Early ‘Cloud Atlas’ Reviews Are In: A Visually Impressive Mess

The new Wachowski film Cloud Atlas has been received its first wave of reviews. The consensus? Ambitious, but tedious.

In what has become a trend for Wachowski films, early reviews have lauded the visuals and concept behind Cloud Atlas while finding fault with the film’s overall execution. Though the scope, seen by most of us in the film’s trailer, is undoubtedly impressive, the critical reaction to the overly-platitudinous and eye-roll-inspiring philosophical plot has been lukewarm at best.

“It’s kind of astonishing that for all its ambition and accomplishment, and for the ostensibly subversive philosophy it pushes, “Cloud Atlas” ends up being just another platitudinous, overblown, pummel-you-into-submission movie-machine. It’s a blue pill pretending to be a red pill,” writes MSN.

“The six interconnected stories, featuring actors in multiple rolls have won over just as many as they turned off, but no one can deny the impressiveness of the scale,” writes MTV.

“Even as I was watching Cloud Atlas the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I’ve seen it the second time, I know I’d like to see it a third time — but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill’s description of Russia, ‘it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.’ It fascinates in the moment. It’s getting from one moment to the next that is tricky,” writes Roger Ebert.

Cloud Atlas is a cornily enthralling sci-fi kaleidoscope. Adapted from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, it tells six stories over the course of nearly three hours, and most of them would come off as fairly conventional on their own. But when you slice them up, swirl them around, and hold them up to the light, the design of what you’re seeing is hypnotic, and it wires you into the film,” writes Owen Gleiberman.

“Maybe if you’re 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented here might seem profound. Anyone else in his or her right mind should recognize it for what it is: a bloated, pseudo-intellectual, self-indulgent slog through some notions that are really rather facile. Ooh, we’re all interconnected and our souls keep meeting up with each other over the centuries, regardless of race, gender or geography. We’re individual drops of water but we’re all part of the same ocean. That is deep, man. Perhaps it all worked better on the page,” writes Christy Lemire.

Alright, so it’s not Citizen Kane. But what troubles me about Cloud Atlas and the Wachowski repertoire as a whole is the fact that we completely saw this coming. Like M. Night Shyamalan, the directing duo are still riding the coattails of the success of their breakout film, in this case, The Matrix.

The Matrix worked because it offered a great combination: a simple plot with arresting visuals. The two Matrix sequels? Arresting visuals, convoluted plot. Speed Racer? Arresting visuals, convoluted plot. Finally, Cloud Atlas?

Arresting visuals. Convoluted plot.

I still believe in The Wachowskis as a writing and directing team, but come on, you two. Leave the dense philosophizing to someone else. Return to formula and crank out visually stunning films with easy-to-follow and accessible plots. You can still touch on social issues by using them as the backdrop (V for Vendetta) instead of treating us to a yawn-inducing treatise on human connectedness and faux-spirituality.