New Movie Trailer: Fury

furyThis coming fall, Brad Pitt will be starring in another World War II movie, though one that is somewhat different from Inglorious Basterds. Set in April of 1945, Fury takes place in Germany during the final month of the war as the crew of a single Sherman attempt a final mission behind enemy lines. And as you can see from the stark and gritty trailer, the film features a real-live Sherman and Tiger tank, the latter of which was borrowed from a museum.

The movie also stars Shia LaBoeuf, Logan Lerman, and The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal (aka. Shane) and is slated for release in November 2014.

More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Round two! Having done a few more reviews, I’ve come to find new instances where plot muck-ups and weak writing made a movie glaringly bad, or just brought down an otherwise good effort. Here’s what I got this time:

Transformers:
Yeah, I’ve come to decide that Michael Bay is my least favorite director of all time. Not only is he responsible for creating crappy movies that are all form, no substance. He’s also guilty of completely objectifying women, reducing people to caricatures that are annoying and often racist, and just generally insulting our intelligence. And when it comes to his style, the Transformers trilogy stands out as a perfect example. In addition to being racist, sexist and low-brow, it was also full of plot holes. Here are some of the biggest that I could find:

1. Megatron’s Dead… Sort of:
Remember in movie one where Megatron was destroyed, and how they dropped his body into the Laurentian Abyss where the pressure and heat would make it impossible for him to be rescued or resurrected? Well in movie two, Bay disregarded all of that in order to bring the chief villain back. Basically, a couple bad guys swim down there, plug his body with a fragment of the All Spark, and he flies out. Here’s a thought: if you’re planning on making sequels, don’t write yourself into a corner by killing off the lead bad guy and making it impossible to bring him back!

2. Continuity Error:
This hole actually runs through all three, so you might say its more like a plot tunnel. In movie one, we are told that Megatron came to Earth in the 1930’s seeking the All Spark and then got frozen in the Arctic. It wasn’t until almost 70’s years later, in 2007 when the first film is taking place, that the Autobots and Decepticons came to Earth seeking the same thing. So… no other Transformers were on Earth between the 1930’s and 2007, right?

But then, in movie three, we’re told that the Ark crashed on the Moon in the early 1960’s, thus prompting the Space Race, and immediately thereafter, people and governments began collaborating with the Decepticons. They did this mainly by putting a stop to all subsequent Moon missions, mainly by lying and saying that it was suddenly too expensive (actually, it was!) But according to movie one, Megatron was the only Decepticon to visit Earth before 2007, and he was frozen and in government custody. If the other Decepticons didn’t come to Earth until the first movie in search of Megatron and the All Spark, then who the hell were these humans collaborating with? In other words, who were they taking their orders from if no Decepticons were even on Earth yet?

Ah, which brings to mind movie two. After Megatron was brought back to life, he flew out to the edge of the solar system where a big Decepticon ship was waiting. According to Wikipedia, this ship is called the Nemesis, which is taken from the original animated series. In any case, the Fallen guy is on board and they’ve been breeding “hatchlings”. This sets up the plot since the Decepticons want the Sun blower upper so they can harvest energon and power the things, thus making a new army. Hold on, if they’ve got some huge, badass warship out there, why not just attack Earth with it? And when did it show up in the first place? Didn’t the Decepticons fly in some comet-like spaceships in the first movie? So it had to have arrived between the first and second…

But if that’s the case and they have this big spaceship on hand now, why go through the whole convoluted process of searching from stupid harvester and building an army? Why not just level Earth and the Autobots from orbit? That makes a lot more sense than actually going down there and fighting them face to face. Another thing, where did it go after movie two? In movie three, there’s no trace of this spaceship and Megatron and his crew are hiding out in the Serengeti. That seems awfully stupid if they’ve got a couple megatons of firepower out in space.

But I’m getting distracted here… The main thing is that the whole sun-harvester/hatchling thread doesn’t square with what happened in the third movie. There, they reveal that they’ve had reinforcements on the dark side of the moon for decades who were laying in wait for some big attack once Sentinel was reactivated and set up that transporter gate. But if that’s so, why was anyone bothering with making all of these hatchlings? If you’ve already got reinforcements on hand, why not just call them in and end the war sooner? Sure, movie two was kind of a write off, but you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen! And it was movie three, supposedly the best in the series, that shot the premises of the first two to hell. Once again, if you’re going to make sequels, try to make sure they’re consistent with the other ones!

