Thursday, December 17, 2015

Movie Review: "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" by David Pretty

Under the auspices of a talented screenwriter and a patient director, a romance *slash* detective story set in the Star Wars universe could have been awesome. Episode II could have been the Empire Strikes Back of the prequel trilogy: an elegiac and thoughtful adagio-style character study spiced up with a few original and innovative action beats.

Instead we get George Lucas frantically scribbling away on his yellow legal pad, trying to cobble a shooting script together before the paint dried on the sets that he'd already decreed, Kubla Khan-style months prior. But even the most rank amateur film student knows that this is no way to make a movie and the script needs to be locked down cold before so much as a single man hour of pre-production begins.

Contrary to the 20'th Century Fox fanfare, Lucasfilm logo and assurances that what we're about to watch did, in fact, occur "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," there's little on display here that jibes tonally, spiritually or even chronologically with the original trilogy. In fact, I still maintain that Attack of the Clones is actually worse then The Phantom Menace because it's even more destructive to the lore of the original trilogy than its reviled predecessor.  

It doesn't take very long to realize that the nuts and bolts writing in this entry is going to be just as bad this time out, if not worse. Within nine minutes we're subjected to the following three nigh-identical lines:

Mace Windu: "We're keepers of the peace, not soldiers."
Beldar Conehead: (referring to Count Dookie) "He is a political idealist, not a murderer."
Obi-Wan: "We are here to protect you, Senator, not to start an investigation."

This is, by far, the most blatant example of screenwriting laziness I've ever seen in a major motion picture. Even the worst, piece of shit Jennifer Aniston rom-com wouldn't stoop to this. Any wordsmith worth his or her salt knows that repetition is the cardinal sin of writing. This is the tell-tale sign of an early draft script and / or an environment where the actors have little to no input with regards to the dialogue.

"Know our asses from a hole in the ground we do not."

Except, apparently if you're Samuel L. Jackson. This leads to one of the dumbest lines in the entire prequel trilogy when Mace Windu miraculously gets the jump on Jango Fett and proclaims "This party's over."  Really?  Really?!?  Why didn't Lucas just let him say "I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SEPARATISTS IN THIS MOTHERFUCKING ARENA!" At least that would have been deliberately funny as opposed to unintentionally funny.

There are plenty more real-world references that always jettison me out of the movie like a malfunctioning escape pod. For example, it's dumb enough that some guy in the bar offers Obi-Wan "Deathsticks" but when you learn that Lucas's original name for this dude was "Elan Sleazebaggano" you quickly realize that not a single solitary fuck is being given. It also begs the question, did Elan change his name to suit his chosen profession or did inheriting such an unfortunate surname dictate a Freakanomics-style self-fulfilling career path in sleazebaggery? 

Later Obi-Wan visits the Anachronistic Cafe, has a cup of Jamba, er...Jawa Juice and meets up with hitherto unknown bestie Dexter Jettster, a short order cook and walking health code violation. Apparently this fat fuck knows more then all of the Jedi elders combined, which further serves to diminishes that once-hallowed order. Hey, put down that spatula and apron, my friend, and get yer rotund ass to the Jedi Library! Apparently dementia is setting in for that Jocasta chick.

"Dex, there's a fly in my Jawa Juice. At least I hope it's a fly."

By the time we get Saruman bombing around on a flying Harley, I was just like..."Okay, done! Check, please!" 

Sorry, let's get back to the dialogue. Now, I don't know if it was George Lucas's intention to make the Jedi, and Anakin in particular, sound like a bunch of antisocial hermits. Maybe he wanted to show that the cloistered and emotionally-stunted Jedi lifestyle is harmful to young minds. But eventually I'm forced to concede that Lucas is an anti-social hermit and this is the only dialogue he's capable of producing. He's like the H.P. Lovecraft of the cinematic blockbuster world.

