The summer movie season, aside from being a slow one for me, has also been very weak. Unlike most years, I have trouble thinking of any movies that I’ve liked, aside from How to Train Your Dragon 2 that is. So, it’s been about a month since the official releases of both films I’m reviewing today, Maleficent and Edge of Tomorrow. I decided to give both movies a go to see if they would make any impact on my thoughts on the summer, and here are my thoughts on them.
The idea of a film centered on one of Disney’s most iconic villains is certainly not a bad idea, and one that has a lot of potential to offer. However, the potential of this idea isn’t fully met in Maleficent, the latest cash cow from fairy-tale reinvention producer Joe Roth, in spite of the best efforts of star and executive producer Angelina Jolie. First of all, it’s important to note that the film is directed by Robert Stromberg, a two time Academy Award winning production designer best known for Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland who is now making his directorial debut. The reason I say this is because he’s clearly better at directing his visuals than his story.
Granted, the film does have things worth highlighting for praise. The film always looks fantastic, from the grand architecture to the tiniest details of the legendary Rick Baker’s makeup effects. Also, the first half of the film is a thoroughly entertaining and watchable time, and moves at quite a relaxed pace at that. Though it does feature its fair share of flaws, it’s still a good watch. However, things take a dive in the second half. It gives far too much screen time to Aurora’s annoying, inept fairy guardians; it’s overstuffed with subplots and characters, and moves them all in such a hasty rhythm to get to the finale. Also, I take great issue with how the film needlessly revises and nearly betrays everything that made the character so popular in the first place, all done so with cheap schmaltz effect, as well as… a rape allegory. You know, for kids!
Regardless, It’s still worthy of a watch for the simple fact that Angelina Jolie is just that good. Though her actual characterization may be lacking and occasionally sappy, Jolie embodies the character to a tee. She terrifically captures the sinister and gleefully malicious vibes of the character, and though the more schmaltzy moments late in the film may be conceptually weak, there is never a moment when Jolie isn’t giving the material her complete conviction. Sharlto Copley gives another solid performance to add to his filmography, and Elle Fanning… well, I can’t exactly blame her when even the Aurora in the original 1959 animated feature was dull as dishwater. The film also comes equipped with a beautiful score by James Newton Howard, which deserves serious consideration as one of the year’s best scores.
**1/2 / *****
Edge of Tomorrow:
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Doug Liman, the one hit wonder responsible for 2002’s The Bourne Identity. Well, today, I officially revoke that statement. For Edge of Tomorrow is Liman’s only other film I have ever liked.
Taken from the novel All You Need Is Kill (They made a smart move changing the title, if you ask me) and adapted by Christopher McQuarrie and several others, the film is nothing too special as far as plot goes. You can basically chalk it up as a cross between Source Code and Aliens. However, this mash up of ideas is mostly forgivable, as Edge of Tomorrow is a refreshing new take on the timeloop narrative. Aiming to be smarter than your typical summer flick, most of the film’s strengths come from its two well matched leads. Typically cast as who is often the smartest and most capable man in the room, Tom Cruise excellently plays against type. His character, William Cage, is an ill prepared and cowardly man whose big mouth usually gets him in more trouble. However, that’s not to say that this is a stupid character, as his realization that the soldiers in the film are walking into a death zone provides a grounded reliability to the character, and his evolution from weak combatant to experienced warrior is one of the film’s most enthralling elements.
Also contributing well to this is co-star Emily Blunt. Hardened on the battlefield long ago by the same condition that makes Cruise’s character relive daily events, Blunt’s character, Rita, is a brutal force to be reckoned with in combat. She’s just as capable of taking on excessive dangers as any of the men in her platoon, if not better, but is given great depth in that she uses her typically icy demeanor as a means to hide her fragility and pent up trauma from her past experiences, but always having a sense of grace and sophistication. The way that these two actors work off of each other is outstanding, leading to one of the more emotional elements in the film. Repeatedly being subjected to seeing Rita be killed in various ways takes its toll on William, feeling helpless to save not only the world, but Rita as well. This is a particularly entrancing motif in the film, showcasing the oft futility of challenging fate, even if the ending is confusing and overly convenient.
However, that’s not to say these topics are overbearing, as the film also understands that what its viewers want is pure escapist entertainment. While a couple of jokes need not have been included, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprisingly funny film. Many of the film’s laughs come from the creative ways in which Cage gets axed off before resetting, but are used so well that the timeloop doesn’t become gimmicky or tiresome, serving as a clever nod to the respawn function of first-person shooter video games like Call of Duty. Also enthralling are the film’s action sequences, which are staged and paced with such clockwork precision, and are always high stakes. That’s another great thing about this movie, that it’s so tightly wound and slickly edited that it all flies by, making the most of its under 2 hour running time. The film has its small issues, but the film is still so playfully smart and thoroughly entertaining enough to hold your attention. It’s one of the better films you will see this summer.
**** / *****