It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: action, adventure, animated
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Corey Burton, James Garner, Claudia Christian, John Mahoney, Phil Morris, Leonard Nemoy, Don Novello, Jacqueline Obradors, Florence Stanley, Cree Summer, Jim Varney
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Writer: Tab Murphy, Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Bryce zabel, Jackie Zabel, Tab Murphy, and David Reynolds
Budget: $120 Million
Box Office: $186 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 49%
Milo Thatch has one dream, the find the lost empire of Atlantis! He is certain that the missing link, a journal, is hidden somewhere in Iceland. If only he could get someone to listen to him. Fortunately for him, his grandfather’s old financier has found the book and wants to put together an expedition. And he needs Milo because Milo can read Atlantean. Soon, Milo and a group of rag tag adventurers are on their way deep under the sea to find Atlantis. But it turns out that Atlantis might need them more than they need the satisfaction of discovering Atlantis.
Disney, when it isn’t focused on their Princess Franchise, does put out some quirky, but fun, animated films; Lilo and Stitch (my favorite), The Emperor’s New Groove (another favorite) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The sad thing about these films is that because they aren’t part of the Princess Franchise, they mostly get lost behind the big mouse ears. So, these movies have little cult followings that show up on places such as tumblr. Such is the case with Atlantis.
The plot of Atlantis is fairly basic without falling too deeply into white savior tropes. A good portion of the movie is about how they actually get to Atlantis, it is the journey with random stops for character development of our rag tag team of adventurers. Along the way, there planned obstacles that each of the team to be able to showcase their skills and show why they were included in the plot.
Because let’s be honest here, without these obstacles there really wasn’t much of a reason for these characters, as cool and quirky as they were, to be included in the story. In fact, they spend a lot of the time being hard on Milo, as if Milo has to prove himself to be part of the ‘cool club.’ And poor Milo, who is by no means your average adventurer, takes the behavior in stride as he expects it. Despite the fact, that without his knowledge and expertise in “gibberish” they wouldn’t be able to make the expedition. I came out of the movie wanting more of the secondary characters that didn’t get screen time because they were so busy being snobby. This was a real missed opportunity.
See, what Atlantis did here was try to throw an emotional character conflict, Milo vs. Snooty Adventurers on top of an outside force plot conflict, Milo vs. Scary Paths. Which means both of them get short changed. I mean, here we are in a Jules Verne novel (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and the plot is literally throwing whoopee cushions under Milo’s seat as a form of “humor.” This is what happens when you are writing to formula.
I don’t feel that Milo is a coward. (I’ve seen some analysis that he was.) Cowards aren’t going up to their employers every year and doing a presentation that will get them sent back down the boiler room year after year. In fact, when the financier said he wanted Milo to go on the expedition. Milo didn’t hesitate. He just thought he needed to get his affairs in order. (Which was already done because why bother sending for Milo if he wasn’t going to be available to go.) Milo is a scholar. And sadly, someone who is used to being alone and not fitting in. He wants to be liked. Give him a crumb of attention and he’ll lap it up like a dog. But he’s been rejected so many times by other people who by all rights are his peers or superiors, that he doesn’t trust others when it comes to making friends. He doesn’t want to reach out. Why reach out when all it does is bring more pain. He’s been hurt many times. But when he is given a chance to go to Atlantis and the others reach out a hand in ‘friendship’ to him, he still goes. He still tries. In that way, I find him a very relatable character.
The fact that Milo can read and speak (to an extent) Atlantean is the key part to the whole movie. Once they reach Atlantis and the ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ true intentions of the rest of the expedition came out. Milo has to work on appealing to the better natures of the expedition. Plus, save the girl, who will be able to save Atlantis from something the expedition causes anyways. The key difference between this and a lot of other ‘white man saves day’ is that Milo saves the day using Atlantean culture rather than his own. There is no painting helicopters and joining the home team here. And it is very much a “we must rescue” rather than a fight between opposing forces. It made it a bit different.
So because I wish they’d focused on one plot over the other (and it would have been refreshing to see a plot where the expedition with bad intentions actually embraced the geeky guy, and thus making his emotional conflict more difficult later in the movie) I’m going to take one bite from the cookie.
Yes, there was an explosion that set off a volcano but it made me go… “ohhhkay,” rather than “oh shit!” So. half a cookie.
This is honestly more of an adventure movie rather than an action movie. There was a fight and it was the big climax scene at the end. When you’ve got one fight scene, it needs to be entertaining. For the record, it was. So it passed the test. And Milo got to show off that while he was a scholar, he was still a mechanic and he did have a little strength. One cookie.
Now, where this movie really shines is the women. We’ve got the female mechanic whose sister is a boxing champion. (Awesome.) There is the tough as nails second in command who still can dress sexy. (Double Awesome.) And she gets her moment of awesome with quirky quip during the fight. The old lady radio operator was funny. And then there was Princess Kida. And I like Kida, what bits we see of her when she isn’t possessed by an intelligent crystal that made her glow and bright turquoise. She stands up to her father. She wants to take care of and protect her people. They played around with her with some classic “who’s on first” type humor to show just because you know the language, doesn’t mean you get the culture. I like her. Then she gets possessed, has to be rescued and loses all her agency and yeah, I hate formulas. So, I’m taking a bite out of this cookie for OMG, STOP USING FORMULAS!!!
The world building for Atlantis was really neat. I recognized some of the theories about why Atlantis was buried. (The current being that a volcano erupted several hundred miles away and triggered a tsunami.) While the building and themes were a mix of ancient step pyramids, Mayan style motifs and some greek and roman architecture thrown in for flavor. And of course, being a city in the middle of the sea, everything else was fish related. Which, was cool. While the expedition really channeled Jules Verne style technology. So everything was distinctive but still familiar for movie goers.
What is really cool is that Atlantean written language is an actual language and was developed by the guy who developed Klingon for Star Trek. (There are reasons for this to be a cult movie.) The idea of universal root language is rooted in the Bible in two places as well, the idea of the Tower of Babel, and the language of Enochian.
Atlantis broke some of the rules of the Lost Empire Formula. I feel that if it had pushed just a little more and trusted their audience to enjoy breaking the rules more than they did. It would have been a much stronger movie. Four cookies.