10 Critical Thoughts About… The Tempest

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Highly specific observations on Julie Taymor's new Shakespeare adaptation starring Helen Mirren.

Helen Mirren in The Tempest

The Tempest is Julie Taymor's adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name, believed to be his last. Helen Mirren plays Prospera, the Duchess of Milan, who has been exiled to a mystical island by her power-grabbing brother Antonio. Through the power of magic, she plots her revenge and brews up a tempest to wreck his sailing ship.

1. Nothing is Helen Mirren's fault.
Dame Helen Mirren was chosen to play the lead by Julie Taymor, who claimed that other actors hadn't excited her the way Mirren had. That's understandable, because Mirren does everything right, all of the time, even when Taymor herself doesn't.

2. It's no Titus.
In Titus, Taymor chose to adapt one of Shakespeare lesser-known plays, a gruesome tragedy to which most people had little attachment, if any at all. So when audiences were transfixed by the director's theatrical fever dream, it was a pleasant surprise. But The Tempest is one the Bard's most beloved romances, so people are more likely to become upset by this rendition, which is the cinematic equivalent of a headache.

The Tempest is loud in many senses. The score never seems to pause, the special effects are brought out too often to be deemed special, and the CGI looks like it belongs on those weird sci-fi shows that air well past your bedtime. It makes you wish Taymor would (spoiler alert?) break her magic staff.

4. "That's right, a woman as Prospero!"
Remember when Lisa Simpson tries out for the football team? "That's right," she says, "a girl who wants to play football!" Then it turns out that there are already four girls on the squad. The decision to gender-bend Prospero, the Duke of Milan, into Prospera, the Duchess of Milan, barely affects the story here, so don't run to the theater expecting revolutionary feminism.

Russell Brand in The Tempest5. No more Russell Brand, please.
Who does this would-be Falstaff amuse, other than himself? Not me, not ever.

6. More Alfred Molina, please.
Molina plays Stephano, the partner-in-crime of Brand's Trinculo. Frankly, I would've been fine with Molina somehow playing both roles, like in those movies Eddie Murphy used to make.

7. Cool outfits, though.
As is often the case, the costumes here are better than the drama.

8. Being a Duke is dangerous business.
During one of the slower stretches of the movie, my mind began to wander through Shakespeare's catalogue. There sure were a lot of Dukes. (And Antonios, for that matter.) Yet instead of governing their duchies like badasses, they're almost always busy trying not to get exiled, murdered, or bed-tricked. Though I guess they had it coming to them, since they probably got the job by exiling, murdering, and bed-tricking the previous Duke anyway.  

9. Why not just name it Tempest?
After having whittled Titus Andronicus down to Titus, why not drop the article here? After all, this movie is more of a tempest than it is The Tempest.

10. So what does this mean for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark?
Taymor's other upcoming spectacle, a Broadway adaptation of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, is rumored to be equally noisy, overblown, and clumsy. As one of the many people who got into Stan Lee before getting into William Shakespeare, I hope the rumors are just that, but The Tempest isn't very reassuring.