Film Review – Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Spider-Man

Compare and Contrast

(originally published 1/6/02 in Inform Magazine)

Hey! Summer’s here and the time is right, for great big blockbuster films that cost a fortune, make even more money and are roundly frowned upon by impotent crits like me.

The two big films which will receive the early summer frownings are Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man. Both films are practically critic-resistant, both films have lots of faults and both films are not French.

Another thing both films have in common is that they are massively stupid. It’s doubtful that either of them would have been made if they didn’t have a long history preceding them. They are relying on you having some idea of what to expect before your feet hit the sticky cinema floors and your bottoms hit the soggy cinema seats.

Attack of the Clones is directed by George Lucas, who’s only directed one previous film in 25 years. As a spectacle, Attack of the Clones is second to none: practically every scene has some mind-blowing thing happening, and even this reviewer found something aesthetically pleasing about the millions of computer-generated clones all marching out of synch. In synch would be easy, out of synch takes a lot of work.

But Attack of the Clones is a resolutely silly film that is a wonderful representation of committee thinking. People complained about The Phantom Menace being humourless, so here we have a couple of jokes uncomfortably crowbarred in (although nothing is funnier than Yoda wielding a lightsabre, something I’m sure wasn’t supposed to be intentional). It also has a plot which doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense; who asked for the clones to be built in the first place? What’s Christopher Lee doing telling Ewan McGregor the plot? What on earth does Natalie Portman see in Haydn Christopher? George Lucas had a plan once, the millions of die-hard Star Wars fans have adjusted it, and now we have a bit of a muddle. Still got great explosions, though.

Spider-Man is a film that’s been on the drawing board for a while, with more script adjustments than even Attack of the Clones. What’s most surprising about it is how, well, unprofessional it all is. This is no revisionist history like Batman or X-Men; it is comic book stuff straight down the line with no remit beyond entertaining the kids.

The main problem lies with the director. Sam Raimi has been around for ages; alternatively working with the Coen Brothers (he co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy) or churning out tacky horror films (innumerable Evil Deads). He’s got a lot of fans, but these are the sort of die-hard losers who are impressed by showy camera angles.

‘Showy’ and ‘tacky’ are the two words that sum up Spider-Man. Raimi is a very technical director, but this is his first film to make use of CGI effects and it shows. The animated Spidey here shown bounces around the screen like Yoda and is just as stupidly funny. Say what you like about George Lucas’s overuse of CGI, at least he knows what he’s doing. Spider-Man gives the impression of a 14 year old boy who’s got his hand on a new toy; but then this is something that affects all Raimi’s films. The Quick and the Dead, Raimi’s best film by miles, was similarly blighted by stupid effects such as the sun shining through chestwounds. Films are an immersive experience, Sam. Stop reminding us how imaginative your camerawork is all the time.

For tackiness, Spider-Man also has some especially unsubtle product placements – at least in Lucas’s long time ago and galaxy far away world, we’re spared all this – and Kirsten Dunst, a genuinely good actress, in a braindead damsel-in-distress role that also requires her to get her T Shirt wet. On the plus side is the bravery of casting Tobey McGuire in the lead role and the great idea of Spidey trying out to be wrestler before embarking on crime fighting.

There have been some undeniably great summer blockbuster films over the years, but neither Attack of the Clones or Spider-Man are quite there. The best blockbusters have no expectations to dash; these two suffer from taking the shortcut of already being in our minds before we’ve seen them.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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