz deserve tremendous praise for their portrayal/voicing of Jedi Master Mace Windu and Jedi Uber-Master Yoda. Likewise, seeing Owen and Beru Lars as teens and meeting Anakin's step-father, Cliegg Lars, was wonderful, especially in the home that Luke eventually grows up in. Cliegg is the spitting image of an older Lars, another pleasant and reminiscent surprise.
Another good part of the film was the whole Jengo Fett storyline. For all of us who thought Boba Fett was cool and wanted to know more about him, this film delivers that at least. To see what all Slave I, the Fett's ship, is capable of, was enjoyable, and the film not only explains where the armor came from, but why Boba Fett would have chosen to work with the Sith in the later films. Jengo didn't say much, but all things considered, that's probably a good thing. His storyline was moved almost solely by action, and it was great from start to finish.
There were also other supporting characters that made the film worth the price of admission. Christopher Lee, as Count Dooku, gave us only the second force-user ever in the film series to wield force lightning, and his presence gave the character a legitimate menace. Anthony Daniels voicing a "young and naive" C3-P0 was rather amusing, and much better comic relief than Jar-Jar (who not only isn't in the movie for long, but in the short time you see him you're given a real reason to hate him), and watching the beginning of C3-P0's "friendship" with a sarcastic R2-D2 (sorry, I just think he swears like a trucker under all those beeps and clicks) was almost touching. Seeing Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, and watching his reluctance and dismay as the Republic begins to spiral downward helps explain why he is chosen to safeguard and adopt Leia when she is born.
And, since villains hold such a special place in my heart, I must talk about Ian McDiarmid's Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious. Again, he delivers some of the slickest double-meanings of any role I've seen. Everything he says, he gives a shade of menace and foreshadowing to, and establishes the beginnings of his relationship with Anakin in such a supportive and innocent way that, if it were not for the knowledge Episodes IV, V and VI have given us, I'd think he wasn't the same person under the hood as Darth Sidious. Wonderful.
Finally, as for the music, John Williams does with his notes what the writers couldn't with their words. He blends new and old, past and future, into a musical pastiche that brings chills, such as when you realize that the Imperial March is playing through all the other music you've been hearing, or when the same theme used for Luke's anguish surfaces during one of Anakin's crises. This subtle awareness of role, of direction, and of import, gave the film a stability that it could have found nowhere else.
As I mentioned before, I wish to give this film two grades. For the first half the film, the dialogue half, I give this film a much deserved D-. Not failing, but just barely. For the second half of the film, however, I give a much appreciated B+. Go see it, it is the middle chapter, and those are good historically, but hopefully next time, for the grand finale, Mr. Lucas will stick to what he does best, creating the over-story and the special effects, and let someone who can, direct and screenwrite. Please. The bang the series goes out with must not be a gunshot wound to the heart.