Angelina Jolie brings to life one of Disney’s great fairy-tale villains in Maleficent.
Disney’s empowerment of female protagonists, which snowballed in the delightful Frozen, continues apace in Robert Stromberg’s fantastical live-action fairytale.
Inspired by the studio’s 1959 animation Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is a visually stunning fantasy, which re-imagines the Brothers Grimm through the mascara-ed eyes of the eponymous villainess, who curses a fair princess to 100 years of slumber.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton casts a heady spell by embellishing the familiar yarn with neat flourishes.
“Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it...” teasingly purrs the narrator in the film’s opening frames.
Lines between good and evil become blurred in Angelina Jolie’s delicious portrayal of the vengeful fairy queen, whose belief in the power of “true love’s kiss” is corrupted by the betrayal of the man she loves.
Sporting a hefty pair of horns, Jolie slinks through every frame, rolling menacing lines of dialogue around her mouth like candy and accentuating thinly veiled threats with an arched eyebrow.
Naughty has seldom looked and sounded so nice.
Her nemesis is King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), a greedy monarch, who yearns to expand his kingdom by conquering the forest realm where Maleficent holds sway.
In the ensuing battle, the king is badly wounded and pledges his crown to any man who can defeat the “winged elf”.
Lowly underling Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who befriended Maleficent in childhood, tricks the fairy and steals her wings, thereby securing the throne.
Following his coronation, King Stefan is poisoned by power and greed.
In the forest, Maleficent bides her time with her shape-shifter henchman Diaval (Sam Riley).
When the queen gives birth to a daughter, Maleficent journeys to the castle to curse the infant Aurora: on her 16th birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal slumber.
Only true love’s kiss can break the enchantment.
King Stefan entrusts the babe to bickering fairies Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Flittle (Lesley Manville) and Thistletwit (Juno Temple), who raise Aurora in a secluded woodland cottage.
The princess blossoms into a caring young woman (now played by Elle Fanning) and Maleficent wonders if this innocent could unite the feuding kingdoms and earn her happy ever after in the arms of dashing prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites).
Maleficent is anchored by Jolie’s tour-de-force theatrics.
She casts a stylish shadow over every frame and her twisted maternal bond with infant Aurora (“It’s so ugly, you could almost feel sorry for it!”) mellows into something genuinely moving and heartfelt.
Fanning is sweetness and youthful exuberance personified while Staunton, Manville and Temple provide the broad comic relief.
Digital effects are impressively harnessed by director Stromberg to realise the forest and its magical denizens and allow the title character to take flight over her domain.
Like the film, she soars.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (12A)
In 2005, extra-terrestrials tangled with Tom Cruise in War Of The Worlds and came off second best.
The otherworldly invaders haven’t learnt their lesson because they are back as a hive-like race called the Mimics in Edge Of Tomorrow and, once again, the fate of mankind rests in the sweaty palms of a certain Hollywood superstar.
Only this time, Cruise is a military PR man, who has never seen a day of combat and will resort to anything, even blackmail, to avoid conflict.
The transformation of this image-obsessed weasel into a battle-ready soldier is one of the many pleasures of Doug Liman’s entertaining, futuristic opus.
Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge Of Tomorrow shrouds its smart central conceit with adrenaline-pumping action sequences including a pivotal battle on blood-soaked beaches reminiscent of the Normandy landings.
The carnage transplants to a European capital for an equally explosive finale with echoes of the concluding chapter of The Matrix as human survivors stage a suicidal last stand with depleted weaponry against a whirling armada of alien killing machines.
“We are not equipped for what’s out there!” bleats Cruise.
And the Oscar for understatement goes to...
Cruise plays Major William Cage, who arrives at the headquarters of the United Defense Force (UDF) in London close to Trafalgar Square.
The Mimics have overrun Europe and the UDF is preparing to storm the continent from multiple angles.
General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders Cage to the front line to capture this glorious moment on film for generations to come.
Cage refuses so he is press-ganged into active duty under Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton).
A subsequent skirmish on the beaches of France is a bloodbath and Cage perishes in the throes of annihilating an alien.
Exposure to the creature’s luminous blue blood miraculously allows Cage to reset time and relive the ill-fated day, dying again and again as he attempts to identify a weakness in the Mimics’ defences.
In the process, Cage forges an alliance with Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who is known affectionately as Full Metal Bitch to the troops.
Scripted by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and siblings Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, Edge Of Tomorrow establishes its Groundhog Day-style premise and cleverly engineers ways to keep us enthralled as Cage repeats fatal mistakes.
Cruise initially plays against type and slowly teases out his character’s likeable qualities amidst a miasma of eye-popping digital effects.
Blunt embraces Rita’s ballsiness with gusto and she gleefully takes a gun to her leading man’s noggin on countless occasions to ensure his demise resets the clock on mankind’s hard-fought retaliation.
A belated frisson of sexual tension between the two leads is unnecessary but thankfully the film avoids the mires of mawkish sentimentality in the nick of time.