3. Symbols and Clues:
So if I remember the plot of the second movie right, Sam got his brain zapped by a piece of the All Spark, which made him see symbols. This in turn gave him the knowledge of the last known location of the Matrix of Leadership. Hold on, why the hell would the All Spark have the location of the Matrix encoded into it? The All Spark was the mysterious alien thing that created the Transformers while the Matrix of Leadership was the start-up key to the big Sun Harvester. One was created by forces unknown millions of years ago and the other was created by the Primes thousands of years ago.

In short, these things had nothing to do with each other, so why would the All Spark have that information on it? Doesn’t make sense, but then again, it wasn’t really meant to. It was only meant to serve as a deus ex machina to get the plot rolling in the first place.

Speaking of which, what was the deal with all those clues that lead them to the Matrix near the end? These took the form of symbols (the Primes ancient language) which were scrawled on various historic monuments, and which Sam could now read since his brain got zapped by the All Spark. Again, makes no sense, just there to move the plot along. I mean c’mon, why the hell would the Primes put clues to the location of the Matrix out there for people to see? Wasn’t it said that they were trying to hide the Matrix so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Wasn’t that why they sacrificed themselves and created that weird-ass cage out of their bodies to house it? Yes! So why would they leave clues around like they are hoping for someone to find it?

Oh yeah, and if the thing falls to dust unless its being handled by a “true leader” – you may recall that Sam had this explained to him when he went to robot heaven (holy shit, that was dumb!) – why bother even hiding it? Wouldn’t it be useless to the Fallen or any other Decepticon if they laid their hands on it? But again, I’m expecting too much if I’m asking this movie to make sense aren’t I? Moving on…

The Matrix Sequels:
The first movie in this trilogy was pretty seamless. And by that I mean I can’t think of a single plot hole off the top of my head. The sequels, however, are another matter entirely. Given the complicated and convoluted plot, it was somewhat inevitable that holes would open up. I think I covered most of them in my previous review of the trilogy, but I never get tired of criticizing flops!

1. Neo’s Powers:
The big mystery after movie two was how Neo managed to destroy machines in the real world with his mind. The explanations was one of the things that made the third movie a big letdown. According to the Oracle, the power of the One goes beyond the Matrix, right to the Source, from where it comes from. What the hell does that even mean? Is she implying that the Source CREATES the Ones? Why on Earth would it do that, create its own worst enemy over and over? Is that supposed to be like some Judea-Christian mystery, like why would God create the Devil?

The way the Architect put it in movie two, the Ones are a natural occurrence, much like the 1 percent of people who can’t accept the program because they are somehow more adept than the rest. But how would this person who can not only reject but control the Matrix bring that control into the real world? Who knows? It’s never explained. And any way you try, it ends up not making much sense.

2. Neo in Limbo:
Another thing that was never explained was why Neo went back into the Matrix when he went into a coma. How did he do this if he wasn’t even wired in? Again, the Oracle gives what clearly is meant to be a mysterious answer, but actually is just weak. Apparently, that’s just something the One can do. He can control machines and go in and out of the Matrix without the need for a plug-in. Really? Does the mind of the One operate like wireless internet? Can he interface with machines and hack into the system without DSL or a Modem? Like I said, never explained, but that’s probably because no explanation would make sense. It’s just weird, ethereal stuff that’s meant to advance the plot.

3. Why did Neo go to the Machine City?
So movie two ended with Neo realizing he could destroy machines in the real world. Sure, the experience kind of left him floored, but once he got all better, he was up and kicking machine ass. Hell, all he had to do was raise a hand and squiddies went boom by the bucket load! So why was Neo’s next move to go to the machine city? Because he was having dreams about it? Or because he figured he could save Zion by making a deal with the Source to stop Smith? Okay, seems a bit contrived, but okay. Still, why would he do that when he could have saved Zion on his own terms? If he can blow up machines with a thought, all they would need to do is fly him to Zion where he could unleash hell on the squiddy army. Zion army almost stopped the machines as it was, but with Neo they could have mopped the floor with them!

And didn’t the Architect say that the Matrix was on the verge of crashing? Yes, that was part two of the whole plan that kept the Ones in line. Blow up Zion, threaten to crash the system, thus threatening all of humanity and forcing the Ones’ compliance. But if Neo managed to use his abilities to save Zion from the attack, and the Matrix crashed as planned, that would mean the machines would lose their power source and die, wouldn’t it? Sure, millions of humans would die too; but as Morpheus said, as long as they’re still wired into the system, they’re the enemy! So yes, lots of blood would be on his hands, but in exchange for that one act of unsentimental ruthlessness, the machines would be licked good!

