Angelina Jolie turns in a magnificent performance in Maleficent. *Photo supplied
Angelina Jolie turns in a magnificent performance in Maleficent. *Photo supplied

Speciality Theatre

Edge of Tomorrow

****

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Director: Doug Liman.

Rated: PG-13

Showing: Wed-Thurs 

8:30pm.

Runtime: 123 minutes

Action/adventure/sci-fi.

Who could have guessed that the first real blockbuster surprise of the summer would come in the guise of a Tom Cruise film?

Especially one with a rather bland title Edge of Tomorrow (they might as well have just called it Generic Summer Action Movie) _ that seems to go where every sci-fi movie has gone before. It’s all here: time travel, unreasonable aliens, the fate of a fearful world resting uneasily on the shoulders of one American man. And all in 3-D, of course.

Yet director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) manages to combine a sense of humor and an expert eye for action into a clever twist on old formulas. In a world of predictably lead-footed, empty-headed spectacle, “Edge of Tomorrow” is surprisingly agile and quick-witted.

Cruise is Cage, a ranking Army officer whose specialty is public relations and advertising. His job is to sell the war, not fight in it. He can’t even stand the sight of blood.

So when Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to embed with a unit in France that’s part of an all-out assault on the aliens who are called Mimics, Cage refuses and threatens to use his PR skills against Brigham in the equally important media war of public opinion.

As payback, Cage is arrested, busted down to private, identified as a deserter and thrown in with a squad that will be on the leading edge of the invasion. How’s that for a delicious slice of revenge pizza topped with a serving of don’t-mess-with-me?

In an astonishing sequence, Cage is dropped into France amid total chaos and catastrophe. Panicked and afraid, he’s useless as a soldier and is killed by an especially cantankerous, multitentacled Mimic.

But then he wakes up _ back in time, just after his arrest, with the invasion still a day away. What fresh hell is this? Is he doomed to repeat these same awful moments for eternity? And who is this mysterious super soldier, Rita (Emily Blunt), and her scientist sidekick (Noah Taylor), who seem to be clued in to what’s going on?

Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow is “Groundhog Day” with weaponry. But it’s effective as Liman (working from a script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth) keeps things moving fast enough that there’s no time to nitpick the implausibilities — like forcing a totally untrained soldier into battle where his mistakes could get everyone killed except the enemy.

But Limon has fun with the time-shifting premise and makes an impressive use of 3-D technology. Meanwhile, Cruise — in the beginning at least, when he’s not in implacable Mission: Impossible mode — shows off some welcome vulnerability, and Bill Paxton seems to relish his role as Cage’s unforgiving commanding officer.

Edge of Tomorrow isn’t as thought-provoking as the similarly plotted Source Code, Duncan Jones’ 2011 film about a man forced to repeat a calamitous event until he gets the right outcome. Not only that, but Edge doesn’t end as well as it begins. And, to a paraphrase an old dictum: Directors who don’t learn from history — like their hapless heroes in sci-fi movies — are doomed to repeat it.

But, in Liman’s case, that has turned out to be not such a bad thing. 

Maleficent

***

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley

Director: Robert Stromberg

Rated: PG

Showing: Fri 2:30 (2D), 6pm (3D); Sat 2:30 (2D), 6pm (3D), 9pm (2D); Sun 2:15 (3D), 4:35pm (3D), 7pm (2D); Mon-Thurs 2:30, 6pm (both in 2D)

Runtime: 97 minutes

Action/adventure/sci-fi.

It takes talent to walk around in a black leather-horned cap and not look silly. Angelina Jolie turns in a magnificent performance in Maleficent as the (now we are told) misunderstood villain of the Sleeping Beauty tale.

Despite the odd look — inspired by the drawings of Marc Davis for the 1959 animated Disney film — Jolie makes the character equally sinister and sweet.

This is still the story of Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who is cursed at her christening by Maleficent to fall into a deep slumber. Only the kiss of her true love can wake her. But the story looks more at how Maleficent — with cheekbones sharp enough to cut diamonds — goes from star-crossed lover to vindictive party crasher.

Jolie rules this film with a powerful acting grace accented by director Robert Stromberg’s film style that shifts from film noir to children’s comedy without a flinch. There’s just not enough fleshing out of the story to support these elements.

The villain of this film is the script by Linda Woolverton, which promises Maleficent’s real story but delivers little more than a couple of variations on the original theme. Woolverton should have aggressively adapted the story to add something more original. The times when she does stretch, she falls so short it’s obvious this writing task exceeded her grasp.

Fewer predictable battles and more original writing would have made Maleficent magnificent. 

Neptune Theatre

X-Men: Days of Future Past

****

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman.

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Showing: Fri-Sat 7:30pm. Sunday 5:30pm. Mon to Thurs 7pm.

Runtime: 131 minutes

Action, adventure, fantasy.

There are many superhuman feats on display in the latest installment in the X-Men saga, Days of Future Past.

Time travel. Saving the world from big, angry robots. A beautifully restored 1973 Buick Riviera.

But the nod for the most stunning accomplishment goes to director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg for taking what could have been a formulaic superhero sequel and giving it humour and life — while remaining true to the original X-Men message of the outcasts finding strength in their differences.

The plot mechanics grow increasingly creaky in the latter half, as the special effects grow bigger, but there’s still enough residual energy to keep it from lapsing into being, say, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, perhaps the most reviled of all the recent Marvel Comics related films. 

 As the film moves to its conclusion, there’s predictably less fun and more effects.  But, even here, the acting abilities of McAvoy, Fassbender, Stewart and McKellen can make even the most cliche comic-book dialogue pulse with importance.

Liberty Theatre

The Fault in Our Stars

****

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff.

Director: Josh Boone

Rated: PG-13

Showing: Fri-Sat 2:30pm/6pm/9:30pm. Sunday 2:30pm, 5:30pm. Mon to Thurs 2:30pm, 7pm.

Runtime: 131 minutes

Drama, romance.

Just so you know what you’re in for with The Fault in Our Stars: The film shows its teenage protagonist, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who has stage IV cancer, struggling for breath while slowly ascending stairs at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. 

With oxygen tank in tow, Fault in Our Stars is not messing around. It wants your tears. 

It gets them, but less because of that scene’s symbolism overload — a bright, seriously ill American girl pays tribute to a bright Dutch girl cut down in her prime — than the unforced way Woodley plays this and every moment. Woodley (Divergent) is such a fresh, wonderful presence that you want to write sonnets to her talent, much the way Gus (Ansel Elgort), the handsome romantic Hazel meets in a cancer support group, woos Hazel with flowers and a trip to Amsterdam from their hometown of Indianapolis. But waxing poetic about Woodley is challenging. There’s little flashy or striking about her work -- little on which to grab hold.