I should've known better than to underestimate "The Force". Considering the reaction to the last film and the fact that I was going to be attending a 9:30am screening on a Thursday morning, it couldn't be that crowded, could it? It could. As I rounded the corner towards the theater, I was confronted with what looked to be about 650 people already in line. As with "The Phantom Menace", I thought some were likely in line for other, later shows already. Nope. Luckily, I was able to get in line quickly and, while what seemed like half the crowd was at the concession stand (I'd imagine it's not terribly easy to finish a giant popcorn at 9:30am, but what do I know?), I grabbed an aisle seat. Within minutes, the 800-seat auditorium was full.
As for the film itself, "Attack of the Clones" certainly is a better film than "The Phantom Menace", but there's still a few areas where it falls slightly short of expectations. The film opens about ten years after the events of "The Phantom Menace". Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) has spent the last ten years under the watch of mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and has become impatient at the length of time it's taken to become a fully realized jedi.
Amidala (Natalie Portman), once a queen, now a senator, has arrived on Coruscant to place an important vote. Shortly after her ship lands, she barely escapes an assassination attempt. Assigned to protect her are Anakin and Obi-Wan. It's not long before they have to go into action, as both give chase to an unseen attacker in a spectacular scene that has both flying through the city.
While Obi-Wan's investigation takes him to a rain-drenched planet where an army of clones are being made, Amidala and Anakin find themselves falling for one another, even though their places in life would seem to make their love impossible. "Attack Of The Clones" starts off wonderfully; there are a couple of solid action sequences and even some nice moments where Obi-Wan plays sort of a detective and eventually runs into Jango Fett (Tenemura Morrison), father of Bobba Fett.
Then, the trouble begins. There is a stretch of romantic scenes between Anakin and Amidala that is easily the most dismal part of the movie. While the two seem comfortable with one another, both have a difficult time trying to deliver lines that seem lifted out of a supermarket romance novel - and do so in an ultra-serious monotone. With the sold-out audience of about 800 that I saw the film with, these scenes got the biggest laughs, especially a strange "Sound of Music" scene.
Still, that stretch is over soon enough and the excitement takes over again. The last quarter-or-so of the movie contains some of the most dazzling action scenes I've seen in ages - but I won't spoil them here. To put it simply, Yoda fights. Although some have seemed to dislike this sequence, I thought it was not only beautifully animated, but highly entertaining.
Lucas still gets mixed performances from his actors. To their credit, the dialogue isn't always wonderful, but they also must have difficulty essentially playing to nothing while effects and most of everything else around them is likely something to be added in later. The most improved over the last film is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan; his performance is far more confident and enjoyable this time around. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, is somewhat better, but still not quite what I'd expect, given her prior efforts. As for Hayden Christensen, I didn't like him in "Life as a House" and I didn't really care for him here, either; his performance is uneven and his scenes of anger occasionally seemed bratty. Samuel L. Jackson has a bit more to do and really kicks ass in the final battle sequence, while Christopher Lee makes a fine villian as Count Dookoo.
Overall, "Star Wars: Episode II" is fine entertainment and a respectable entry into the "Star Wars" universe; had the middle been trimmed, I would have liked the film even better. Part of me would enjoy something along the lines of an "old school" film with less in the way of completely computer-generated places, but I suppose Lucas wants to put the technology to use.
It should also be noted that I viewed episode two in a theater that offered DLP (digital) projection of the movie, which was originally filmed on digital video instead of film. Afterwards, I peaked my head into one of the film-based screenings of the movie and was surprised at just how different the two presentations were. There was more depth to the image in the DLP presentation and more detail; the image also seemed brighter and more vivid. It's definitely the way to see this film - the only problem is finding one of these theaters, as there is only somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 showing it in digital instead of film.