4. The Treaty Thing:
By the end, we’re told that a treaty is in place between humanity and the machines, as a result of the deal Neo cut and the sacrifice he made. Just one question, why are the machines going along with this? Once Neo did his thing and ensured Smith’s destruction, the squiddies just up and left Zion for good. Why? They were on the verge of wiping it off the face of the Earth. Why not follow through and finish the job?

What’s more, why did the Architect promise the Oracle that all humans who couldn’t accept the program would henceforth be set free? That was never part of the deal! Neo just said he wanted peace, he never said anything about the “red pills” henceforth being released. Sure, it seems like an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with them in the short run – just let them go and join Zion – but what about the long run? The more people the machines let go, the larger Zion gets. What’s going to happen when they get too big for their britches and start encroaching on machine territory?

Surely, the machines would have been able to foresee this, so why did they go along with it? Are we really to believe that within all their programming, machines believe in such a thing as keeping their word? The Architect seemed to think so… he gave HIS word that from then on, the unruly humans would be set free and got offended when the Oracle questioned him on that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that honor is a human thing, based on ethical insight and emotion, and not cold, hard logic. And as we saw repeatedly in the Matrix, emotion is something the machines don’t care for. So really, once they realized they were in a position of power, wouldn’t the rational, MACHINE thing to do be to keep going and wipe Zion out?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending they went with better. But it didn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And the Wachowski’s seemed to acknowledge this too, since they wrote in the bit where the Architect asks the Oracle: “How long do you think this treaty of yours can last?” Sure, it was meant to sound cynical and machine-like, but it was also true. If the Architect could see how little sense this made, surely the rest of the machines could too!

5. The Big Climax:
I saved this one for last because its the one I'm the least clear on. The way the movie ended, it seemed like a culmination of various things. But almost immediately after I saw it, the logic began to escape me. Let me see if I can recap it. Neo promises to deal with Smith, the Source plugs him in, he and Smith have their big fight. It ends when Neo realizes that he and Smith are destined to come together and cancel each other out. Like the Oracle said, "he is your equal, your opposite", and once Smith blows up, the Matrix reboots because Neo still was carrying the reboot codes he picked up when he went in and met the Architect. It's poetic and wraps things up; but really, how did Neo letting Smith merge with him destroy the guy?

On the one hand, it might be that what the Oracle said was meant somewhat literally. Having Neo merge with Smith, his equal and opposite by this point, might have just overloaded Smith's program, but if so, why did he assimilate Neo? He had JUST taken over the Oracle and was now in possession of her prescience. If he saw what she saw, why do the thing that would guarantee his destruction? However, there is an alternative explanation, one which I came up… with all by myself!

My personal impression was that the Smiths blew up because the Source killed them. Or rather, it killed Neo for failing. That's what appeared to be the case, at any rate. The Source was pissed and zapped his body, but since he was now indistinguishable from Smith, it was really Smith who got zapped and this overloaded him and destroyed him. Still, this idea also presents problems. If zapping someone wired into the Matrix was all it would take to kill Smith, why didn't the system do that the moment he started copying himself onto people? Seriously, by the end, he had copied himself onto every single person within the Matrix. That’s a couple million opportunities to kill him!

Or, here’s another idea, the Source could have started unplugging everyone Smith copied as soon as he started doing it. At the same time, corner him some agents and shoot the original Smith, then boom! He’s contained, Neo’s help would have never been needed, and the machines would be free to wipe out Zion. Again, I’m overthinking things, but that tends to happen whenever movies stop making sense.

More in part II, coming up next…

The Transformers Trilogy!

Awhile back, when I was first starting these reviews, I had shied away from reviewing Transformers 2. Not sure why I wanted to review it in the first place, probably just because I was looking to bash the hell out of it! But you know what they say about dead horses… However, I recently saw Transformers 3 at long last, and figured that since I had the trilogy under my belt, maybe a review was in order. However, there are two other reasons for why I would want to cover this franchise now. One, Michael Bay’s re-envisioning of this franchise has earned him some serious bitch-slapping from fans and critics alike, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get some slaps of my own in! Two, as a kid, I was a big fan of the animated series and happened to notice there were some pretty big differences between the old and the new. And just for the sake of doing something different, I think I’ll ditch the usual formats and try to review all three at once! A tall order, and reviewing Bay movies has been known to be harmful to the grey matter, so wish me luck!

Transformers:
The movie opens with an explanation by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) of the movie’s big maguffin – that is, the thing that’s driving the plot. It’s called the All Spark, its a mysterious technology that creates living machinery, and is apparently what created the Transformers. And this is why they are coming to Earth, apparently, to retrieve it before the Decepticons can. Because, as is explained later, this is where it landed and whoever has it will decide the fate of Cybertron – the Transformer homeworld which has been devastated by an ongoing war between the two sides. The Autobots want to use it to rebuild, Megatron wants to use it to take over.

