It seems to be the season for brutalizing classics. No sooner does Andrei Konchalovsky turn Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” into an abysmal children’s action movie than Julie Taymor takes a break from preparing Spider-Man for his Broadway debut to offer her misguided version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It even makes Peter Greenaway’s extravagant “Prospero’s Books” seem almost plausible by comparison.

Taymor’s big idea is to change the magician Prospero from male to female, thus giving Helen Mirren the opportunity to play the part, now renamed Prospera. That would be fine if the actress brought anything special to the role, but she doesn’t. To be sure, she recites the lines elegantly enough and strikes the proper poses of anger and forgiveness, but there’s nothing to her performance that many actors couldn’t have provided. Nor is anything special made of the alteration from male to female, apart from changes required in some of the verse. Simply put, it’s just a pointless stunt.

Meanwhile, Taymor has filled out the remaining roles eccentrically. Felicity Jones is adequate, no more, as her daughter Miranda and Reeve Carney boyishly handsome but stiff as Ferdinand, the shipwrecked son of Prospera’s enemy Alonso, whom she holds responsible for her banishment. Alonso is played decently by David Strathairn, who’s accompanied in his wandering around the island by his wicked brother Sebastian (played with typical lip-smacking malevolence by Alan Cumming), along with the even more wicked Antonio (grim Chris Cooper, who puts most of his effort into his vocal inflections), Prospera’s traitorous brother, and the sage old advisor Gonzalo (genial Tom Conti). They’re contrasted with the lowbrow pair of Stephano (Alfred Molina) and Trinculo (Russell Banks), who, in terms of their acting styles, frankly seem to come from another planet rather than another class (something that may actually be true of Banks!), and who take up with Prospera’s painted, posturing slave Caliban (Djimon Hounsou, whose African accent renders many of his lines near-unintelligible). And serving as Prospera’s enforcer is Ariel (Ben Wishaw), an androgynous figure who flits about like Tinkerbell to do her bidding.

That brings up Taymor’s use of special effects to jazz up the play, apparently believing that Shakespeare’s text can’t stand alone. (She also cuts it ruthlessly, earning herself a screenplay credit in the process.) Her stage pieces always lean heavily on imaginative visual effects, but the ones here are mediocre at best, and the result is especially hard on Wishaw’s performance, which gets chopped up as he’s tossed across the screen in cheesy superimpositions. And when Taymor’s not indulging in such cinematic trickery, the picture plods, offering little insight into the work or even a feeling for its poetry. There’s no sense of real engagement with the play on anything but a surface level—an accusation one certainly couldn’t level against Greenaway, for instance, even while finding fault with the choices he made.

It’s never easy to transfer Shakespeare to the screen, of course, but one should demand something more of Taymor than an idiosyncratic but oddly pedestrian take on one of the Bard’s more elusive yet entrancing works. This is a “Tempest” that seems to have very little to say about the play, a version which makes a piece that should sparkle with theatrical life feel dull and overlong even in so highly abbreviated a form. That’s truly a strange result from a woman who’s shown such flair in her work for the stage. Perhaps Taymor should have tried mounting it there, because on the screen her “Tempest” is at best a minor squall.