Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz

The films I sit through for the sake of this blog, I tell you. Set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is now well into his Jedi training under the guidance of Obi-Wan. After an attempt on Padmé’s life Anakin is tasked with guarding her, while Obi-Wan goes off to find the perpetrators and discovers a clone army in the making. Also the one where Obi-Wan hates flying and Anakin hates sand.

Easily the worst of all the Star Wars films, it’s hard to find any positives. If you thought the acting was bad in The Phantom Menace, think again. To be fair, the actors are again not helped by a poor script and jumpy storyline, but the outstanding characters by a long distance are Mace Windu and Count Dooku- Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee respectively (who can basically do no wrong in my eyes). Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber just about saves us from oblivion.

In terms of relevance to the Star Wars story arc, this is the film where we start to see Anakin’s temptation towards the Dark Side. As I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, the Anakin in this film is pretty much a completely different person. I know people can change a lot over 10 years but this is just taking the biscuit. And why does he suddenly have a thing for Padmé? There was no inkling in that in the previous instalment, yet right from the start of Attack of the Clones it’s integral to the storyline. It just doesn’t make any sense I tell you!!

Plot continuity/realism aside, I do appreciate that his love for Padmé is vital to his eventual downfall. However, I can see much more evidence of his move to the Dark Side when his mother is killed by Tuscan Raiders and he slaughters the whole group of them in revenge. His anguish regarding his mother makes far more sense than his out-of-nowhere passion for Padmé, and therefore it’s more convincing in showing and explaining his downfall.

As for the rest of the film, not much else happens to be honest. It’s hard to follow who’s doing what and where and why and working on behalf of whom. Basically, the film takes more than two hours to show that: 1. Anakin is being drawn to the Dark Side (could be done with that one Tusken Raiders scene, 10 minutes tops); and 2. Palpatine is pretty much manipulating everyone to take over the Republic and become Emperor. While The Phantom Menace is quite good at kicking off the storyline that leads to the creation of the Empire, Attack of the Clones doesn’t really advance the process at all. In summary, most of the events of this film are basically irrelevant.

Is this film worth watching? To be honest, no. Even an avid Star Wars fan like myself can skip this one and won’t miss much of the geekery associated with the Star Wars universe. Don’t waste your time by putting yourself through the struggle of watching Anakin describe how much he hates sand.

1.5 stars (that extra half is for you, Mace Windu)

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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson

The first of the notorious Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace kicks off Anakin Skywalker’s storyline that sets him on the path to becoming a Jedi, and ultimately a Sith. After a chance encounter with two Jedis on Tatooine, Anakin is taken to start training as a Jedi himself.  Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine plots to take over the Republic by provoking (and this is the really thrilling bit) trade disputes.

When I first saw this at the cinema as a kid, I loved this movie. Obviously now, however, my cinema palate has matured and I can see that it’s actually pretty rubbish, but to be honest I have to give it credit for giving me the same enjoyment that I had when I first watched the originals. The plot and particularly acting (with a couple of exceptions- more on that later) is pants but generally speaking the film does embody classic Star Wars elements- the sound effects, the screen wipes, the aliens, and it’s actually cool to see Yoda et al before the events of A New Hope.

I’ll start with the bad points to get them out of the way. My main issue is that I just can’t find it believable that the Anakin from The Phantom Menace goes on to be Darth Vader. Obviously there are two more movies before he finally gets there, but there’s just no hint at all of his susceptibility to the dark side, or to be honest even his Jedi skills. Qui-Gon just “senses” that Anakin is really powerful- but as a viewer I just can’t join the two together. Sure he’s a good pilot, but so is Han Solo and I don’t think his flying reflexes are evidence enough of his so-called powers. It makes the leap into the next instalment, Attack of the Clones, unconvincing as he’s basically had a total personality transplant. Darth Vader is such an iconic character and the whole point of the Star Wars saga is effectively the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but this movie just doesn’t build him up enough to become the badass but ultimately heroic character that we see by Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to tell if it’s the script or the acting that makes it not work (probably a combination of both), but either way Anakin is a let-down.

Other minor problems include the cringe-inducing script- the original trilogy is full of excellent lines that have become iconic in cinema, but can anyone remember anything from this? There’s also Jar Jar Binks- arguably the most universally hated Star Wars character but aside from his general grating personality, he doesn’t bring anything to the plot really so is surplus to requirements. There are a couple of casual racist stereotypes too, in the form of the trade federation reps and the Gungans. Finally, just the bad acting in general: too much stilted and unconvincing delivery, and I think the abundance of characters put quantity over quality.

