I’m not sure who “Maleficent” was made for. A fan of the character will want to revel in her villainous antics, which this movie mostly denies… except for that one time she got carried away in a totally understandable fit of anger, which she quickly feels bad about. No one else will be given a reason to care. As a hero, she isn’t particularly captivating.
Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast. She puts a lot into her scenes, but the screenplay tries too hard to make her sympathetic. It’s a testament to Jolie’s talent that she effortlessly rolls with the punches, but there’s only so much she can do.
The male characters are weak, especially Sharlto Copley as the increasingly cartoonish villain, King Stefan. In this version, the title character begins as a winged hippy fairy child (played by the adorable Isobelle Molloy). She falls for young Prince Stefan, but Stefan’s father is at odds with Maleficent, who summons all the creepy mythical forest creatures to kick his ass in a big, bloodless, CG filled battle. As Stefan grows older, he starts to covet his dying father’s crown, but must find a way to win the throne over his brothers. After rekindling with Maleficent as a teen, he slips a mickey into her drink and cuts off her wings while she’s sleeping. She awakens in agony, understandably pissed. Years later, she hears from her magical transforming raven friend (Sam Riley) that King Stefan and his queen have had a baby girl. She attends the birthday celebration, and we’re treated to the movie’s best sequence, although it can’t quite match the power of the original scene. Jolie chews the scenery and easily out-acts everyone in the room as she gleefully delivers the famous curse upon a hapless baby Aurora. She adds a tricky out clause as a final sting: only true love’s kiss can awaken the girl. King Stefan promptly makes an “oh shit” face, because he knows true love doesn’t exist.
Despite a clumsy start, the movie could have been salvageable at this point. Instead, it completely derails. Aurora is put into witness protection with three fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple), who are far more annoying than the delectably clueless animated versions. As Aurora grows into Elle Fanning on valium (even when she’s “awake”), Maleficent spends the years always nearby, begrudgingly feeding Aurora and saving her from the dangers of the world, which Aurora’s fairy godmothers are oblivious to. Why would anyone give their helpless baby to these three morons, who don’t seem to understand the basics of human survival? Rule # 1: feed the kid. Rule #2: don’t let it run off cliffs.
Hopelessly innocent, doe-eyed teen Aurora becomes aware of her mysterious protector, and quickly grows fond of her, despite Maleficent’s half-assed attempts to sway her affections in like two scenes. Maleficent’s heart of gold (I can’t believe I just said that) wins out, but, oh shit! The curse! Fuck you, irony.
The character motivations change drastically from scene to scene. A heavy-handed narrator fills in massive logic gaps left by an incompetent screenplay. One minute Maleficent is happy, the next she is angry and vengeful, and then she’s sad she was angry, before finally settling on the fairy godmother thing. Through it all she denies that true love exists, despite her obvious love for the princess. You can guess where this is leading, even when Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) shows up to make Aurora blush and stammer.
The effects range from impressive to cheap and silly, with everything in between. Much like Disney’s Lone Ranger, the tone is all over the place, likely because too many studio heads were interfering. Every time the movie perked my interest, it would deflate it in the next stupid scene. There’s a dragon, but it’s not Maleficent, because that was one of the things that made her awesome, and we can’t have that.
Obviously this is targeting young girls and not me, but Maleficent is a bizarre character to try that with. It doesn’t work. There’s a feminist message, but if you look past that and think about the cliché reason why she has gone all Maleficenty, it’s disturbingly sexist.
This is my favorite Disney character, but in fleshing her out and explaining her they’ve removed too much of what I love about her. The fun is gone. Would it be so bad to make a movie about a villain who just enjoys being villainous? Do we really have to sympathize with a main character in order to enjoy a movie? Have audiences become so shallow? I’ll take the Jordan Belfort version of Maleficent, laughing her ass off and never learning a goddamn thing. That’s who this woman is. Any good in her is long gone by the time Sleeping Beauty begins.
This could have been a wonderful dark tragedy. Instead, it’s a feel-good fairy godmother tale. The narrator claims she is “half hero, half villain” (seriously, she says that), but the truth is, this Maleficent is all hero. She just had a bad day.