Review in a Hurry: You'd think the convergence of William Shakespeare, director Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe) and grande acting dame Helen Mirren would produce the perfect cinematic storm. But this gender-switched Tempest lacks energy and thunder (not to mention quality CGI), and fizzles to a disappointing drizzle.
The Bigger Picture: Directors can't resist reconceptualizing the Bard, and here helmer Taymor—whose glitch-plagued Spider-Man rock musical just swung onto Broadway—adds her own surprisingly dull spin.
Not only has she recast sorcerer Prospero as sorceress Prospera (Mirren), which doesn't diminish the play but doesn't enhance it either, she's also imposed a vaguely rock-'n-roll vibe. It's a concept that's never fully realized. If only she had cranked it to 11.
For those of you who ditched Lit class, 400-year-old Tempest is set on a mystical, mostly deserted island, where Prospero—sorry, Prospera—and daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) have lived since their exile from Milan. Prospera takes vengeance on her banishers, who include the King of Naples, by orchestrating a storm that shipwrecks them on the island.
Prospera commands servant spirit Ariel (Ben Whishaw) to spy on the survivors, dispersed across the craggy shores. Prince Ferdinand (pretty but bland Reeve Carney) falls in love with Miranda, while others plot to kill the king.
Drunken steward Stephano (Alfred Molina) and jester Trinculo (fidgety Russell Brand) meet enslaved beast-man Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), who convinces them to murder his master, Prospera, so they can rule the island. But Prospera has magic on her side.
Usually exquisite Mirren seems out of her element—no, not Shakespeare, but all the stark, volcanic landscapes and distracting visual effects. So despite her queenly command of the language, the character's necessary imperiousness gets undercut. Whishaw entrances as pasty, androgynous Ariel in a glam-rock 'do, but subpar CGI has him zipping and stuttering across the screen like a muse from Xanadu.
Driving guitar music occasionally punctuates the action, and actors are outfitted in enough black leather and zippers to rival a Michael Jackson museum. But none of this ever jives or lends enough edge to the lackluster interpretation.
The 180—a Second Opinion: With his cool scaly makeup, booming voice, and stylized theatricality, Hounsou creates a compelling, soulful Caliban.