This sets up the plot which consists of a race to find it, as well as the character of Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf). He’s the unlikely hero who’s grandad happened to accidentally find the location of it when he chanced upon Megatron’s frozen carcass somewhere over the Arctic Circle. Seems Megatron came to Earth back in the 30’s to locate the All Spark has been here ever since, in frozen form. And, of course, his discovery by other humans at this time became the basis for some shadowy group named Sector 7 – a covert intel bunch that has all kinds of info on the Decepticons and is currently in possession of the All Spark and Megatron’s body. When the Decepticons attack, they are doing so in order to find Megatron, the All Spark, and info on Sector 7 (the aforementioned shadowy group). Sam and his unlikely girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) get roped in on the side of the Autobots and fight to stop them and save Earth. Everything culminates in a big shoot out in Mission City where Megatron and the All Spark are destroyed.

Preeeeetty simple! And only marginally in keeping with the original story. But I’ll get into that later. Point is, the plot was never meant to be deep or particularly challenging, just an excuse to get into some big shoot-em-ups with lots of CGI and special effects. And that’s precisely what we got. It didn’t suck, wasn’t great, but there were some tell-tale weaknesses that would become more glaring as Bay went on to make more movies in this franchise. Which brings us to…

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen:
Let me not waste any time in saying that this movie sucked! Hell, even Bay and LaBeouf said so, but there was one overriding reason for this. Bay had a hand in writing it! Yes, it was during the height of the writers strike that this movie was being produced, which is why the script was so bland, cheesy, overdone, and stupid. It reflected everything Bay brings to a movie through his direction; but since he was working at it from both ends this time, from conception to execution, it was like a Bay movie on crack!

But I digress… this time around, we see the Decepticons bringing in someone new. Seems the Autobots have ancient ancestors known as the Primes, whom Optimus is the last of. They went around the universe harvesting energon which they need to survive, and did so by blowing up suns. Uh… okay. But, since the Primes predated the EVIL Decepticons, they had some ethics about it. For example, they never blew up a sun that had inhabited planets around it (is this some kind of environmental statement here?) But one Prime, “The Fallen”, decided to defy this rule, which was why they brought him down and exiled him to… Saturn? Okay… Ah, and the device used to blow up the sun was hidden on Earth in… the Pyramid of Giza? Again… okay! And the trigger, known as the Matrix of Leadership, they hid by melding their bodies together into a big cage-like thing, which in turn was hidden inside… the ancient city of Petra?

Jesus this is hard! So the Autobots learn that the Decepticons are looking for “The Fallen” at the beginning where they and some human special forces go to Shanghai and take down a Decepticon hiding there. Seems humans (or at least, the US military and CIA) are working with the Autobots and covering up their existence. Wait, what? Why, and more importantly how, are they covering this up? They freaking fought in a major city in the last movie… downtown… during BUSINESS HOURS! How they hell did they manage to cover that up? And this time around, it was ever worse! Downtown Shanghai, population: millions of Chinese with internet access, camera phones, Youtube… Okay, you know what… never mind! I’ll be here forever if I start poking holes now!

Regardless, things really starts to happen when the Decepticons get to Megatrons body and reactivate it. Wait! Wasn’t he dead AND placed at the bottom of the Laurentian Abyssal where nothing can withstand the pressure? And how could they even revive him after he was killed – NEVER MIND! Okay, so they reactivate him and bring him back so they can get “The Fallen” off of Saturn, find the Matrix key, destroy the sun, harvest the energon, conquer the universe. Right! But the Autobots are similarly looking for the key since they need it to reactivate Prime after he was killed by Megatron. When Sam finds it, it turns to dust, he dies in a VERY long fight scene in the desert, and goes to Autobot heaven where they tell him his deads have earned him the right to use the Matrix since it can only be used by proven leaders! He miraculously comes back to life and then revives Prime with the thing. It is taking all my restraint not to poke holes in THAT one!

So Prime is brought back to life, kills The Fallen and beats up Megatron, the sun destroyer is blown up, day is saved, end of story! Oh, and I should mention that the entire inciting event to all this was when Sam found a piece of the All Spark on his clothes which zapped his brain with the last known coordinates of the Matrix of Leadership. Yeah, one tiny piece somehow stuck to his clothes for a whole summer and he didn’t once notice. Needless to say, this whole plot is yet another case of a race to find the lost whatever, the location of which is hidden in symbols that only Sam has access to.

