We caught pretty much the last of yesterdays 'preview' showings of Episode II yesterday (hmm... showing from 8am to 12 midnight back-to-back on 5 screens - I feel so priveliged), and I'm not ashamed to say I thought it was fantastic. I heartily recommend you go see it, so long as you liked the original trilogy. If you've seen Phantom Menace too it'll help, but I don't think it's essential. Anyway, yet-another-Episode-II-review of sorts, covering stuff I think other reviews have neglected...
Firstly, the graphics. If, "All 'Jedi had was a bunch of muppets", then "all 'Clones has is a bunch of the best computer graphics ever". Characters, animals, sets, buildings, landscapes, spaceships, planets, explosions... all brilliant. Granted, even the sublime work on Yoda is still lacking that certain something, but it's as near-as-dammit convincing as anyone has ever pulled off on the big screen. Shrek and Monsters Inc. are cool, but still just cartoons. Final Fantasy nearly had it made, but 'Clones is the real deal, everthing else just pales in comparison.
The camera work is classic Star Wars (the cheesy scene transition wipes are still there, and I loved them) and Lucas rarely drifts away from the external wide-angle scene-setter followed by cut to internal formula we know and love. Most of the effects shots are tracking and panning and I only noticed one deviation from this - in one of the battle scenes the camera zooms in on a ship, which is totally unexpected. It worked but it felt out of place in the context of the rest of the shots, which were conservative, but concentrated on capturing all the detail. Oh yeah, the detail - the city lives. Like Blade Runner and Fifth Element before it, 'Clones gives us a genuinely believable futuristic city-scape.
I really ought to mention the sound, since nobody else has in the reviews I've read. You simply must see this film in a modern cinema with loud speakers and proper bass. John Williams' soundtrack is as good as ever, with the classic components there when they're needed, and new passages thrown in for the love scenes and city chase sections. The sound effects of the ship in the opening scenes are sublime, but I suppose we should expect nothing less from the man who brought us the THX standard. We all know that, "In space, no-one can hear you scream", but look out for the 'seismic charges' in the asteroid scene, you can certainly hear those.
Am I going to mention the plot? Well no, I won't even risk spoiling it for you, but I will tell you a bit more about the rest of the film. Suffice to say that - Yoda is so good it takes the piss; there are enough light-sabres to chop a ship into tiny pieces; Hayden Christensen is all right, but a little hammy and not likeable enough so that we feel sorry for what we all know befalls him; Natalie Portman is sassy and stunning; Samuel L. Jackson is the bad-ass we all know and love; C3P0 and R2D2 make a welcome return as the comic relief, but will bemuse those who don't know the original trilogy; there are enough references to events past and present to keep train-spotters happy; some of the scenes have been lifted straight from late 1980s platform games; and the whole thing is satifyingly dark and brooding.
I was always under the impression that George Lucas knew exactly how the prequels would pan out years before he started filming, but now I'm not so sure. Episode II has too many components reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Gladiator and Steven Spielberg's A.I. for it to be a coincidence. This is no bad thing, however, it holds it's own on both the epic scale and the sci-fi scale. At any rate I enjoyed it far more than A.I. (which is a whole other rant, don't get me started...) so it's safe from being tarred with that brush.
Overall? 9/10 I reckon, and it only lost one because the love scenes are way too cheesy for their own good, and the planet Naboo is a little bit too Sound of Music. Oh, and if you don't like Star Wars, don't bother - go see Dog Soldiers or About a Boy instead.
PS I actually liked Jar-Jar in The Phantom Menace, apart from the riduculous scipting, so I didn't feel the need to mention him here. Shh! Don't tell anyone...
In response to DoubleD, I genuinely think that Attack of the Clones is up there with the original Star Wars, I really do. Without the rose-tinted spectacles of youth, I think this one will look better than Return of the Jedi and definitely worthy of the Star Wars name. As for comparisons with The Godfather, then granted it's not in the same league, not even close. To name some of my favourite films, it's no Citizen Kane, Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner, Usual Suspects or Leon either, but it's a cracking action flick all the same. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm not going to qualify my rating with an essay on objective criticism, but perhaps I should clarify - 9/10 for a child-friendly sci-fi/fantasy action film. The special effects are the best I've ever seen, and as a CGI fan the attention to detail that has gone into the city justified the ticket price in itself. Effects have always been a major draw of the Star Wars saga, and arguably they can be the foundation of a film, especially in Star Wars' modern day competition such as The Matrix.