Sadly, if the film had been approached as a legitimate Anakin character study and Hayden Christensen had gotten some decent lines, it probably could have worked. But as soon as Anakin gets Padme alone he starts giving her these creepy, stalker-ish glances and then follows this up with a slew of highly inappropriate comments. As such, you really can't fathom why Padme would be attracted to this guy, especially after he acts like a total dee-bag and then gets publicly emasculated by his boss.  

Things continue to deteriorate when Padme and Anakin are forced into a series of clunky, deus ex machina scenes together. Anakin pitches a hissy fit about Obi-Wan being a big meanie face and I think he even cries at one point. He caps off this mini meltdown with some of the most straight-up pervy leering ever captured on film...and I've seen most of Jack Nicholson's movies. BA-dum...tssh! 

An overheated Anakin, clearly pondering the rohypnol-style applications of the Jedi Mind Trick. Ewwww.

Eventually Anakin does get a few scripted moments that generate some sympathy with Padme. He carries her luggage, lightens the mood with some edgy astro-droid humor and then scores major brownie points when he tells her that the Jedi put severe limitations on physical and emotional freedom. But then he goes and blows the whole thing by telling Padme that she's been "in his dreams" for years, presumably the same sort of dreams that would necessitate the changing of one's Jedi Jammies™. Ewwwww.

Even though Naboo is probably the most unlikely place to keep Padme safe, it does give Lucas an excuse to shoot in romantic, real-world Italy in a vain effort to compensate for the dearth of chemistry between his two young leads. Actually, I feel kinda churlish bitching about this since it's one of the few times when we get see the actors in real, exterior environments instead of the usual green fabric romper room gussied up with gaudy digital curtains.     

Clad in a backless dress and alluding to skinny dipping and nude sunbathing, Padme inspires Anakin to give his notorious "I hate sand" speech. Despite being the target of the worst come-on lines in cinema history, she still decides to swap spit with the guy. The scene is so ham-fisted that it leads to an inadvertently funny moment when Padme inflicts snoggus interruptus on Anakin and the swelling, florid soundtrack suddenly just stops dead. The only thing missing is a sad trombone noise. 

Padme leaves Anakin hanging with an ignited lightsaber in this scene from Attack of the Blue Balls.

Anakin then continues his campaign to become the Galaxy's Most Creepy Bachelor by telling left-leaning Padme that galactic fascism really hasn't been given a fair shake yet. That isn't quite enough to get her senatorial juices flowing, so Anakin displays his aptitude for obese cow surfing and actually earns himself a literal roll in the hay. Is anyone else buying this crap?

Displaying further evidence that he know less about women than Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, Lucas dresses Padme up in this black, S&M fetish gear and then has her lure Anakin into some sort of fireplace-lit love nest / sex lair. Why didn't Lucas just put her in black yoga pants with the word "JUICY" embroidered on the ass?

This results in Anakin delivering some mock-Shakespearean dialogue by way of Lucas's damaged prepubescent brain:

"From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you. And now that I'm with you again, I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you, I can't breath. I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask."

Padme slips into something not even vaguely more comfortable.

In other words, Anakin has been reduced to begging for table scraps from Padme who keeps insisting that she can't fuck the guy because "she's a senator". Wow, talk about art not imitating life.

But, hey, hold on to your gag reflex, kids! 'Cuz about forty minutes later, just before these two crazy kids get wheeled into a fake looking digital arena to face certain doom, Padme suddenly comes down with her own case of  Juliet-itis. She tells Anakin from out of no-where that she's "been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life" and that she's truly / madly / deeply in lurve with L'il Orphan Annie. Dafuq? 

But it's not enough that Anakin and Padme's story gets bungled, beloved older things get ruined too! Do you guys remember back in the glory days (I.E. before the prequels) when Obi-Wan and Yoda made us think that the Jedi Knights were all enlightened, noble, insightful and intelligent? Well, these new films make a compelling case that the Jedi were all just a bunch of emotionally dead, totally oblivious assholes who were about as useful as a screen door on the Millennium Falcon.