The movie was panned and bashed by virtually everyone who saw it, critics and fans alike. But luckily, the strike ended and Bay got to making a third which, if all went well, would get things back on track…

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon:
I was a little curious about the title beforehand and could only surmise that Bay didn’t want to get sued by Pink Floyd’s estate, hence why the dropped the obvious “Side” from the title. However, that theory is complicated by the fact that they said Dark Side of the Moon and even referenced Floyd in the movie, a couple of times! But since I know nothing of copyright law, I’ll just assume that this rule only applies to titles and not dialogue. Whatever, point is, it’s a stupid name, but the movie itself was definitely better than the second. Unfortunately, that’s about the nicest thing anyone could say about it.

It’s starts by going back to the beginning, to Cybertron during the last phase of the war. The Ark (something that comes from the original series) was headed out on some kind of salvation mission, was shot down and ended up crashing on the Moon. The entire Space Race between the US and the USSR was therefore a covert attempt to reach the wreckage and get a hold on the technology. This was done, and a shadow conspiracy has existed on Earth ever since. Seems humans the world over were collaborating with Decepticons since they discovered the wreck of the Ark and were preparing some plan for them (a clear allegory to Munich there!) As soon as the Autobots find out about the wreckage, and the fact that humans have known of it for some time, they become eager to get to it and open it up for themselves.

Essentially, the Ark was carrying a weapon of sorts, a matter gateway that can pull objects across light years of space. Optimus’ predecessor, Sentinel Prime (voice by Leonard Nimoy) was also aboard the ship and is the only one who can activate it. He was supposed to use the weapon to win the war for the Autobots, but instead had made a deal with Megatron where he surrendered and would let him use it to rebuild Cybertron. Since he was deactivated and the only way he could be revived was with (again!) the Matrix of Leadership, the Decepticons decide to lead the Autobots to it and wait for them to revive him, which is when they make their move. Wait, if he was defecting, why did the Decepticons shoot him down? Didn’t they get the memo? Tagline: Don’t shoot this ship down, it’s working for us? Whoop, sorry! I digress…

As we get to the midway mark, Sentinel betrays the Autobots, sets up the gateway, and hundreds of Decepticon reinforcements which have hiding on the dark side of the moon are let loose and attack Earth. Oh, and we learn that the real purpose of the gateway is to bring Cybertron to Earth – right into our orbit no less! – so they can use the human race as slaves to rebuilt it. Wait, wouldn’t putting a massive planet directly into our orbit cause unbelievable seismic disturbances and basically destroy our planet? Sorry!

Naturally, the Autobots were thought to have been killed when Earth voted to get rid of them and stuck them on board a ship bound for deep space which the Decepticons then blew up (more attempts to channel the spectre of Munich!). But they tricked everyone by bailing out early, and are therefore on the scene just in time to help out the beleagered US special forces and mount a counter-attack. What follows is another long, drawn-out fight scene in downtown Chicago where they manage to stop it all from happening. They destroy the gateway’s controls, which not only sends Cybertron back, but also all the attacking Decepticons… somehow. Megatron then decides Sentinel is getting too big for his britches and helps Optimus kill him, Optimus then kills Megatron, and Sam and his girl are reunited and everyone stands heroicly in front of an American flag for a slow-motion shot! Yaaaaaay! Optimus makes his usual closing remarks, roll credits, and the franchise is over!

Okay, now that I’m free to poke holes, here’s a categorical list of what sucked about it!

1. Repetition:
Bay is not known for his subtlety, depth, plots, pacing – well anything really! But with this franchise, he also demonstrated his total lack of originality. In all three movie, things begin with an action sequence that hastily introduces the plot, which always revolves around some kind of object that must be found since it which will bring victory to whoever finds it first. The rest of the movie is just a big race to get to it with a whole lot of stupid jokes and annoying characters slipped in between action shots, culminating in a big, over-long fight scene which is tantamount to action-porn.

Yes, its exciting; not because we care about the characters or have become the slightest bit emotionally invested in things. No, it’s strictly because the visuals are visceral, the explosions are big and the destruction on a grand scale. Oh, and did you notice how in all three movies, the good guys always show up in the nick of time to save someone? Again, its most glaring and obvious in the third where it happened repeatedlty. Things get real tense right before the bad guy’s about to deliver the death blow and then, just in time, Optimus, Bumblebee, or someone else flies in and saves the day, and always in slow motion.

