Monday, October 26, 2015

'Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones' review

Ever since I saw the second full trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and I reviewed it, I guess you could say the Force has awakened me.

I had been reading the novel STAR WARS: TARKIN before the trailer was released. TARKIN honestly took me a while to get into and ultimately, even being about 75 pages from the end of the pre-"A New Hope" novel and renewing it from my library, I didn't find James Luceno's story intriguing enough to finish.

(TARKIN attempts to give insight on on why Grand Moff Tarkin ruled the first Death Star with such an iron fist and why Emperor Palpatine found Tarkin to be a good match with his second in command, Darth Vader. But like so many of the post-Disney buy-out rebooted novels, TARKIN is nothing but bland where nothing of consequence happens. Grade: C-)

Aside from that and partly because of the good time I had volunteering at the Norwalk Public Library for its "Star Wars Reads" Day, I got inspired to watch "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones," which at one time was my favorite of the woefully inadequate prequel trilogy.

Another, cooler "Star Wars" aside: Just before I sat down to type up this review, a neighborhood kid recognized me from "Star Wars Reads": "Your're the guy who was at 'Star Wars.'" This isn't the first time I've parked my car at the library and this has happened; a different boy said much the same thing a few days after the event. How awesome is that?!?

Anyway, onto my review of "Attack of the Clones" ...

Since I want to watch the entire classic trilogy before the Dec. 18 release of "The Force Awakens," I figured I might as well finish out the prequels.

Even as painful as that can be, by the time I watch "Episode IV - A New Hope" (or just plain "Star Wars" as it was in 1977 and for the next 20 years until the "Special Edition" re-release) and its two sequels, it just means my reunion with my cinematic equivalent of comfort food will be that much more enjoyable. (And yes, I plan to review each film the Greatest Trilogy Ever Filmed too!)

Besides, I had watched and reviewed "Episode I - The Phantom Menace" several months ago -- the first time in nearly a decade. And it was well past time for me to stop postponing watching its sequel.

Watching "Attack of the Clones" on Saturday, I once again realized the film has the same problems I had figured out years ago.

And this time I'm not even talking about the stiff-as-Pinocchio-acting of Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), whose remarkable lack of onscreen presence is stunning to the point of being jaw-dropping.

This time around, I also noticed some elements that don't jibe with spirit of the original trilogy. (Yes, besides a well-written script and cast chemistry ...!)

First, nearly all of the architecture and shops lack the "used universe" look; everything is too polished. There aren't enough dings and dents -- aside from C-3PO.

Every setting -- from the Jedi Temple to Naboo and even Tatooine -- is too polished and looks too good, which has as much to do with director George Lucas' overdependence on CGI than anything else.

How can Lucas expect audiences suspend the disbelief that these ships, buildings and such have seen a lot of mileage when we know from the start what we're seeing on-screen isn't a model or partially built life-size replica, but was created from a computer?

We can't; the human brain and our eyes just can't be deceived. We see right through the "perfection" of it all -- even when the incredibly talented animators and computer geeks painstakingly add rust and dents to starfighters and put dust and scuff marks on the armor of the clone troopers.

Another big stand-out in "Attack of the Clones" is shoddy acting.

The only two actors able to overcome awkward, stilted dialogue and a weak script are Ewan McGregor (whose Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi just plain kicks ass from the the beginning to the end of this trilogy) and Samuel L. Jackson as the ever-cool and intense Jedi Master Mace Windu. The pair make any of their scenes work and truly bring their A-game.

Are McGregor and Jackson the only actors unafraid to show they're having a good time? Or were they the only "Attack of the Clones" cast members who actually had fun making the trilogy? ...

Natalie Portman is a talented actress, but she comes across quite stiff as Senator Padme Amidala -- and only somewhat less so from "The Phantom Menace."

OK, I will throw Christensen under the bus (or should that be a Jawa crawler?): How can you not generate any onscreen heat with a vibrant and gorgeous woman like Portman, who seems to be every bit as delightful offscreen as she is on? He must have taken lessons from Edward "Snorin'" Norton whose role as Dr. Bruce David Banner in the not-so "Incredible Hulk" is a master class about How to Avoid Onscreen Chemistry with Your Hot and Talented Co-Star.

Their lack of chemistry means it's tough to swallow Amidala's sudden revelation to Skywalker that she's "truly and deeply in love" with him. With what? His cold-as-ice temperment? His dead-eye expressions? ... At least we get to see the Naboo senator kick some butt in the Geonosis battle scene and show why her daughter Princess Leia is such a natural shot with a blaster!

"Attack of the Clones" honestly only comes alive when Threepio teams up with R2-D2 about an hour into the film. Threepio's identity-crisis quips when his head and body trade places with a battle droid aren't very original or inspired, but at least there's an attempt at some humor.

In the Battle of Geonosis, it's great to see the Jedi doing their thing (especially Yoda and Mace Windu), but the transition between real actors and CGI characters isn't just noticeable, it's blatantly obvious. Unfortunately, as great as the designs of the clone troopers and the Republic and Trade Federation ships are, the CGI work often takes me out of the film.

And given that there was three years since Lucas and Co. made "The Phantom Menace," you'd think the CGI team could have made this computer-generated Yoda generally look significantly less so. On the other hand, his lightsaber battle with Count Dooku is as memorable as any of the battles in the entire "Star Wars" saga.

Grades -- Sound effects: A; Believability of CGI: C; Padme and Anakin: D-; Dialogue/acting (excluding Jackson and McGregor): C-; Fight/battle scenes: B+

Overall grade: C+

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