It remains to be seen whether audiences will embrace "Cloud Atlas," but if the reviews are any indication, it's already the most divisive movie of the year. At Rotten Tomatoes, it currently has a 59% average; at Metacritic, it's even closer to a perfect 50/50 split with a score of 52 — including four reviews graded 85 or higher and four reviews graded 25 or lower. At our own Criticwire Network, it has a B average — but check out that "Grades Snapshot" function. 10 critics give it an A — essentially calling it a great film — and 15 give it a C — essentially calling it a mess.
What I've found most interesting about "Cloud Atlas"' reviews are the ways that critics who love it and hate it are all describing the film in very similar ways. They generally agree about what this sci-fi epic is — they just disagree about whether or not they like it as a result. Below, I've linked to some examples where two critics described the film in near-identical terms to totally opposite value judgements.
PRO: The movie is absolutely brilliant!
"It’s romantic, epic, unwieldy and absolutely brilliant." — Brandon Marcus, Very Aware
CON: The movie is absolutely brilliant, but…
"It starts out absolutely brilliantly, then segues into a pretentious slog." — Jordan Hoffman, Film.com
PRO: It's unlike any other movie!
"'Cloud Atlas' is unlike any other movie… enormous in length and scope, a film whose purpose doesn't even begin to come into focus until two hours in." — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
CON: It's unlike any other movie, but…
"Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski wanted to make a movie unlike any other, and they certainly did: 'Cloud Atlas' is a unique and totally unparalleled disaster." — Calum Marsh, Slant Magazine
PRO: It's ambitious in scope!
"Enormously ambitious in scope." — Mark Dujsik, Mark Reviews Movies
CON: It's ambitious in scope, but…
"'Cloud Atlas' is ambitious in its scope, for sure — edited fluidly and often wondrous to look at, but totally ineffective from an emotional perspective." — Christy Lemire, Associated Press
PRO: It's a manifesto!
"This is not a movie, it is a manifesto. A gonzo, breathtaking, deeply humane declaration of the belief that all people — regardless of class, race, gender, age, sexuality, and more — are deserving of the same level of respect." — Brian Juergens, After Elton
CON: It's a manifesto, but…
"A manifesto in the form of an enormously budgeted quasi-sci-fi epic, 'Cloud Atlas' is evidently personal, defiantly sincere, totally lacking in self-awareness, and borderline offensive in its gleeful endorsement of revenge violence against anyone who gets in the way of a good person's self-actualization." — Karina Longworth, LA Weekly
PRO: It's full of big ideas!
"And though its big ideas can be reduced to well-worn phrases like 'No man is an island,' 'All you need is love,' 'United we stand, divided we fall' and 'We're all connected,' 'Cloud Atlas' attempts to strip each one of the layers of familiarity that make them seem like greeting-card platitudes rather than genuinely provocataive notions." — Maitland McDonagh, Film Journal International
CON: Actually, about those big ideas…
"The alleged big ideas are sophomoric clichés." — Kyle Smith, New York Post
PRO: It's significant!
"Transcendently significant." — Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool News
CON: What significant?
"The film is elephantine and pretentious without being in the least bit significant." — Kirk Honeycutt, Honeycutt's Hollywood
PRO: This critic loved it!
"Enthralling… far-reaching… grandiose." — Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy
CON: The exact same critic also hated it!
"Frustrating… obtuse… gimmicky." — Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy
PRO: It's the best movie of the year!
"'Cloud Atlas' is the most daring and satisfying film of the year." — Jeremy Kirk, First Showing
CON: Did I say best? I meant worst!
"'Cloud Atlas' is probably the worst big-budget film so far in 2012." — Paul Chambers, Movie Chambers
Now it's up to audiences to decide. I think you should see it. At the very least, the post-screening conversations should be mighty interesting.