Attack of the Clones follows Anakin Skywalker ten years after his exploits in The Phantom Menace. An older Anakin, played surprisingly well by Hayden Christiansen, is now training under the watchful eye of Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi. Searching the Internet, you won't find many fans who praise Christiansen's performance, but I found him to be very effective in the young, arrogant hotshot role he'd been given. McGregor does similarly well in the older brother, mentor role.
I enjoyed Episode I a lot, but the story is much more focused this time, with major events happening for Anakin, and an actual political conflict engulfing the Republic. The two major story lines in the film are, one, the political underpinnings that eventually lead to the start of the infamous Clone Wars, and two, the personal story of Anakin Skywalker, including the romance between him and the former Queen, Padme Amidala. The first of these story lines is wildly interesting, following the two opposing forces of the Clone Wars, The Republic and their clone army, and the Seperatists and their droid battalion, as they prepare for an imminent war. After an assassination attempt on Senetor Amidala, Obi-Wan embarks on a detective mission to a track down the people behind the plot. The political espionage and behind-the-scenes dealings make for a fascinating and focused story. The other major storyline is not as focused, but still works as a chapter in Anakin Skywalker's overall story. Anakin and Padme's love story works as a throwback to the grand, old-fashioned film romances of the 1930s and 40s (think Gone With the Wind), but for contemporary audiences, the few extended scenes of corny "love speech" dialogue might be pretty drab. However, these aren't as distracting or offensive as some claim. In fact, a couple of them actually work well, such as the meadow picnic, where Padme and Anakin discuss the futility of politics in the beautiful fields of Naboo. The actors have chemistry, and both are likable, especially Natalie Portman as Padme. Yes the love story can be a bit forced, and sometimes drab, but it fits the feel of the saga. It is a grand, sweeping, throwback to Hollywood's golden age.
If the love story might be hit or miss, it's the other facet of Anakin's character arc that Lucas gets absolutely right. Plagued by visions of his mother in pain, Anakin takes Padme to Tatooine where he tracks down his mother, only to see her die in his arms. His response is chilling and powerful. The scene between him and Padme in a garage after he brings his mom's body back is perfectly executed, unveiling a dark, angry side of Anakin, while simultaneously showing his frailty and confusion. It truly is one of the very best scenes in the saga.
Even if you didn't find the story as interesting as I did, there is no question that Episode II is an audio/visual feast for the senses. Lucas and company introduce a stunning variety of sprawling landscapes, crazy creatures, fanciful vehicles, and formidable weapons. Once again, the sheer amount of imagination contained in this world is unbelievable. While Attack of the Clones does tend to favor CGI backgrounds and creatures too much, it still looks undeniably cool. The nighttime skyline of Coruscant, the rain-drenched clone facility on Kamino, the termite mound planet of Geonosis; They all, along with the creatures that inhabit them, feel real, and look great. On these beautiful planets, we are treated to tons of terrific Star Wars action. George Lucas once again revels in directing off-the-wall fun. This film is an adventure through and through. Set-pieces range from a one-on-one battle between bounty hunter Jango Fett and Obi- Wan on the rainy platforms of Kamino to a gladiator-like fight against intergalactic monsters. The last half hour of the film particularly impresses, with a massive battle between the two giant armies, dozens of Jedis, and a helping of fantastic war machines. The whole thing ends with an epic face-off that sees Yoda battle with mind and sword against Christopher Lee's devilishly evil Count Dooku, a memorable villain with an air of gravitas. He's a classic Hollywood archetype with a Star Wars spin; an elegant villain who just happens to have a lightsaber (with an awesome curved handle) and can shoot lightning from his hands.
Needless to say, Attack of the Clones is much better than its reputation suggests. Complaints of poor story, too much politics, and "fake" looking CGI are almost completely unfounded, and the few moments of clichéd dialogue (the only complaint I can really understand) are such a small part of the film, that I barely notice them. However, for some reason that I honestly can't understand, it has become increasingly more "uncool" to like this film. Personally, I value energy and atmosphere in a blockbuster like this, and Episode II of the Star Wars Saga is packed with it. Attack of the Clones is a grand, sweeping, large-scale adventure. The story is mostly great, with only a few stretches that drag, and as with all the Star Wars movies (especially the prequels), the special effects and action are top notch. That is, after all, why you watch the Star Wars movies; to visit unknown worlds and have a ton of fun doing so. Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones isn't a world-class lesson in dialogue, but between the visual spectacle, first-rate action, and heavenly John Williams score, it is entertainment of the highest degree.