I’d like to begin by stating that I love contrived, forced romances in film, they’re hysterical. Whether the actors have no chemistry together or not, cheesy romantic dialogue usually adds to my interest in a film that’s awful around it. The Nicholas Sparks adaptations are hilarious, and I’m a self-appointed fan of ‘The Twilight Saga.’ The reason for this is that nothing makes a movie terrible as fast as either really bad effects or a really bad romance. When I do eventually decide to delve into Twilight and ‘Fifty Shades..(insert here)’ series’, I will do so gladly because of how awkward it is to deal with a film that is just so stripped of real emotion. Lines like, “I’m Fifty Shades of fucked up,” or “You’re my own personal brand of heroin,” are great, and the effortlessness of laughing at something like this is a great definition of a ‘fun-bad’ movie.
There are certain types of ‘fun-bad,’ in fact, I think Nicholas Cage has created a sub-genre starring his own movies as one type. Others are awful romances, trainwreck production films, or all three. The actual bad movies are ones that strive to be something transcendent and fall on its face, whether it be too heavy-handed in the writing, or too many changes post-production. The actual disasters of movies can be fun to see exactly how it got this way, especially when many people really enjoy them. That’s why ‘Attack of the Clones’ is an improvement over its predecessor.
Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman could physically run a mile from each other and still be closer than they appeared in this movie. Some of the cheesy, George Lucas written dialogue is absolutely golden and you will laugh. You will laugh throughout a lot of what happens in this sequel. It doesn’t carry the heavy burden of disappointment the way ‘The Phantom Menace’ did. It instead improves on the action and puts in one of the most gloriously horrible romantic sub-plots you’ll ever see. All in all, it just doesn’t have the same sterile feel that its predecessor did. It has many mistakes, almost too many, but manages to rise to the ‘fun-bad’ category of a passing grade because of some decent action and some true comedy at what happens between the romantic leads. It’s not a formula to be a great a movie, but it’s actually entertaining, something that ‘The Phantom Menace’ cannot say for itself.
We open with viewing Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) for the first time in an elevator together. They are in Coruscant, ready to meet back up with former Queen, now Senator, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) who recently has had an assassination attempt on her life. Anakin remains stricken with Padme and has not really seen her in the ten years that have passed between film one and two. His arrogance toward Obi-Wan and nervousness toward Padme coincide with a clear conflict between master and learner, where Anakin believes he is already more powerful than his mentor. Their adversarial and competitive friendship does occasionally shine through, but a lot of it is bogged down with an angsty Anakin, and it does hurt the quality of their scenes together.
Padme believes that the assassination attempt is by Count Dooku, a former Jedi turned politician that has flown off the map in terms of his influence, but we learn that he is actually working under Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who is actually the Sith Leader Darth Sidious in disguise. Dooku has used his influence to coerce the remaining army from the Trade Federation and other Republic Separatists to help their cause. With Palpatine controlling both sides, the Jedi remain pretty incapacitated and confused in their role. She ends up being right, the assassination attempt a bargaining chip for the Federation after their debacle on Naboo.
During the Jedi’s protection of Padme, there is a second attempt on her life, leading Anakin and Obi-Wan on a wild goose chase through Coruscant. This scene, honestly, is awesome. The movie was so clunky before then despite the pretty cool lighting on the Coruscant landscape, but once we get a little bit of the plot moving forward, things really start moving in the right direction. The speeder scene, which involves a very idiotic move by Obi-Wan to throw himself out of a 50-story window onto a droid, and Anakin jumping off of a moving ship to try to land on and murder the assassin is actually pretty riveting and shows the lack of true patience by the two of them. Then, because it’s like poetry, there’s a scene that rivals the Kantina scene where Anakin chases the assassin into a bar and him and Obi-Wan eventually get her and play good cop, bad cop with her.
She is then killed by her superior, leading Obi-Wan to chase after him (it ends up being Jango Fett), and Anakin to go away with Padme as further protection. The second act of the film cuts between shots of their separate missions, and the tangled web the weave together. We’ll get to that in a second.
