After the mostly negative feedback The Phantom Menace received, George Lucas nonetheless continued his prequel trilogy with Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, a vastly bigger, slicker and more action-packed effort.
Anakin Skywalker now all grown up, it was up to newcomer Hayden Christensen to take over the role from the wildly unpopular Jake Lloyd and the result was... another wildly unpopular performance fans are still talking about to this very day in hushed tones. Anakin's courtship of Padmé, which inexplicably included talk of sand ("it's coarse and rough and irritating"), did not help matters as the script's more romantic scenes definitely stood out as slightly clumsy. That said, the film around poor old Anakin looked so good and was so entertaining, even a wooden Christensen couldn't hurt it too much even if it did rub quite a few Star Warsians the wrong way.
The film means business from the get-go as it learns from The Phantom Menace's mistakes and presents to us a simple yet involving plot with an emphasis on visual spectacle rather than dull space politics and bad slapstick comic-relief. Obi-Wan Kenobi is sent to investigate why and for whom a clone army is being built, which leads us to some cool Jango Fett (and little Bobba) action, while Anakin is tasked with protecting Padmé Amidala who is being targeted by mysterious assassins. With Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) creating havoc all over the galaxy and Chancellor Palpatine (a perfect Ian McDiarmid) being granted emergency powers and full control of the clone army, the Jedi sure have their work cut out in this one.
Some highlights include a high-speed night-time flying car chase in a busy Blade Runner-esque metropolis, a big battle in an arena between the Jedi, some ghoulish monsters and droids and a now fully CGI'ed Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz, as ever) bouncing about with his lightsaber as he faces off against his old student Dooku. When Anakin learns that his mother was kidnapped and is suffering at the hands of Tusken Raiders and she later dies in his hands, this prompts the first hints of Darth Vader thereby adding an appropriate sense of doom to the end of this second in a three parter which, as we all know, ends with the Dark Side chasing away the Jedi.
Attack Of The Clones sometimes gets a bad rep due to the corny romance and the odd wooden performance but overall, this is a visual treat which is never boring and Lucas does a good job at making us forget that The Phantom Menace was even a thing. It really is like a whole different team took on this movie. Plus the Star Wars mythology is fleshed out a lot more in a way that's pretty convincing despite the lack of chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen throughout.
Like it or not, Episode II works completely as popcorn movie at least and delivered exactly what this franchise needed at the time: first class blockbuster entertainment on an epic scale, a real sense of threat and adventure and a little old green space man waving a laser beam around at another aged dude.
Underrated and a lot of fun, Attack Of The Clones is.