Review Roundup: Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

Critics respond to the latest film from the legendary director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.
Megalopolis - Francis Ford Coppola

Thanks to films like The Godfather, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now — and Captain EO — Francis Ford Coppola’s vaunted status in the annals of filmmaking is entirely assured. But for over forty years, Coppola has been slowly, steadily working on one film, an epic sci-fi drama titled Megalopolis. Every so often, some news would surface, but for the most part, Megalopolis has remained in the shadows… until now.

Coppola’s long-gestating film — which stars Adam Driver as a renowned architect attempting to rebuild a crumbling metropolis into a utopia — had its world premier at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it received a ten-minute standing ovation. (Megalopolis also stars Giancarlo Esposito, Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, and Dustin Hoffman.)

Does Megalopolis live up to several decades’ worth of expectations? Or does Coppola’s long-awaited epic crumble under the weight of its own ambitions? Read on for a selection of critics’ reactions.

Peter Bradshaw, Megabloated and megaboring”

This is a passion project without passion: a bloated, boring and bafflingly shallow film, full of high-school-valedictorian verities about humanity’s future. It’s simultaneously hyperactive and lifeless, lumbered with some terrible acting and uninteresting, inexpensive-looking VFX work which achieves neither the texture of analogue reality nor a fully radical, digital reinvention of existence.

Peter Debruge, A bold, ungainly epic”

Instead of retiring comfortably with his wealth, Coppola’s opted to bring us this message, which is part mission statement, part mea culpa. Megalopolis is anything but lazy, and while so many of the ideas don’t pan out as planned, this is the kind of late-career statement devotees wanted from the maverick, who never lost his faith in cinema. But now that he’s built it, will they come?

Bilge Ebiri, A work of absolute madness”

There is nothing in Megalopolis that feels like something out of a “normal” movie. It has its own logic and cadence and vernacular. The characters speak in archaic phrases and words, mixing shards of Shakespeare, Ovid, and at one point straight-up Latin. Some characters speak in rhyme, others just in high-minded prose that feels like maybe it should be in verse. At one point, Adam Driver does the entire “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Why? I’m not exactly sure. But it sure sounds good.

David Fear, Truly epic”

Whether or not the latest film that the 85-year-old director has brought to Cannes will receive the same type of embrace once it makes its way into the world remains to be seen, but it’s no less ambitious, sprawling, or awe-inspiring than his journey into the heart of darkness. If anything, Coppola has substantially upped the ante with this gamble… It’s a conceptual dream project that the filmmaker has been chasing for close to half of his life, and had he made and released this at any point in the early 21st century, it would have felt singular. In 2024, this personal, profound, perversely optimistic movie about slouching toward Utopia Now on a self-financed $120 million budget feels like a fucking unicorn.

Jason Gorber, A magical, meandering, maddening epic”

Megalopolis is a magical, meandering, maddening construction, one that demonstrates that the process of experimentation is in and of itself both deeply entwined with, as well as above, dualistic notions like success and failure. I come here not to bury this tale of Caesar, nor necessarily to praise it, but to applaud its ambition — to revel in its very existence.

Chase Hutchinson, The result is not what you’d hope for”

In the abstract, one can be somewhat glad that something like this exists and that we all get to see what it was that Coppola was cooking for decades. The trouble is, in execution, it’s a meandering “fable” (as the opening title card calls it) that plays more as a farce. As for who the joke is really on and how intentional it all is, well that depends on what you go to the movies for.

Richard Lawson, A passion project gone horribly wrong”

Megalopolis is a choppy ramble of a movie, stuffed with poorly elucidated ideas. It’s as if someone has spent $120 million — more money than most Americans make in a year! — to film the chicken scratch scrawls of a notebook, hastily staged with actors and garish green-screen effects. It is, I’m afraid, tedious nonsense.

Rafaela Sales Ross, A madman’s fever dream”

Coppola said he likes to make films he doesn’t know how to make, as the film will often tell him what to do next. One has to wonder how that frenzied metaphorical conversation came about with Megalopolis, a film still playing on my mind as I write this, unsure if I have seen it or dreamt of it. I’m not yet convinced it works, but my goodness, am I thrilled it exists.

Stephanie Zacharek, A messy, imaginative sprawl”

Megalopolis… is basically review-proof, so weird, so ungainly, and yet in some places so glorious that anyone who squints at it and says, “I don’t get it” is playing right into its wiggy strategy. Coppola’s picture is a lot of things at once: a wail of despair, a rallying cry to save the principles of our wobbly republic, a trumpet blast of reassurance that we humans can re-learn to live with thought and intention, and to dare one another into ever-more-dazzling intellectual endeavors and feats of creativity.

Esther Zuckerman, The laughing stock everyone feared”

This is the kind of movie that will live on in midnight screenings. The phrase “destined to be a cult classic” gets thrown around a lot these days and mostly inaccurately — something that is weird but popular and critically acclaimed does not a “cult classic” make — and yet it seems to actually apply here. Megalopolis is stilted, earnest, over the top, CGI ridden, and utterly a mess.

No theatrical release date for Megalopolis has been announced yet. Watch the trailer below.

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