As for the Coruscant first act, a lot is established, and not necessarily by clever story-telling, but by a lot of exposition scenes that basically tell us that Padme is in danger (we knew that from the first shot) and that the person behind this is a mystery, we also knew that. So instead, the scenes work to establish the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. We get a feeling of how they work together, and Lucas lays the possible seed for future romance because it’s obvious Anakin digs Padme. Many people blame Hayden Christensen for the problems in this film and state that he overacts and that he isn’t a real Anakin, but I actually find him to be a positive in this movie. The writing of the screenplay turns him into an often unlikable, petulant, know-it-all, and I think his body language and actions convey that decently well. When he constantly has to say stuff like, “Yes master,” “I know, master,” it’s going to come off as dry and lifeless, in the same way that many of Ewan McGregor’s lines do as well. It’s confusing how people let every performance in these films off the hook except for Christensen, and I get that he’s the fall guy, but the fan backlash to his performance ruined his acting career, and when watching this and Revenge of the Sith over again, it really is not his fault.
Christensen comes off as physically intimidating and clearly emotionally damaged from years of molding him into this sterile monk that the Jedi want him to be. The flashes of anger and recklessness of his character are better than lines where he bitches at Obi-Wan or Padme. This continues in the second act, where his whining actually ruins any progress we’ve made with him as a character. Obi-Wan’s lack of personality is no better of a performance than Anakin’s petulance in the grand scheme of things, and it’s the script and lack of director’s vision for the characters that hurt this opening act, not the acting of Hayden Christensen.
So Anakin escorts Padme back to Naboo and stays with her over a course of what seems like week or so, and they begin to form a relationship. The idea that they don’t have chemistry is completely true, they obviously go initially for power and physical attractiveness, but either way, it happens, whatever. The problem comes from the decision-making and dialogue. Lucas puts in the idea that Jedi can’t love, and that it’s wrong for a Senator to be with a guy. I’m not sure what Senators George Lucas knows, but this isn’t true. Plus, wouldn’t it be easier for Jedi to be in control of their emotions if they had a partner to come home to at night? It’s a confusing, sterile environment, both visually and romantically, that is created by Lucas. They ‘give into temptation’ anyway and decide to pursue each other, and it’s fine. The dialogue is cheesy, the chemistry is absent, but it is at least something to watch on screen, although fabricated, that is a reprieve from how boring all of the characters are. When Anakin begins having nightmares about his mother, they decide to go rescue her from slavery in Tatooine, where it turns out she has been tortured by Tuskan Raiders. She eventually dies in Anakin’s arms, leading him to slaughter the entire tribe and break down emotionally in front of Padme. These scenes are, guess what, well acted. The dialogue in his breakdown is pretty awful because of what Lucas decides to do, but the body language is convincing here. His pain, his tapping into the dark side in the absence of Obi-Wan, this all works on a deeper level that goes beyond Lucas’s capabilities as a story-teller.
Obi-Wan, meanwhile, discovers that Jedi Master Syfo-Dias, who is now deceased, ordered a Clone Army to serve the Republic after learning that the Sith had returned. No one on the Jedi Council had known this, and the whole thing appears suspicious, especially when the test subject of the Clones is the very same bounty hunter from earlier. Obi-Wan follows him to Geonosis, a rocky planet where he learns of the Separatists lead by Count Dooku. Anakin and Padme, wanting to rescue Obi-Wan get caught as well. Dooku orders their execution in a Gladiator arena, which is quite over the top, but is the second best scene in the movie after the speeder chase, watching them try to get out of such a desperate situation. Then, the end of the third act is a bogus, unimaginative mess, whether it be that the screen is cluttered with overly saturated war scenes, or the lack of tension in the Count Dooku saber duel. Dooku disposes of the tired Obi-Wan and the young Anakin with ease, and then stops Yoda as well, in a really comic scene that stands out like a sore thumb considering the remaining tone of the movie.
Overall, this film offers a little bit of guilty pleasure, two great action sequences, and a bunch of unimaginative fluff. I do think its an improvement over the Phantom Menace, but directing decisions that happen are a big mistake such as the Clone Army or the sterileness of the the environments. This film often feels too clinical, even though there are a few gritty, emotional, thrilling scenes here.