Baz Luhrman's homage to the sweeping cinema of the thirties is delivered with his customary visual flair and wink-wink playfulness. Ravishingly shot and quirkily coloured, its stylish bravado deserves to be seen on the big screen.
True to the tone of thirties movies, it kicks off with some fast-talking bicker-bicker humour - as Lady Sarah (Kidman)'s neatly-packed underwear is thrown sky high during Jackman's bar-room brawl. He's a blokey Aussie - she's a comical English aristo. Both are going to change before the credits roll.
Young Brandon Walters almost steals the show, though as Nullah, the orphaned Aboriginal boy who accompanies Kidman when Jackman's Drover reluctantly herds her cows across the outback to Darwin.
Australia has epic visuals and an epic imagination. But it can't match its expectations. Nor does it live up to the powerhouse trailer in which Patrick Doyle's stirring score (nicked from the soundtrack to Branagh's Henry V) ups the emotional ante. Sadly the score doesn't feature in the movie at all - and is greatly missed.
A cliff-top chase pursued by baddies and a rousing cattle-run to the port of Darwin are staged with verve. But it's the moments of quiet drama that work the most - Kidman, inexperienced at child-minding, trying to console young Nullah with a barely-remembered Somewhere Over the Rainbow. And Nullah's chirpy banter - "we'll drive them cheeky bloody bulls").
And Hugh Jackman glows in the central role of the Drover, quintessentially the leading man. A charismatic actor, he's equally adept at action and drama. It's one of cinema's greatest follies that Jackman's more famous for playing Wolverine in comic book movies. Hopefully Australia will lead Jackman's career where it deserves - in the first rank of cinema stars.
A tad overlong, Australia is true to the RKO-style of movie-making from the thirties. The characters are colourful yet still black and white. And while there's little depth, there's much to enjoy. Not the epic - or the classic - it could have been. What it lacks in emotional wallop, it makes up for in spectacle and warm, winning characters. But if it had used Patrick Doyle's trailer theme tune it would have been stirring indeed.