For one, I completely understand Anakin's hatred for Obi-Wan. After ragging on Anakin for doing impulsive and / or stupid shit, Obi-Wan then proceeds to ignore his own advice and hurl himself bodily through a plate glass window in an ruckless  attempt to catch the assassin droid. This also doesn't jibe with his earlier assertion that they're just there to guard Padme and not go after the killer. Hey, practice what you preach, asshole!   

"Okay, I probably deserved this."

And so much for the Jedi Knights being "guardians of peace and justice" in the Old Republic. Just check out the scene where Obi-Wan and Anakin work Zam Wesell over like Vic Mackey and "Popeye" Doyle. Then, of course, there's the genuinely disturbing moment when Mace Windu casually lops Jango Fett's head off with the same level of hesitation one reserves for hacking the greens off the of top of a carrot. And contrary to Mace's assertion that the Jedi are "not soldiers", they certainly have no qualms about sparking off and then presiding over all-out war by the end of the film.

Then there's a scene which virtually parodies Luke's training on the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.  Obi-Wan seeks out Yoda for advice and finds him training a pack of "younglings" (read: brats). We see this swarm of prepubescent larvae all clustered together, indiscriminately waving their little laser swords around like they're trying to crack open a "Minions" piñata at a birthday party. There's even  one precocious little snot in the background (who vaguely resembles Chunk from The Goonies) who's holding his lightsaber with the blade pointed directly at his own chest. Pity the fucking safety wasn't off...

Blinded by child-worship and clearly keen to patronize the next generation of consumers, Lucas has one of the lisping little imps school Obi-Wan on what happened to his missing planet. This prompts Yoda to gush like a senile Grandmother, saying "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is." Hey, Yoda, you wanna know what a kid's mind is really like at that age? It's like fucking mush. Creative, yes. Clever, sure. But certainly incapable of the kind of deep reasoning that you'd hope to expect from the adults in this film. That's why Palpatine never visited the Jedi Temple; those lil bloodhounds would have sniffed him out in a second.

Yoda orders Obi-Wan to grab a dunce cap and head to the back of the class.

Sure, the kids are on point but the elder Jedi clearly have no fucking clue what's going on. As if the Jedi don't already have enough egg on their face to constitute a Big Bird omelet, both Beldar and Mace flat-out dismiss Padme's assertion that Count Dookie is trying to kill her and then the rest of their condescending, neutered, ignorant brethren fall right into step with them.

I just love it when Count Dookie eventually gives a trussed-up Obi-Wan a crash course on Darth Sidious, which, to me, is about as Machiavellian as putting glasses on Clark Kent. Even if we buy the bullshit script convenience that the Jedi have had their insight diminished by the Dark Side, they still have working eyes and ears, don't they? 

But it's Yoda who comes off the worse here, by far. The script constantly forces the diminutive Jedi Master to admit his ignorance about Palpatine's persistently shady behavior, something that should be self-evident to anyone with an upright gait and a body temperature over thirty-six degrees. I'd chalk this up to senility but didn't all of this crap happen twenty years or so before the other films? Even though Yoda clearly thinks that Palpatine's sponsorship of Anakin stinks worse then a pile of dead Jawas, the little green bastard just sits there and says absolutely nothing.

"Suspicious Palpatine is. Confront him I should. But first, find my car keys I will."

Plus, based on his teachings in Empire, I never in my worst nightmares ever expected the wise, Zen-like Jedi Master to utter such boring, mock-tactical, junk dialogue as:
  • "Around the survivors, a perimeter create!"
  • "To the forward command center take me!" 
  • "Concentrate all your fire on the nearest starship!"    
Then they commit the single dumbest travesty of the entire prequel trilogy: they give Yoda a tiny l'il lightsaber. As Empire firmly established, Yoda always saw weapons as crude toys that were beneath him. But here he's reduced to wielding a paring knife-sized laser-sword and leaping around like Super Grover after a flat of Red Bull.