The other main issue people have with this movie is the plot. Yes, it’s pretty dull but actually as a Star Wars fan I do think the events of this film are important. It paves the way to how we end up with the Rebel Alliance and the events of the original trilogy, and given what I’ve said above about the Anakin story-arc, the Senator Palpatine/Emperor story-arc actually works well in the prequel trilogy and is one of the trilogy’s overall redeeming features. As a kid I had very little idea of what was actually going on, but now as an adult I watch it thinking “ah, so that’s how that happened”. Perhaps it’s fair to say the key points are there but the execution fell short of the mark.

To end on a high note, the positives. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are super cool and it was good to have some context for Obi-Wan’s and Darth Vader’s relationship. While the script is terrible, both Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor manage to salvage their characters and they’re easily the highlight of the movie. (Mace Windu- Samuel L Jackson- is in this, but he doesn’t really get going yet until the next episode.) Darth Maul is also awesome, and while he only gets about three spoken lines (probably best given the rest of the script) he has some seriously cool moves in the final fight scene.

This isn’t the worst of the prequels but also I’d say not the best. In terms of storyline it’s good for Star Wars nerds for the general context/history of the Republic and the Empire, but for those who are lukewarm towards the originals I would say probably best not to bother as it won’t add anything for them.

2 stars

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Director: Matthew Vaughn Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal

In the follow-up to everyone’s surprise favourite film of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy is now a fully-fledged agent but is forced to head to the US after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed. Once in Kentucky, he teams up with agents from Kingsman’s American counterpart Statesman to bring down an eccentric drugs kingpin.

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people were pleasantly surprised about how much they enjoyed the first Kingsman. And while sequels often require lowered expectations, I found The Golden Circle to be a worthy second round. One of my favourite features of the first movie was the way they filmed the action sequences, swapping between fast and slow-motion, close-ups and zooming in and out, and so I was pleased that they’d put a few more sequences like that into  this one- although I think any more would have been overkill and it would have lost its effect. Overall it makes the action look very cool and slick, and it’s fun to see the action in detail rather than just one long shot of the scene.

I think this film is funnier than the first, which means I did enjoy it but I found that more of the focus was on the comedy than the plot. The main villain storyline is good, but I didn’t find it to be the main focus of the film. Rather, the plot was more of mechanism to get in the jokes and action sequences. For example on the surface there’s no real reason why Elton John would be in this film, as plot-wise if he wasn’t in it it wouldn’t really have made a difference, but somehow it works and actually he has some really funny moments. I did well up a little when Eggsy and Harry reunited though (slight spoiler but not really as he’s in the trailer- yes, Colin Firth is not dead) and there was quite a focus on the characters and their relationships, which is something I liked about the first film.

As with the first movie, it’s definitely for adults (a guilty-pleasure James Bond, if you will) so not family viewing, but a great shout for an easy-to-watch light-hearted action movie. I would definitely watch it again, and at the end they set it up for a third movie in the franchise so I’m absolutely looking forward to that.

3 stars

John Wick (2014)

Director: Chad Stahelski Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki

An ex-assassin is forced back into work when a gang rob him in his own home. Unfortunately for them, his wife has also just died so he’s on the rampage.

You know those days when you’re already in a bad mood, it’s raining, it’s Monday, and then a colleague that you don’t like anyway does something to set you off? We’ve all been there, John Wick, we’ve all been there. Aside from the clearly very relatable nature of the film, John Wick is a very slick and very cool movie with the perfect balance of action and storyline. I remember when I watched Top Gun way back I loved the action scenes but there just weren’t enough of them, while there was far too much romance and bleurgh that just was not interesting. John Wick however provides just enough characterisation for us to sympathise with John and to know who the baddies are, but most of the film is just super-cool fighting and shots of New York. Because of this, there is very little plot and it’s extremely easy to follow, but you don’t necessarily always want intricate storytelling which takes effort to follow- especially with such amazing cinematography and style to keep you entertained.

Now, mention Keanu Reeves and it’s fair to say many people will be put off. However, in this he’s perfect for the part. Keanu’s not known for his dramatism and ability to convey deep emotion, but that’s why he works so well in this. He’s great at the action sequences (not too different from the Far-Eastern style that inspired The Matrix), and his serious and unflappable nature befits an assassin well. Willem Dafoe makes almost a cameo appearance, because he’s in it so little. Not totally sure his character added much to plot and whether anything really would have changed if he was taken out, but still he was pretty cool so we’ll let him off.

I would absolutely recommend this as the perfect Saturday night at home movie. Easy to follow, beautifully shot, loads of action, no time wasted on romance and drama- and did I mention very cool?

4 stars