Samuel L Jackson
You can't envy George Lucas right now. After incurring the wrath of Star Wars net-heads around the globe three years ago with the release of The Phantom Menace, Lucas returns with the second episode in the now legendary Star Wars canon. The Phantom Menace was nowhere near a flop - indeed it's safely ensconsed as one of the biggest grossing films of all time - but another disappointment would be a severe blow to Lucas' credibility.
Thankfully, Attack Of The Clones is a massive improvement on the rather turgid The Phantom Menace. It's no The Empire Strikes Back, but it's certainly closer in spirit to the original trilogy, aided by a return of many of the original cast and characters, such as C3PO, R2D2, the Emperor and Yoda.
Almost everything that was wrong about The Phantom Menace has been corrected here. There's no more sleep-inducing talk about trade tariffs and taxation, no comedy Japanese accents, and best of all, very little Jar Jar Binks. Instead, there's far more humour and banter between the characters, a much darker, less kiddy-friendly plot development, and a staggering amount of jaw-dropping action sequences.
Attack Of The Clones is set ten years after The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (last seen as the rather irritating Jake Lloyd, now played by Hayden Christensen) are reunited with Padme Amidala (the always easy on the eye Natalie Portman), who is now a senator. Cue much discussion of "The Clone Wars" which will pass you by if you're not a Star Wars addict, the blossoming of the relationship between Amidala and Anakin, and the beginning of the journey of Anakin from nice-but-stroppy Jedi to Dark Lord of the Universe.
The people who usually carp about Star Wars will have the same complaints here - the dialogue is pretty dire, and the acting does veer towards the wooden at times, but you don't go and see Star Wars for the thought-provoking script and tear-jerking perfomances.
Despite the occasional cringe-worthy line, the main players do acquit themselves pretty well here. Ewan McGregor is centre stage this time, and, after appearing to sleepwalk through The Phantom Menace, is obviously having the time of his life. The cod Alec Guiness accent remains, but somehow works this time, and he has good chemistry with Christensen. He also utters the most memorable line in the film, a throwaway remark of "Why do I get the feeling you'll be the death of me, Anakin?" which provokes much ironic laughter amongst the audience.
Christensen too is just fine in what would be a pretty difficult role for any actor. Despite coming across slightly like Harry Enfield's Kevin The Teenager character when throwing one strop, he manages to convey Anakin's angst and displays enough of his dark side to suggest that Episode III's transformation into Darth Vader will be credible. Only Portman comes unstuck, which is a surprise as she has proved herself as one of the most accomplished young actors around.
Best of all is a much larger role for Mace Windu, to whom Samuel L Jackson brings his customary kick-ass attitude to, and the introduction of Count Dooku, played by the ever wonderful Christopher Lee. Lee is excellent here, and tackles the climactic light sabre battles with the energy of a man half his age.
However, it's the action sequences of Attack Of The Clones that people will be talking about long after they've left the cinema. There are too many to mention here, but highlights include Obi-Wan's battle with Jango Fett (yes, Boba Fett's dad, and unfeasibly cool he is too), Anakin's double light sabre fight with Dooku, and in a move that's guaranteed to have fanboys wetting their pants with glee, the debut of Yoda fighting. Lucas could have easily come unstuck with this, but it's a tribute to the CGI effects that the little green feller doesn't look ridiculous leaping about fighting with Dooku (even if there are nods and winks to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Most staggering of all is the massive fight sequence between hundreds of Jedi and the newly created clones - it's impossible to watch this scene without being transported back to your childhood and feeling the exhilaration you first felt when the Death Star was blown up.
Attack Of The Clones is one in the eye for those (this reviewer included) who claimed Lucas had lost the plot with The Phantom Menace. It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than the majority of Hollywood blockbusters. So welcome back George, nearly all is forgiven. Well it will be if Jar Jar bites the dust in Episode Three...