Hell, even the action scenes are the same in all three movies! In movie one, you have an early fight scene where US military forces take on the Decepticon “Scorponok” in the desert around some village. Sand flies, buildings explode, bombs go off, there’s lots of debris and a shitload of pyrotechnics. Then at the end, you got another big fight scene in downtown Mission City (in beautiful, British Columbia), and its more of the same. Explosions, wreckage, and a frenzy of yelling and shooting. In movie two, we get a fight scene in downtown Shanghai at the beginning followed by another, really long fight scene in the desert towards the end. This is the same thing that happened in movie one, just inverted. In movie three, at the beginning, we get a fight scene outside of an abandoned city (Chernobyl) for a change, but by the end, we get YET another fight scene in a downtown area – this time Chicago. It drags on and on, and is just another orgy of explosions, debris, and all kinds of over-the-top action.

In the first film, the action scenes were pretty tolerable, even fun to watch! But by movie two, they’d been done. By three, they’d been done to death!

2. Frenetic Pacing:
Like I said, Bay is not known for his even pacing. He likes to get right into things with an action shot, rush through speeches and character development, then get to another action shot. He keeps constantly moving even when the scene calls for exposition, comic relief, or what have you. And the purpose is obvious. Draw the audience in, get them hooked early, keep em hooked with a mad rush to the climax, then blow their minds with an orgasmic action-packed ending. In that respect, you might say he’s like a shark. If he stops, he dies, or rather the movie does because everyone will see just how paper thin it is! Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but it is not exaggeration to say that everything in his movies are slaved to the need to go fast. And it doesn’t end until the very end, where there’s an epilogue that lasts mere seconds.

Hell, even the dialogue is rushed, everyone just spitting out lines set to a montage of images and action music. This was present throughout the franchise, but by the third installment, it was like Bay had decided to speed things up even more. The entire first half of the movie was painful for me to watch because I felt like I was watching some overamped kid on meth bouncing off the walls and shouting the whole time. This is best exemplified by Shia LaBeouf, who spent most of the first half of the movie screaming, fidgeting, running around, or hitting things, and his action scenes hadn’t even happened yet! I seriously had to pause it again and again because it was making my heart race and my brain bleed! The only time things felt like they were slowing down was during the big action sequence at the end. I’m not kidding! Here, and only here, did the incredibly fast pace feel natural, or at least tolerable.

All in all, the only time Bay slows things down for even a second is during an action-scene slow-motion shot, and the only purpose here is to make the audience go “whoooaaaaa!” But I doubt anyone was doing that by the third movie. Maybe the first time it was cool, but the more you see it, the less cool it gets. Eventually, it just feels tiresome and cliche.

(I lied, can’t do it all in one post! To be continued…)

Star Wars, Episode II: Send in the Clowns!

Yeah, that’s not the most original parody of this movie’s title, but it sums up my feelings pretty well. In my last review, I addressed the first movie in the Star Wars prequel lineup, the absurdly named The Phantom Menace. In sum, it was a movie with some signs of quality, but which suffered from a technocratic plot and a whole lot of childish content. Overall, sort of a C+. Okay, not great! In addition, I tried to tackle the two big questions that are constantly asked about the Star Wars franchise. Number one: why were the originals so enduring and influential in their time? And two: what the hell happened with the prequels? The originals were enduring classics that combined gun slinging, swashbuckling adventure with space opera and mythology. The prequels… well, they were entertaining in places. Annoying, insulting, generally inexplicable, but still entertaining.

And now, onto the second movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the even more absurdly named Attack of the Clones! As you can tell from the title of this posting, I did NOT like this movie; and in that, I am hardly alone. According to critics and fans alike, it was even worse than the first – a complete 180 of what happened with the first trilogy where the sequel outstripped the original. And the reasons were obvious: For the most part, Phantom Menace was an critical flop because it was simultaneously kiddy, technocratic and suffered from an obvious sense of duty. The second movie suffered from the same ailment, but added some new elements that brought it down even further. But I could not hope to address them all in one paragraph so let me break it down succinctly. As C3P0 would say (in the originals!) “Here we go again…”

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones
As I’m sure I mentioned in the previous post, Lucas spoke of what this movie would be about long before it aired… to the disappointment of fans everywhere. Whereas most of us were hoping that the second movie would depart from the childish tone struck by the first, Lucas dashed all that by saying it would be a love story and aimed squarely at kids. And of course, it would explain how the “Clone Wars” happened. On top of that, he had to give the audience some preview of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. A tall order, to be sure, but Lucas managed to mangle it pretty good! Here’s what went wrong:

Forced Chemistry: Lucas is known for writing dialogue that nobody can say, but in this movie, he really outdid himself! Those “romantic” scenes between Christensen and Portman, they’re PAINFUL! Not only does nobody speak like that, Portman and Christensen manage to go through these scenes without exhibiting the slightest trace of romantic chemistry! In fact, we’re given every indication to suggest that what’s really going on is a case of creepy stalker syndrome! Remember that back and forth from early on in the movie, “Please don’t look at me like that,” says Portman. “Why not?” asks Christensen. “It makes me uncomfortable.” Sound like love? Nope! As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the part where Anakin says he’s been dreaming about her for ten years straight, and that just being around her again is “intoxicating”. Ick! Can you say “obsessive”? And last, there’s the part where she totally disses him in front of people on Naboo. “Anakin is just a padawan,” she says. He objects to this sluff off, but she totally puts him in his place. Clear enough? She don’t like ya, kid. Move on or face a restraining order! And yet, we’re supposed to believe these two somehow fall in love a few scenes later? The only reason we’re supposed to believe it is because we already know it happens! Otherwise, it is wholly unbelievable and totally cringe-worthy!

Forced Rivalry: Oh, and let’s not forget the totally forced animosity that exists between Anakin and Obi Wan. It’s obvious from the way Anakin back-talks him and complains about him behind his back that he’s got some animosity for the man. It’s already predictable due to the fact that we know in advance that Anakin will turn bad and betray him, but it doesn’t help that the dialogue and the delivery feel totally fake and wooden. And lets not forget how insistent Lucas was with the whole odd couple dynamic! In fact, the back and forth between Anakin and Obi Wan and their complaints about each other are so overdone that Obi Wan just comes off as a nagging shrew and Anakin as a total bitch! Yes, we know what’s going to happen and its necessary to preview how, but Jesus-Allah-Buddah, a little subtlety please!

Infodumping: Which brings me to my next point. Lucas, you can’t have your characters just announce their feelings! It’s unsubtle, insulting to the audience, and drives home the whole dutiful nature of these awful movies even more! From the very outset, we learn that Anakin is in love with Padme/Amidala. Why? Because he says so. We learn shortly thereafter that Anakin resents Obi Wan. Why? Because he says so. We learn that Anakin is arrogant on a count of his abilities? Why? Obi Wan says so! On and on this goes throughout the movie. Lucas seems to think that the best way to establish something is to have his characters announce it openly, as opposed to say establishing it slowly through bits of dialogue and acting! And of course, its all because he feels obliged to cover his bases and explain how everything happened. This is why I hate prequels, you know.

Hayden Christensen: To be fair, the boy was up against it dealing with Lucas’ awful script writing, but that didn’t prevent him from being the most whiny, annoying bitch I’ve ever seen on camera. Seriously, even Shia LaBeouf was less annoying by comparison, and that was with Michael Bay writing his lines! And this is the guy who’s supposed to turn into Darth Vader? I would think that a war hero who got tempted by evil and became the universe’s most notorious bad-ass would be… oh, I don’t know, like Gary Cooper. The strong silent type! Not some whiny little kid who does nothing but lament about unrequited love and bitch about how he’s not being treated like an adult by his master. Exposition ruined what should have been the perfect character!

Jump-around Plot: Ostensibly, this movie was supposed to be about the Clone Wars. But on top of that, Anakin and Padme are supposed to fall in love, and then there’s the added duty of previewing Anakin’s fall to the dark side. As a result, we get a whole first hour in which the main characters are just running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Anakin brings Padme to Naboo to protect her (her home planet? Really? An assassin wouldn’t think to look for her there?), and the scenery works its magic and they fall in love. But then, Anakin has to rush off to Tatooine, totally unrelated to the plot, to find his mother. Once there, he finds out she’s been taken by sand people and she dies as soon as he finds her. Anakin responds by wiping out the whole village of sand-people, and somehow, nobody seems to care. That little act of genocide is forgotten as they have to rush back into the fray to rescue Obi Wan because he’s been taken prisoner. The only one who appears to be sticking to the plan is Obi Wan, who was busy at work the whole time investigating the clone plot. On its own, that part wasn’t bad, but its so diluted by the other crap that you almost don’t notice it. In fact, were it not for all the other crap, we might have actually gotten into the war!

Genocide? No biggie!: Speaking of the massacre Anakin committed, I’m sure everyone noticed how little the other characters seemed to care about that. Yoda senses the massacre through the Force, but it never comes up again. Even worse, Padme seems totally unphased when he tells her that he slaughtered women and children. She even goes as far as to say “To be angry is to be human.” WHAAAAAT? The boy wipes out an entire village of people, women and children included, and the best you can say is “no biggie?” What kind of person are you?! Equally odd, when Anakin returns to the Jedi, no one so much as mentions it. Yoda knew something was up, but its like he either forgot or stopped caring. Little wonder why this kid turned evil, he’s got no boundaries!

More Re-Used Characters: Like I said about the first movie, Lucas seemed to think that he had to introduce ALL the characters from the first movie, even if he was hard-pressed to do so. In this movie, we get the back-story of Boba Fett, who as it turns out, is a clone! Yes, the bad-ass bounty hunter extraordinaire from the first trilogy is actually the clone of a bounty hunter named JANGO Fett. That seemed kinda forced, but the introduction of Owen and Beru, who are apparently Anakin’s step-brother and step-sister-in-law? That was just plain stupid! Did he expect the audience to go “ah-hah!” every time he did that? Honestly, I think people just rolled their eyes and sighed whenever it happened.

Final Fight Scene: One thing that always seems to redeem Lucas’ movies is the action scenes. That awesome fight scene from the first one was enough to justify admission, but this time around, Lucas screwed the pooch on that one too! The big scene at the end, which apparently was inspired by Roman-style executions in the Coliseum, was not too bad, but it was long and drawn out. And holy hell, the fight scene that ensues between Dooku, Anakin, Obi Wan, and then Yoda? It was totally unrealistic, and punctuated by some of the worst dialogue ever! First, he takes down Anakin by hurling him into a wall just so he can fight Obi Wan one on one. Then he manages to defeat Obi Wan without inflicting any real harm, mainly so he and Anakin can go at it mono a mono. After he takes off Anakin’s arm, fulfilling yet another plot element, him and Yoda go at it. “I can see we are not going to resolve this with our knowledge of the force, but our skills with a lightsaber.” Do I even need to say it? Nobody talks like that! Yeah, the fight scene is entertaining, sure, but otherwise nothing but theatrics and zero substance!

Clueless Jedi: In the first movie, the Jedi seemed just a little slow on the uptake. I mean I know I have the benefit of knowing exactly who the bad guy is, but between the first and second movie, a full ten years have passed! You’d think they’d have done some digging and learned a thing or two about who Darth Maul was and who he might have been taking his orders from. And this time around, they’re even more clueless. And it seems almost necessary in order to explain how Palpatine could have seized power without the Jedi getting wise to him. I admit, that was a tough thing to tackle. But Yoda’s explanation, how the “dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is,” etc etc, falls pretty flat. Apparently, the Jedi’s have a diminished capacity to use the Force now, and rather than tell anyone, they keep it hush hush because Yoda doesn’t want their enemies getting any ideas. Pretty contrived explanations, man! A simple line of dialogue, like how Palpatine has mastered a technique that allows him to mask his presence in the Force, that might’ve worked. It might even make sense in the context of how, at times, Yoda and the others get suspicious of him. He can mask his dark Force energies from detection, but once in awhile, something slips through. Oy! I feel so geeky!

And that about covers this bad-boy. Overall, it was pretty bad, pretty rushed, pretty forced, and suffered from a sense of duty even more than the first. It was not enough that it had to explain major plot elements, it also had to forecast a number of developments that the audience knew would happen later on. And that was its downfall. When it comes to prequels, the potential for excitement comes in the form of developing things that have been hinted at, but for which the audience is seriously short on the details. In this case, the Clone Wars. Only once did it come up in the first trilogy, when Luke spoke to Obi Wan about what his father did. And several passing mentions were made in other areas of the franchise, including comics, novels and video games. But always, the details were in
short supply because the master (George) never left any notes.

So really, that’s what this movie needed to do but failed to deliver on. Explain the war, get into it, and sure, throw in some stuff cataloging Palpatine’s rise to power. That’s it! Instead, we get a whole lot of set-up designed to explain how the war is GOING to happen, an awful romance story, a rushed and forced prelude of Anakin’s fall, and a quick scene showing how Palpatine used the war crisis to become a tyrant. This last part felt like a technocratic holdover from the first movie – Parliamentary procedure leading to the emergence of dictatorship, yadda yadda. But the point is, we missed out on all the real action when that’s all the fans really wanted in the first place! In fact, the final scene where Clone Troopers are boarding their vessels and going off to war is the closest we get to seeing the war at all in this movie. Sure, the big battle on Geonosis kinda counted as part of the war, but it was really more of a prelude, not the actual thing! And with a name like “Attack of the Clones”, you’d think we’d see more, you know, attacking! Instead, the war is something that happened between movies, to be covered later by another producer (Genndy Tartakovsky) and then commandeered by Lucas when he realized it was profitable. But more on that later! Up next, the salvageable finale to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith!

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 2/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 5/10