But the Jedi aren't the only things that get borked into oblivion; the following once-cool things also get irreparably fucked, as if George didn't even know how to write for his own universe:
  • During Obi-Wan's tour through the Kamino klone kartoon, we learn that the notorious stormtroopers are actually a bunch of Kiwis.  
  • We also discover that Boba Fett isn't Mandalorian after all, but Māorian. This one really pisses me off since it resulted in voice actor Jason Wingreen being ret-conned out of The Empire Strikes Back as the original voice for Boba Fett. It's heartbreaking to hear Jason recount this story about getting the job, which has since been relegated to the dustbin of cinematic history. 
  • R2-D2 has fucking rocket booster jets?!?  Man, that could have come in handy in, oh, I dunno, THE ENTIRE ORIGINAL TRILOGY. 
  • The C-3PO / battle droid head switch is the greatest indignity the character has ever suffered.  And I've seen the Droids cartoon. 
It's scenes like this that convince me that George Lucas is just fucking around with all of us.

While all of this is happening we're subjected to an endless parade of idiocy that makes The Phantom Menace look like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. For example, why does Padme's decoy apologize for "failing her"? As a decoy, isn't it her job to get blown up instead of the Senator? Plus, for someone who's supposedly in constant danger of assassination, Padme sure likes livin' on the edge. She has a one-eyed bodyguard with no depth perception, dresses in distinctive costumes and hangs out in an apartment with more windows then Trump Tower.

Maybe she knows just how brain damaged her assassins are. Despite the fact that Jango is presented to us as a total bad-ass, he sub-contracts Zam Wesell out to kill Padme. Why he doesn't just jetpack to Padme's apartment and tap on her bedroom window with A FUCKING ROCKET is beyond me. Clearly accuracy isn't an issue for Jango since later on he tags Zam with a tiny poisoned dart from what looks like a hojillion miles away. 

Instead of going with "Plan A" he gives Zam a snack pack of killer centipedes (?) to deposit into Padme's room while she's sleeping. So, just as Obi-Wan and Anakin are summing up their fifth and final stupid line of tin-eared dialogue, they sense the intruders, rush in and dispatch the critters with ease. See what I mean? If Jango had just cared enough to send a ROCKET-O-GRAM in the first place the whole thing would have been over and done with and could have all gone home early.

"Special delivery, sweetheart!"

Oh, and let's come back to Obi-Wan crashing through Padme's picture window like Batman. How did he know that the assassin droid wouldn't shoot straight up into the air or turbo-boost away from his leap? Better yet, how did he know that the droid could support his weight? The thing could have plummeted to earth like a sparrow being tackled out in mid-air by Val Kilmer. 

Zam is also quickly revealed as a rank and file moron. She manages to ditch Obi-Wan and Anakin in a busy bar but instead of taking this as an opportunity to escape, she tries to shoot Obi-Wan in the back. That's like Suge Knight trying to cap a police officer in the back of the skull on a busy night at 1 OAK. Actually, we need to add Jango to the dipshit list as well since he could have easily doubled back to Padme's apartment and ganked her now-unprotected ass. Seriosuly, none of this shit makes any sense.  

Want more examples? For no other reason except to shoe-horn two characters together, the Jedi Council gives Anakin the delicate task of escorting Padme to Naboo which, need I remind you, is the planet that capitulated quicker then France in Episode I. Clearly Padme's life is in terrible danger so why don't they just lock her up inside a Panic Room in the heart of the Jedi Temple?

The only thing more indefensible than an open field is this stupid script.

And then, just before Padme leaves, she confers all of her senatorial powers to that brain-damaged, cock-holster Jar Jar Binks. And with that, my last hope that there was at least one intelligent person in the galaxy started circling down the drain.

