Time for another bad rap movie review. I don't have a lot of time so I'll keep it short.
The Bad Rap: The movie is pretentious, incoherent/hard to understand and emotionally monotoned.
My Defense: For those who say the movie is hard to understand, I respond by asking if they bothered paying attention to the movie or did they get up 8 times to get a refill on their coke and to subsequently drain the coke from their systems.
The film has 3 narratives, one taking place in the present, one in the future and one is a fictional account of a conquistador circa Spain 1500 (from a book written by the main characters wife). Some people get confused because they think that the narrative that takes place in the past is supposed to be this guy 500 years ago, but it's not, again it's a book his wife wrote and she based the character on him, hence why Hugh Jackman plays the part. And to be clear, the narrative that takes place 500 years in the future is in fact the same Tom that exists in the present. Each of the 3 narratives parallel each other in order to drive home a point; 3 different ways of looking at the same story.
Another similar misconception that I've read is that people think the 3 time lines are supposed to be 3 different people all together, played by the same actor. I have no idea why someone would think this, but it has happened.
It always makes me chuckle when a reviewer calls a movie pretentious because they've got the attention span and comprehension of a 5 year old. Anything that's ambitious is also called pretentious (you might recall my review of "Lady in the Water"). But you must also realize there are ambitious movies I strongly dislike; AI for example. Ambitious in and of itself does not a good movie make. However, it does increase it's chances of being shunned weather it's good or bad.
The Fountain is very much a science fiction/fantasy film that presents itself as a serious drama and perhaps that's where some people get mixed up. It requires you to accept certain things that are all but impossible in the real world, just as any science fiction film does. A tree that grants you immortality, a floating space-bubble used for inter-stellar travel are among these. Perhaps people are confused when they see true heartbreaking and believable drama in the movie.
As for the charges that it's emotionally monotoned I can only say that it's essentially a film about someone dying. This isn't a film where a lot of action and adventure happens and then through the circumstances of the story a major character dies. We are told right up front that this person is currently dying of a brain tumor, and is most likely going to be dead before the movie is over. Hugh Jackman's performance exactly matches this reality. Yes, Jackman is sad, depressed and distraught throughout most of the film, but this does not prevent him from giving a colorful performance in the least. To the contrary he fills out each and every stage of grief with completeness and amazing believability right up until the final frame of the film when he finally reaches acceptance.
When you see this film, actually see it. Pay attention to it and soak it up. If you do that it is not hard to understand or appreciate. Hopefully you will come to see that's great smart-science fiction in the vein of "Solaris" & "2001: A Space Odyssey".