A sloppy film that never earns it
Alright. Let me get this out of the way: Episode II is easily my least favorite Star Wars film. I know. The consensus pick belongs to Episode I, but I think it really should belong to Episode II. When Star Wars week began, I looked to this film as the one I was most excited to review. It's easy to praise a film like Episode V when it does everything right. It's another matter entirely to analyze exactly what makes Episode II so bad. Because this film certainly had potential. And while it does deliver some great moments in the final 20 minutes, that does not excuse almost 100 minutes of film that, at times, borders on unwatchable. So, let's discuss yes?
I can't wait. I want to talk about why I dislike this movie so much. Anakin and Padme. This story line, which dominates the majority of the film, is one of my least favorite love stories ever written. But did you notice that part? I used the word written. Is Hayden Christensen bad as Anakin? Yes. Is Natalie Portman bad as Padme? Yes. Mostly. But the man who doesn't get nearly enough credit for butchering this love story and thus the overall film is George Lucas. Yes. This film is the case and point that George Lucas, one of the greatest storytellers ever, can't write a screenplay then direct it to save his life. His attempt at a love story is pathetic, featuring cringe-worthy dialogue and actors who were given no direction whatsoever in how to actually deliver the cringe-worthy dialogue. (Deep breath) Ok. Let's step back real quick. I've been doing this movie blog for, what, 3 years now? I've reviewed almost 200 films. Something that I've learned to sense as I've watched and critiqued (or at least attempted to) film is when a film benefits from a good director, a good actor, or a good writer. I've seen a good director turn a mediocre script into a great film by telling the actors how to deliver the dialogue well on set. I've seen a bad director butcher a good script by doing the opposite. I've even seen an actor take a bad script and bad directing and still turn in a good performance on their skill-set alone. When all three elements come together, you're probably going to have a great film on your hands. But when all three elements fall flat on their face, what you get is a cringe-inducing mess. Those three elements. That's what Star Wars: Episode II lacks. It's only saving grace throughout the first 100 minutes is a wonderful performance from Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he also benefits from not having to act alongside Hayden Christensen for most of the film. But let's not give Natalie Portman a totally free pass. She is pretty bad as well as Padme, and since I've seen what she can do in films like Black Swan and V for Vendetta I know she could've done better than what we got here. But Portman definitely needs a great director or a great script to be great. Neither of which are present here.
I know there's the final 42 minutes of this 142 minute film. I know these final 42 minutes are a blast as we witness the Battle of Geonosis. There's even possibly the greatest fan service ever as we get to watch an exhilarating lightsaber duel between Count Dooku and Master Yoda himself. Not to mention the amazing lightsaber duels/battle before that. But that does not excuse the rest of the film. And, because the rest of the film is so pathetically bad, these final scenes are not earned. You'd definitely be better off starting this film from about the 100 minute mark and just being confused why the final scene of the film is a marriage. Because that marriage is by no means earned during those 100 minutes. Man....how can the love story between Han and Leia be so good yet the love story between Anakin and Padme be so bad? Oh. I know why. It's because George Lucas wrote the love story between Anakin and Padme and had nothing to do with the love story between Han and Leia. It's almost an insult to compare the two. Where's my "I love you. I know." exchange??? All we get here is Padme randomly and almost completely out of left field confessing her feelings to Anakin and Anakin looking like a giddy little schoolboy as she does. It's so freaking painful! Damnit George, why do you have to be something that you're not? You're a great storyteller. There is, once again, a great foundation for a film here. That's what you're good at, George. Laying the foundation for the film. Then, you need to let everyone else make it great. Thank God he has nothing to do with the future of the franchise.
Ok. Another deep breath. Sorry that kinda turned into a rant there. I didn't really touch on a whole lot else with this film, but that's in part because it is not as technically impressive as other films. There are some well-shot sequences, but the George Lucas-trademarked "Powerpoint scene transitions" (as I call them) are everywhere, and most of the special effects are just.....fine. Just fine. And again, while the final battle sequence is exhilarating, there's 100 minutes of pain to get there. All this combined makes for my least favorite Star Wars film. PS-So in terms of watching this film in the "Machete Order," it actually works. Only a few times are the events of Episode I even referred to, which is more than enough reason to ignore the first film entirely, and since this order gives you a chance to "be amazed" by the revelation of Darth Vadar's true identity, there's no doubt that it is the best way to view Star Wars. Alright on to Episode III!
The Critique: Painful at points, Star Wars: Episode II is the weakest film of the franchise because of bad directing, acting, and writing. A potentially great film is butchered at the hands of its creator, George Lucas.
The Recommendation: Just skip to about 104 minutes in and call it a day.
Rewatchability: The first 100 minutes? Low. The final 40 minutes? High.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad.