Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones
First, the good news: That dreadful cold sore on Princess Amidala's lower lip has disappeared. Let's hope she's cured. Now the bad news: Episode II is a dreadful film, only barely better than Episode I. In spite of the cheers that erupted all around me when the Lucasfilm logo came up on the screen, and the clapping for the first appearance of Yoda, this is a film that more resembles an interminable study session for finals in Star Wars trivia than a movie with weight or wit or even a decent plot.
Let's remember that the first three films (yes, I know they are actually Episodes IV, V and VI) had real stories, witty dialogue - particularly the lovely 1930s-style Carole Lombard-Clark Gable tension between Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford as Princess Leia and Han Solo - and even believable alien monsters; plus, of course, the greatest villain in screen history, Darth Vader. Each film had forward motion, a compelling thrust to keep us enthralled; we were swept up into the action. We cared about the people on the screen.
By contrast, Episode II is so busy trying to get all the exposition out of the way, cross-cutting endlessly from good guys to bad, from petulant young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, who will of course grow up to be Darth Vader, laying on the foreshadowing with a trowel) to mid-level Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who even with a trimmed beard looks strikingly unlike Alec Guinness, to Jedi Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson, who inexplicably has a tough time with lines like "We must wait and see"), to the aging horror-film master Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, who now works for bad old Ian McDiarmid, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, as Anakin will some day.
Perhaps the best example of how Lucas has lost his way as a film director is his choice of Christensen as Anakin. This young man would have a hard time playing the lead in a high school production of "Our Town." His nasal line readings veer from the mumbled to the stilted, and his ever-increasing professions of love for Natalie Portman are so forced as to be laughable. At the same time, her endearments - she calls him Ani - lack believability as well. But for Portman, who does know how to read a line, the blame must lie with Lucas the writer. This is the soppiest glop ever heard in any galaxy.
Now to answer your question: the special effects are a mixed bag. Early on there is a chase in personal craft flying through the towers of a city at night. This is excellent. At the same time, there are more background craft flying around those buildings than there are guppies in my fish tank; it looks like some Africanized bees were disturbed and are trying to attack the skyscrapers. The shot of thousands of clones boarding a spacecraft in formation is stunning; the computer-generated audience at a colosseum-like stadium is barely there. And oddly enough the light-saber fights are less visually exciting, less believable here, than they were twenty-five years ago in the first film.
May I also point out that while these long-ago civilizations are light years ahead of ours today in so many respects, they are curiously behind us in one way: Princess Amidala and Anakin still carry their luggage when they board a spacecraft. Rolling valises are yet to be invented on Tatooine.
For this film Lucas brought in Jonathan Hales as cowriter; Hales has been writing Indiana Jones video spinoffs, and it may be that the few interesting moments and decent lines are his doing. If so, we can only hope that he has more to say with Episode III.