‘Twisters’, a fabulous disaster movie frolic with shockingly well-developed characters; conspiracy-fuelled fun in space race period rom com ‘Fly Me To the Moon’; ‘Maxxxine’ an OK but disappointing trilogy closer from director Ti West

Taking flight: Bad weather interrupts a movie screening in ‘Twisters’.

TWISTERS ***1/2 (122 minutes) M
Wowie. Prepare to be totally blown away by what is the best action film so far this year, Furiosa notwithstanding.

Featuring some outstanding VFX work, this very loose companion piece to the 1996 film (that, let’s face it, wasn’t all that good) follows a group of corporate-funded, science-based tornado chasers who clash with a crew of YouTubers who seem to be in it for the online fame and t-shirt sales.

Leading the good guys is Kate Cooper (Daisy Edgar-Jones from Where the Crawdads Sing), a former tornado chaser self-exiled to a desk after a tragic encounter with a twister.

She’s pulled back into the field by Javi (Anthony Ramos), a fellow survivor who needs her expertise on an ambitious data-gathering crusade in Oklahoma as a particularly fierce tornado season begins to boil.

Causing them no end of annoyance is Tyler Owens (Glen Powell, Anyone But You), the big-mouthed cowboy hat-wearing yokel whose well-equipped crew is constantly prepping for their next upload.

As much as we take visual effects work for granted, the superb work on display here really gives you cause to pause and appreciate the difference between pizazz and the power of photo-realism.

We can become visually numbed by the digital blizzards that assail us because the high-concept fantasy/sci-fi scenarios don’t have a reference base in reality.

Here, the VFX work is exacting in its visceral recreation of the violence and chaos of cataclysmic weather events as twisters rip across the landscape and through towns, whipping up vehicles, buildings and people in their merciless fury. The gathering storms look real, and when we’re taken into the beasts it feels real.

Yet the real kicker in Twisters, the thing that ranks it several notches above your off-the-shelf disaster film is just how well developed the lead characters and their situations are.

The contempt Kate feels for Tyler and his people slowly gives way to a more nuanced understanding of online culture, and how social media bluster can actually serve a humanitarian cause. (Perhaps the work of Mr Beast inspired the Tyler arc. Just a theory.)

In any case, the film makes a good fist at challenging the comfort of stereotyping people and it’s heartening to see that depth of storytelling in an action film.

Equally heartening, the makers felt no need to reference the original film, and while the twisters do send some farm animals flying, the decision was made to exclude cows. That must have been a toughie.

As for the relationship between Kate and Tyler, again the makers take a surprising, fresh non-formulaic route. The attraction is obviously there, but science – and survival – comes first. It’s such a pleasant shock seeing a genre film refuse to succumb to cliche.

And a big, fat thank you to the Movie God for blessing the creators with the strength to allude to the effects of climate change without needing to work it into the dialogue or stage a sermon.

The restraint required to resist the temptation would have surely matched the force of the magnificent beasts featured in this fabulous piece of multiplex entertainment.

Scarlett & Tatum

FLY ME TO THE MOON *** (132 minutes) M
In what could uncharitably be described as an unofficial reimagining of Capricorn One, Fly Me to the Moon offers a celebration of NASA’s Apollo space program nicely dressed up as a conspiracy fuelled romantic comedy, complete with fake moon landing and ominous black cat.

With the Soviet Union taking the lead in the Space Race over a flailing America mired in civil unrest and an aimless war in Vietnam, NASA strives to boost its image and so lift the spirits of a dispirited populace.

Enter Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), an wily marketing executive whose aggressive will to succeed is squarely matched by her elastic attitude to professional ethics and good taste.

As NASA rushes to make good on JFK’s pledge to get a man to the moon and back, Kelly engages on a breathless brand-building campaign, seizing on every chance to cast the three Apollo 11 astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins (can it be that anyone doesn’t know these names?) – as salesmen for watches and cereal. To make NASA TV-friendly, she even casts actors to portray real staffers for the camera.

This causes deep offence to mission director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), a NASA stalwart who is attracted to Kelly, despite his objections to her presence and opportunistic approach to public relations.

With the risk of the mission failing and the desperate need to show America beating the Soviets, a plan is devised to stage a fake moon landing. Even if the landing succeeds the fake telecast can be used over the unreliable camera feed sent from the lunar surface.

As a lightly satirical jab at media manipulation and fake news it works nicely, with Johansson (also a producer) putting in a breezy, self-consciously sexy performance as an over-confident shyster with a dark past and a lot of swagger cutting her way through a man’s domain. The abrasive chemistry between her and Tatum adds grit to the otherwise by-the-book romance.

At its heart, though, Fly Me to the Moon is a thinly veiled flag-waver hailing the can-do spirit of American ingenuity and its dream of reaching for the stars.

Easy as it is to wax cynical over this theme, you’d have to have coolant running through your veins to remain unmoved by the exacting recreation of the Apollo 11 launch, almost matching the power of the ones we witnessed in 1995’s Apollo 13 and 2018’s somewhat underrated First Man.

Countering the comedy, the film skillfully embeds a tribute to the three Apollo 1 astronauts – Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger B. Chaffee – who died in 1967 when an electrical fault ignited a capsule fire during a test launch.

It adds real dramatic heft to what might have been a handsomely produced throwaway lark.

Without needing to put too big a ticket on it, the film offers a gentle reminder of how a vision united a disillusioned, wounded America and a troubled world, an idea that plays into the turmoil of America today.

Mia takes aim

MAXXXINE **1/2 (104 minutes) MA
It is perfectly reasonable for fans of X and Pearl to expect Ti West’s horror trilogy closer Maxxxine to be at least as good.

Alas, while it delivers copious amounts of violence and gore, the film can’t match the ingenuity, novelty or – let’s be honest – debauchery of those films, with the near-brilliance of Pearl setting the bar particularly high. It’s a surprisingly conventional offering.

Set in the seedy Hollywood of 1985, porn star Maxine (Mia Goth, star of X and Pearl) sets her sights on becoming a legitimate actress by getting a bit part in a low-flying horror sequel.

She’s got plenty of DFWM attitude, which comes in handy when coping with a hostile work environment, sexism, street thugs and a private detective who knows all about her dark past. There’s also a serial killer on the loose and protests about the evils of Hollywood films.

Despite the magnetic screen presence of Mia Goth, the film wobbles, struggling to sustain tension after setting up a strong premise.

Maxine becomes a person of interest for two detectives (Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Monaghan) investigating the murders and there’s an incriminating videotape, yet West’s direction is discursive and oddly unfocused, leading to a finale that is thoroughly routine – an adjective you wouldn’t dare apply to the first two films.