Now, since Lucas doesn't have a smidgen of Irvin Kershner's directorial flair, he's forced to borrow visual cues from previous entries in a vain effort to keep viewers engaged. Sure, Obi-Wan and Jango's asteroid duel is superficially exhilarating, but it cribs shamelessly from The Empire Strikes Back without generating any of the same peril or suspense. And even though Jango is a crack shot with a dart, he really needs to turn in his marksmanship badge after failing to annihilate Obi-Wan with those twin Bushmaster laser guns.

By the time we get to the big, dumb ending the inconsistencies start piling up at a dizzying rate. Sure, we know where the clones came from but where did Yoda get all of the shuttles, tanks, command centers and Godzilla-killing laser cannons? "Award the lucrative defense contract to Lockheed Martin did I!" How the fuck did Padme know that Dookie was headed for a "hanger" after she got thrown out of the shuttle? How did all of those foreign-looking Jedi strategically place themselves around that huge arena without being noticed, especially when they stand out like Bill Gates at a Drake concert. 

Nope. Not conspicuous at all.

But perhaps the movie's worst sin is that it's a black hole of visual cinematic story telling. The non-mystery surrounding Count Dookie is a perfect example of this.

Padme: Do you have any idea who was behind this attack?
Mace Windy: Our intelligence points to disgruntled spice miners on the moons of Naboo.
Padme:  I think that Count Dooku was behind it.
Beldar: He is a political idealist, not a murderer.
Mace Windshield: You know, milady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn't assassinate anyone. It's not in his character.

Now it's bad enough that these conversations sound completely stilted and unnatural, but what's much worse is that George is telling us how to feel about something instead of showing us something and letting us make up our own mind how we feel towards it. Ergo, if we'd actually seen Count Dookie do something in the previous film or at the start of this movie then maybe we could have formed our own opinion about the guy. 

I find it especially sad to watch Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen gamely bash out one stilted, utilitarian, contraction-free line after another in a vain effort to convince us that they're "best buds". This is summed up in the scene where Obi-Wan and Anakin reminisce about all the fun adventures they've had together since The Phantom Menace en route to Padme's er...pad.

Obi-Wan: You seem a little on edge.
Anakin: Not at all.
Obi-Wan: I haven't felt you this tense since we fell into that nest of gundarks.
Anakin: You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you, remember?
Obi-Wan: Oh, yes. (chuckles)

"OooOoo.. and then there was that time when we got drunk on Hoth and you stuck your whole arm up that Tauntaun's a..."
"You don't need to bring that up, my young Padawan."

Pity we don't get to see this gundark scrap since it sounds like a pretty epic dude bro bonding moment. What we do see moments later is a very awkward public spat between Anakin and Obi-Wan that makes it seem as if they can't stand ot be in the same room with one another.

Not long after, we see Obi-Wan, Yoda and Mace PhotoShopped into a Jedi Temple desktop pic. They casually stroll around and talk about Anakin's increasing volatile behavior but let it slide once again thanks to this nebulous and cryptic "Balance of the Force" prophesy. Once again, Lucas opts to play "keep away" with any pertinent details, most likely because even he has no clue what he's on about.

Later, amidst the equally fake and cartoonish environs of Kamino, we get several maddening references to some dude named Sifo Dyas. Once again, Lucas does the screenwriting equivalent of "neener, neener, neener" and refuses to disclose any helpful information about this guy. And don't you even dare say that the answer is in some cartoon, comic book or Expanded Universe novel or I swear I'll track you down, march up to your house, ring your door bell and then punch you right in the pee-hole.   

Speaking of fake and cartoonish, the actions scenes are so laden with CGI that you never feel as if the characters are in a real environment and subsequently in any peril. The tone for this is set right out of the gate during the Obi / Anakin / Zam Wesell chase. Physics and logic are quickly dispensed with and the rest of the sequence is about as engaging as a cutscene from Assassin's Creed.

