Top critical review
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on 11 January 2016
Unlike the predecessor, there are many elements that are absent in this film that were there in The Phantom Menace. For one, the innocence and spirit of young Anakin Skywalker has been replaced with an entirely different persona enbodied by the now teenage Anakin. Thus, we not only miss the little boy, but the very likeable performance of Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn as well. With both these central characters now missing, Attack of the Clones has a tough time introducing us to new likeable leads we can identify with.
Many people intensely dislike Hayden Christensen's performance, but I think he nails the part of a troubled young man who is ambitious and headstrong perfectly. You're not supposed to like him. You're supposed to find him irritating and talentless in the sense that you start questioning yourself whether this is truly the chosen one who according to prophecy is supposed to bring balance to the Force - and that is exactly how the Jedi council also see him, which in turn makes him more frustrated. George Lucas did a good job in bringing these rebellious teen elements into the character of Anakin Skywalker. After all, he is 19 years old by Episode II and many of his behavioral patterns are exhibited by young people around that age today as well. It doesn't help that he is also head over heels in love with Padme, while the Jedi code strictly forbids any kind of attachment. Things turn worse when Anakin loses his mother Shmi. Now, many may state this is a huge plot hole as Anakin had had 10 years to free her from slavery and get her to a safe place but didn't. We have to remember though, that Tatooine lies in the Outer Rim, and isnt under control of the Republic but under that of the Hutts. Watto, the insectoid who used to own both Skywalkers, also makes it clear to Qui-Gon in the first film that republic credits are worthless out there. And finally, Qui-Gon himself states that he didn't come here to free slaves, so perhaps in this galaxy, far-far away, the forces of good (the Jedi) do not necessarily share our own understanding that this also implies the abolishment of slavery everywhere. Further explanation is offered in the novelization of the book where it is made clear that a moisture farmer buys Shmi out of slavery only shortly after Anakin leaves, falls in love with her and marries her. Perhaps this news reaches Anakin soon enough and he and the Jedi decide she is safe, since she is a free woman now. And finally we must remember that detachment is part of Jedi training, therefore the council might have not allowed Shmi to be around Anakin anyway.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in regards to the CGI is the amounts of extra detail that go into the warmachines of the droid army, but in some places the effects still feel even more dated (e.g. the animals Anakin tries to ride during a romantic picnic on Naboo) compared to the Phantom Menace, where only during the final battle we could clearly sense the CGI to be lacking.
My biggest issue with this film is the pacing. A good initial 40% of the movie feels like a detective story: Anakin and Obi-Wan are on the lookout for a bounty hunter who had hired an assassin, with clues leading them to more clues. While Obi-Wan continues this search on remote planets, Anakin is given the duty to protect senator Padme, Queen of Naboo. The initial admiration he had as a child to this beautiful woman turns into adoration and eventual infatuation as they spend their time on idyllic Naboo. The film thus proceeds to then turn into a love story with settings some might call kitschy and dialogue passable at best. Given the fact that usually romantic stories are written around two equally likeable characters, the whole issue about Anakin being an unlikable character makes the whole love story painful to watch. Thankfully, John Williams' amazing score makes things more bearable.
The film begins to pick up pace about mid-point on, when the Republic's clone army and the army of the droids start to clash. However, before things fully reveal themselves we are once again taken to a completely different kind of setting, this time an arena fight with even more exotic alien animals our heroes have to fight against. Was anyone asking for this kind of sequence?
One can summarize that the second film is all over the place regarding its pacing, and at times hard to follow. Therefore, while its scope may be grander than the first, I still feel that The Phantom Menace did a good job regarding the narrative and presentation, while Attack of the Clones feels more like an episode in the middle of a tv series. A 3, out of 5.