It seems as though there is no way to dispel negative atmosphere once it has been started. George Lucas's STAR WARS trilogy was well-loved by audiences (even though critics were split) but for some reason (and I can't figure it out), the first entry in the prequels, THE PHANTOM MENACE, earned a HUGE onslaught of critically divided posts just about everywhere in the world, from the press to the internet to fans in real life. While I do agree that the original trilogy is a tough act to follow, I wasn't as grossly let down by this movie as some were.
The same thing has happened to the second of the STAR WARS prequels, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, released in 2002. Many predicted that this movie would satisfy those who disliked Episode I with a vengeance, but alas, such was not the case. Once again, critics damned the movie for one reason or another, and the heated debate on whether Lucas "trashed the original trilogy" or not is still going on. I find it very sad that Lucas would still receive unfair critical attack, even after making a much darker, somber, and ominous movie in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I'm guessing that such naysayers will continue to say nay to Lucas no matter what just like rabid fans of Anime would continue to slam-dunk dubs... even if a lot of them have recently proved to be excellent.
This is not to say that ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a flawless film. It actually has its share of problems that THE PHANTOM MENACE didn't have. The dialogue, although nowhere nearly as bad as critics and some disgruntled fans say, lacks the spark of the original trilogy. My biggest gripe with the movie is that it moves at a leisurely pace, with lots of weak, unsatisfying sequences that last too long. Most of these scenes consist of a love subplot involving Anakin Skywalker and Amidala Padme. When not interacting with each other, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are fine in their respective roles. (Christensen's monologue about his slaughtering of not only Tusken Raiders but--horrors!--women and children is frightening.) But there is a sense of awkwardness when they contribute to scenes which involve schmaltzy lines and screen kisses. I'm guessing that they both felt uncomfortable doing these scenes, hence why the chemistry between them isn't as interesting as, say, Han and Leia's from the original trilogy.
Only when the movie is in action does ATTACK OF THE CLONES become worthwhile--there's a dizzying chase through Coruscant on floating cars, maneuvering through a dangerous asteroid field near a planet, and a half-hour long showdown that showcases a lot of amazing CG work. Actually, what also make Episode II worth watching are the fantastic set designs. Every location in the movie, from the metropolis skyscrapers of Coruscant to the water planet where prototypes of Stormtroopers are being constructed literally bursts with imagination and eye candy.
Of the performers I liked Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) the best; his acting is still a little shaky at times, but here he seems more comfortable with the role. Christopher Lee makes a surprise appearance as the new villain, Count Dooku, and once again he delivers first-rate evil with this character. And it's great to see C-3PO and R2-D2 up to their usual banter again (although sometimes some gags occur when not necessary). Ultimately, however, the film belongs to Jedi Master Yoda, played to perfection by Frank Oz. His appearances in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI featured him as a rubber puppet (and a delightful creation), but in this movie he really comes alive, thanks to first-rate CG effects. His mouth is perfectly in sync with every word he says, and the final showdown between him and Dooku is an absolute highlight.
While ATTACK OF THE CLONES is, in some ways, a lesser entry in the STAR WARS franchise, its assets outweigh its weaknesses; most of the questions I had from the first episode seem to be addressed a little bit in this chapter, and, frustratingly enough, provides more questions for Episode III. Flawless or not, this is still a STAR WARS movie, and for what it is, it's still worth a look.