But it gets much, much worse. The droid assembly line set piece is totally pointless and by the end of it, you're fifty percent bored and fifty percent exhausted. Now I've used the "video game" analogy before but this time I'll be even more specific and go call this whole segment a "platformer". Uh-uh! Anakin totally borked his boss fight against Jango and the Destroyers! OooOooo, what a great name for a band! Sorry, it's easy to get distracted. Bottom line is: you know this movie's in trouble when C-fucking-3PO features prominently in the action. 

Then there's the entire arena sequence which is just a bloated, fake-looking mess designed for people with terminal ADD. Ergo, there's nothing going on here that a normal, empathetic human being can relate to. Ergo, our desire to give a shit about what's happening on screen is seriously diminished. Then, like a hypoglycemic kid on a Froot Loop bender, Lucas give us yet another seizure-inducing pitched battle between two armies of clones and droids that we care little to nothing about.

The clones attack...and I fall asleep.

As already established in The Phantom MenASS, Lucas continues to pursue a life-time dream of purging those bothersome flesh and blood actors from the big screen. No sooner do the Jedi arrive at Padme's flat, then we're forced to endure a greeting by that cock-smack Jar Jar Binks, resulting in an instant one-star demerit for the film. In a clear invitation for fans to tuck into a heaping bowlful of Penis™-brand cereal, Lucas reveals that it's none other then Monsieur Binks who's responsible for the single most cataclysmic decision in the entire saga. How the fuck can the Senate take this clueless twat seriously after he addresses them as "dellow fellowgates"?

And, hey, we get to see Watto again! Yep, still an incredibly insulting racial stereotype! Replaced by a digital doppelganger, Yoda now looks about as realistic as a character from ReBoot. And who can forget Dexter Jettster? Everybody? Right, I forgot, he's completely disposable. It's here that I really have to pause for a second and praise Ewan McGregor; clearly he gives a shit and he's trying his best. Despite being paired up with a giant computer-generated basilisk who's neck waddle always reminds me of a certain flannel-clad director, McGregor sells it to the (lightsaber) hilt and makes the scene tolerable to sit through.

Now at one point during the scrap between Obi-Wan and Jango I actually started to feel a fleeting sense of happiness and disorientation when I realized that I was watching something that vaguely resembled a Star Wars movie. Despite the completely fraudulent-looking digital backdrops, it's still a tense, fun scene. Again, I'm tempted to give Ewan more credit here, but I honestly don't know if it's him half the time or some sort of digital stuntman.

Will the real Ewan McGregor please stand up, please stand up?

And then there are the drunken tonal shifts that have plagued every single one of George's movies since Return of the Jedi. In a sequence that gets a lot of mileage from nostalgia, Anakin goes back to Tatooine to rescue his moms. For one brief moment we're back in the guy's corner, that is until he snaps and commits genocide. I can't say that I blame him, though, since he does find Shmoo trussed up by the Sandpeople like a Pledge Night rookie at an S&M club.  Honestly, is there anyone still left out there who thinks these movies are "just for kids"? 

Just like in Jedi when the fucking Ewoks started acting like assholes during Endor battle, every single bit of dramatic tension in the film just drains away whenever C-3PO is on screen. I really love how the protocol droid's incessant clowning and corny one-liners are juxtaposed against Mace Window's brutal decapitation of Jango Fett. "Hey, kids!  Wanna see the new Star Wars movie?  It's got some funny bits with C-3PO! Oh, and some traumatic scenes of parental murder.

The sad fact of the matter is that Attack of the Clones is a colossal piece of junk, and I'm not talking about an endearing piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon. It's a cinematic shit-heap with little redeeming value. It's not just bad as a Star Wars movie, it's straight-up bad cinema. In fact, it's just about as bad as a series of consecutive moving images strung together to tell a story can possibly be.

I'm hoping that my next review will be The Force Awakens. I'm going into that one with a "there's- nowhere-to-go-from-here-but-up" attitude but, as Clones will attest, I've been burned by blind optimism before.

Tilt: down.

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