2014, PG, 97 mins.
2014, PG, 97 mins.
Angelina Jolie as Maleficent / Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora / Juno Temple as Thistletwit / Sharlto Copley as Stefan / Miranda Richardson as Queen Ulla / Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass / Sam Riley as Diaval / Peter Capaldi as King Kinloch / Jamie Sives as Shepherd / Lesley Manville as Flittle /
Directed by Robert Stromberg / Written by Linda Woolverton
MALEFICENT is a potentially dramatic re-imagining of the mythology from Disney’s 1959 animated classic SLEEPING BEAUTY. More or less, it focuses squarely on telling the ageless tale largely from the villain’s perspective, with her back-story fleshed out and expanded upon to allow for us to radically re-reinterpret our opinions of her.
the helm of it all of this is Angelina Jolie portraying the title
character, and she’s so devilishly good at bringing a larger than life
presence on screen here that, quite frankly, she’s the only element that
kept me invested in the film. Without
Jolie, MALEFICENT is a murky, tedious, woefully overproduced, and
disenchanting live action fantasy that’s awash with many flavorless
characters and middling-to-average looking CGI artifice, the latter which
borders on obtrusively distracting at times.
least the film tries to give some psychological motives for its main
character’s descent into evil while honoring and subverting some of
SLEEPING BEAUTY’s more familiar canonical elements.
We are introduced to Maleficent as a young fairy that meets and
becomes fast friends with a human boy named Stefan, and their friendship
unavoidably blossoms into love. Unfortunately,
as the pair grows older they grow further apart and become estranged from
one another. Years pass and
the adult Maleficent (Jolie) has become the leader of her kind, whereas
Stefan (Sharlto Copley) remains steadfastly loyal to humanity’s King
Henry (Kenneth Cranham), who’s bound and determined to rid the world of
Maleficent and her brethren forever. In
a daring battle, Maleficent emerges as the victor against the King’s
army, leaving the monarch wanting her blood even more.
to assume the throne after Henry dies, Stefan pledges an oath to
the dying King that he will slay Maleficent.
He does plan a chance meeting with his old flame, but he quickly
betrays and drugs her, cuts off her wings, and leaves her a
dejected and broken woman. He
returns with the severed wings to the King, after which he is awarded for
his actions by becoming the true heir to the throne.
Completely broken hearted and bitter, Maleficent plots ultimate
vengeance on the newly anointed King Stefan by placing a curse on his
newly born daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), which involves her falling into a death-like
sleep on her 16th birthday.
is, at the very least, a somewhat compelling personal arc for Jolie’s
titular character in MALEFICENT in the sense that, unlike the 1959
animated film (where she was pure, unadulterated evil), she begins the
film as an innocent, is betrayed, morphs into a villain (for
understandable reasons), commits a dastardly deed in cursing an infant,
and then does an about-face and tries to redeem her indiscretions.
MALEFICENT seems to relish the idea of coming up with an origin
story basked in personal tragedy for the tormented fairy and then seems
equally invested in chronicling her unlikely redemption by becoming a
fairy godmother to the very girl she cursed in the first place; there are
kernels of intriguing material here.
Jolie works small miracles with her role, portraying the deeply conflicting emotions that reside within Maleficent throughout the film. She physically looks astounding as well, with her razor sharp cheekbones (via some bravura Rick Baker makeup effects), her ruby red lipstick, and darkly theatrical horns and ghoulishly majestic apparel. Sadly, she’s such an omnipresent force of nature and focal point in all of her scenes that we seem to forget that others are trying to occupy them as well. Nonetheless, it’s a joy to see Jolie really sink her teeth into a role with reckless abandon. There’s also an argument to be made that her character on paper is perhaps more compellingly rendered than just about anything else in the film.
that’s the problem with MALEFICENT: the whole movie built around
Jolie’s intoxicating allure lacks…overall enchantment.
Pretty much all of the supporting characters reside rather
languidly on the screen while in her presence.
Sharlto Copley can grimace and play gonzo-bonkers rage and insanity
with the best of them, but he’s not really given a character that’s
fully realized at all. If anything, King Stefan’s motivations for betraying
Maleficent are mechanically derived and laughably contrived; the
screenplay never provides him with a tangible and relatable motive for him
to betray her…other than the needs of the script to provide easy
conflict and later easier payoffs.
there are three fairy characters (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley
Manville, and Juno Temple, alternating between human form and creepy,
glassy eyed CGI creatures) that are meant, I think, to provide simplistic
comic relief, but instead emerge as more annoying than amusing.
As for Sleeping Beauty herself?
Elle Fanning does very little with her stilted and one-note
performance than obnoxiously giggle and smiling on cue…and not much
else. Aurora is
embarrassingly shallow as a character - considering her relative importance
to Maleficent - whose strings are opportunely pulled by the narrative
whenever it deems it necessary. You
feel little, if anything, for Aurora and her plight throughout the story
as a direct result.
direction of MALEFICENT – from first timer Robert Stromberg, whom
previously won Oscars for art direction on AVATAR
and ALICE IN WONDERLAND –
seems schizophrenic at best. The
film’s overall look is all over the proverbial map: sometimes it's lively
and colorful, and other times dour and depressingly gloomy.
Worse yet is that Stromberg places great emphasis – far too much,
actually – on pixelized fakery in nearly every shot, which has the
counterintuitive effect of making the film feel like a sub par visual
effects demo reel than a fully realized fantasy epic.
There are some visual flourishes that do inspire legitimate wonder, but so much of MALEFICENT is littered with frenzied,
inconsistently rendered, and bombastically eye-straining computer rendered
artifice that it overwhelms the inherent drama of the underlining story of
redemption contained within. MALEFICENT
could have greatly benefited from a more restrained level artifice.
That, and the film – even at a seemingly brisk 97 minutes – is a dull, watch checking experience at the movies. MALEFICENT proves that you can throw as much would-be alluring visual effects on screen as you want and still lose an audience on fundamental story and character levels. There is no doubt that Jolie – making a return to the screen after a four-year absence – is a sight to behold in MALEFICENT and she keeps the whole enterprise afloat. Mournfully, though, the film fails to inspire the type of wondrous awe that great fantasy films should elicit in viewers. Instead, it inspires much listless fidgeting in theatre seats, which I think was not the intended effect. There are some recent examples of bold and inspired re-interpretations of classic fairy tales (see SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN), but MALEFICENT is far too easily forgettable to be placed in that category.