Close this search box.

Megalopolis Film Review: Coppola’s Grand Folly

A man looks through a telescope with a woman behind him and yellow sky in the film Megalopolis

Francis Ford Coppola’s self-made epic Megalopolis is big, brassy and dreadfully indulgent. Years of cult fandom and overanalysis await.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 133′
World Premiere: May 28, 2024
Release Date: TBA
Where to watch: Cannes Film Festival

If any other filmmaker than Francis Ford Coppola had made Megalopolis, there would be proclamations of outright insanity. Accusations of megalomania have certainly been levelled at Coppola in the lead up to its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s not the first time he’s been accused of ego stroking and indulgence, but his accusers miss the point.

Coppola is one of the few filmmakers who can make projects of this scale, ambition and abrasiveness. Any fallout from his filmmaking remains to be seen, but Megalopolis should be appreciated for getting made in the first place, especially when risk-averse studios claim they can’t market such grandiosity and visual lunacy (How hard can it be to put “From the legendary director of The Godfather” on a poster?). For all that though, Megalopolis is exactly what you’d expect from an egoist director self-financing an American epic with nothing to lose. In short, it’s a mess.

Short of Zack Snyder ever being given the funds and leeway to adapt ‘The Fountainhead’, we will never see a director merge his concerns about his art, his methods and the world at large in such a brazen and imaginative way as we do in Megalopolis. Looking at the world through the eyes of Rand-ian lead Cesar Catilini (Adam Driver) is a profoundly personal glimpse into the mind of the writer/director that created him. At 85 years old, having lost both his devoted wife Eleanor and his legendary mentor Roger Corman within a month, and having been told by ad execs that Apocalypse Now and The Godfather are not enough to make people see his new work, he has no damns left to give. Everything is on the screen, every actor is in step with his going-down-swinging attitude, and every inch of craft is out to dazzle. In short, Coppola is out to take your breath away.

The film opens with the architect Catilini stepping on the ledge of his Empire State Building penthouse(!) in the city of New Rome. It’s immediately obvious that American Society is Francis Ford Coppola’s Roman Empire, and he thinks about it often, and that’s before we get to the chariot races, toga parties and quotes from Marcus Aurelius. Coppola’s concerns have far-reaching implications, as voluminous shots of the city from space whizz by, trying to convince us of the profundity that will follow. It never does, though. From a bevy of stars on their best behaviour, we get backstabbing aplenty while the players monologue on their thwarted ambitions and desires to do right by doing wrong against their rivals. Think Baz Luhrmann directing Succession and you might get a wisp of the taste of Megalopolis.

A man stands on the edge of a tall building, about to fall down, with yellow sky behind him, in the film Megalopolis
Megalopolis (Cannes Film Festival)

While on that gilded roof, Catilini displays an ability to stop time (at least, in his own mind). Megalopolis is populated by various lunatics and ne’er-do-wells convinced of their own brilliance. The main thrust of the film sees Catilini seeking to rebuild part of the city as his own dream project, namely an ideal living space named Megalopolis. The mayor (Giancarlo Esposito) is opposed to this, even if the status quo is nothing special. Meanwhile, Catilini’s cousin Clodio (Shia LaBeouf, borrowing Jared Leto’s wardrobe and Joker laugh) wants to sabotage Catilini to advance his own political interests. It’s not hard to draw a line from the cousins to certain social media heads going up against government regulation, but Megalopolis is so determined to talk about so many things that picking a metaphor feels like a moot point. Everyone will have a different interpretation of Megalopolis, but most will agree it was too damn weird to work.

Aligning himself with Catilini’s frustrated creativity and astounding genius is as subtle as Coppola gets in Megalopolis. Over the course of the film, we learn that Catilini has developed a foolproof building material (Megalon), while fending off being framed for his wife’s murder. Some geniuses just can’t catch a break. Everything else is hammy villains, gorgeous women lining up for him, and all tearing into Coppola’s philosophy-with-an-economics-minor undergraduate script with abandon. The cast can be divided into either having fun (La Beouf, Aubrey Plaza as the brilliantly-monikered It girl, Wow Platinum) or looking lost (Nathalie Emmanuel struggles as the love interest, Laurence Fishburne is placid as Catilini’s valet, and Jon Voight is probably just happy to be here). It’s a credit to Driver that he keeps the audience watching through his character’s increasingly eccentric mood swings, though Esposito is the best of the lot, bringing an emotional investment to his embattled mayor that might not have been on the page to start.

A good chunk of the $120 million budget for Megalopolis has gone on set designs, CGI effects and camerawork that wouldn’t look out of place in a Joel Schumacher flick. DoP Mihal Malaimire Jr. gives New Rome an overly-polished look, an ironic cheap veneer to contrast with the smell of money ebbing off the screen. Whole environments melt into existence in dazzling golds and leaf-inspired architecture, but there’s rarely a feeling of anything tangible in the world of Megalopolis. Everything is so obviously a set or just not there. Maybe Coppola is nodding to the emptiness of these people’s world, but it just makes the audience lose focus repeatedly over 130 minutes. Megalopolis works best if you let it wash over you. Whatever we think of it, we almost certainly will never see its likes again.

Megalopolis premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May, 16 2024. Read our ranking of all Coppola movies from worst to best!

Francis Ford Coppola Movies Ranked worst to best – Loud and Clear
We ranked all 23 Francis Ford Coppola movies from worst to best! He has one of the most fascinating careers of any Hollywood film director.
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.