Megalopolis: a 'desperately portentous' and self-indulgent dud

 Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel against the New York skyline in Megalopolis.
Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel against the New York skyline in Megalopolis.

It's been 40 years since Francis Ford Coppola became hooked on the idea of making an epic sci-fi film, drawing parallels between modern America and ancient Rome. He had just finished "Apocalypse Now" and was anxious to follow it up with a similarly ambitious movie, said Justin Chang in The New Yorker. But the project was scuppered by "the critical and commercial failure of 'One from the Heart' in 1982"; then a series of "personal and professional crises kept it on the backburner for decades".

Now, finally, "Megalopolis" is here – financed by Coppola himself, who sold off part of his wine business to foot the $120m bill. And the film (which had its premiere at Cannes last week, but has yet to get a UK release date) is a "breathtaking and sometimes exasperating singularity".

"The setting is a futuristic New York," said Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. Adam Driver plays Cesar, a visionary architect who has the ability to make time stand still, and who has invented a magical building material called "megalon", which, he hopes, will help him depose the city's corrupt mayor (Giancarlo Esposito). Cesar also has a lover, the gold-digging journalist Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza), whose attentions soon turn to his rich uncle (Jon Voight), and then to his powerhungry cousin (Shia LaBeouf).

If that all sounds somewhat eccentric, it is: at one point, Cesar launches into Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. But the film is often visually dazzling, and "bursting with ideas". If nothing else, you'll leave admiring Coppola's "gumption" in making a blockbuster about town planning, in which characters quote Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius (at length).

The shoot for it was not, by many accounts, straightforward, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. One crew member claimed that Coppola, 85, "would often just sit in his trailer for hours on end", smoking marijuana and refusing to talk to anyone. He also reportedly eschewed cheaper, quicker modern methods of creating special effects, and instead insisted on using projectors and mirrors as he had on Bram Stoker's "Dracula" 30 years earlier. You get the impression Coppola wants us to "marvel anew" at his genius. But alas, what he has produced is a "desperately portentous" and self-indulgent dud. I fear it will be "megaflopolis".

It should delight those who take an interest in grand "artistic follies", said Nicholas Barber on BBC Culture, but it will "test the patience of everyone else". The film looks "cheap" (there are never enough extras in the crowd scenes) and the dialogue is horribly stilted. Watching it is rather "like listening to someone tell you about the crazy dream they had last night – and they don't stop talking for well over two hours".