“Discover the story you never knew”
Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
The basic conceit of this film is that this is the true story of Maleficent, the notorious villainess of the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. Rather than just a wicked fairy, in this version Maleficent is the noble protector of a land of fairies who was betrayed and her wings ripped from her by her childhood sweetheart and ambitious young man on the rise, the future King Stefan, and so she turns to revenge, cursing his daughter Aurora in the well known way. Unsurprisingly, she then becomes fond of the girl as she watches over her from afar throughout her life and it all turns into a journey of redemption for Maleficent as she tries to save Aurora whilst also dealing with a vengeful King Stefan.
What’s wrong with it?
Maleficent is Disney’s attempt to remake ‘Wicked’, which retold the story of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West and did it with a great deal of success. It tries to do this by recasting Angelina Jolie as an Elphaba alike, adding in a lot of pretty scenery and CGI, making King Stefan a villain we can actually despise (he has fewer redeeming features than Maleficent had in the original) and giving Maleficent a tragic backstory, a fantastic wardrobe, a raven shapeshifter sidekick (the highlight of the film) some snarky dialogue and throwing in a ‘twist’ at the end whereby (SPOILER ALERT) it is Maleficent’s maternal true love’s kiss that saves Aurora and not Prince Philip.
The trouble with it is that it does absolutely nothing which hasn’t already been done before. It’s like the script writers sat down and said “what do we really like? Well, Wicked was awesome. And Frozen has made more money than god, so we really should work that into the mix. Oh, and what’s that Disney show that has a fan base more rabid that an extra from the Plague Dogs? ‘Once Upon A Time’? On it!
It takes all these elements, mixes them together, and then, painfully, fails to do anything new or original, or even that interesting with any of them. Furthermore, it’s so in love with its eponymous heroine that it absolutely and painfully fails to give any dignity, motivation or redeeming features to almost anyone who isn’t her. King Stefan is mindlessly evil and probably kicks kittens when he gets up in the morning. The three ‘good fairies’ who are trying to protect Aurora are petty squabbling imbeciles who would have let the baby die through sheer incompetence if Maleficent wasn’t around to save her. Aurora is a perky little dimwit with very wide eyes, who I personally had a soft spot for, but I think that was sheer perversity on my part. The dialogue is hackneyed, the plot predictable and Disney’s determination to make this a safe PG rating removes any kind of risk from the proceedings which makes the whole thing even less of a rollercoaster ride.
It’s like sitting on the teacup ride at Alton Towers. It’s OK, but it’s kind of dumb and it’s frustrating looking around you and knowing that two blocks over there is something that is just so much more.
What’s right with it?
Honestly, it’s a very very pretty film. The director, Robert Stromberg, was the art director on Avatar and Oz the Great and Powerful although this is his directorial debut and it really shows. He does beautiful things with the lighting and scenery and the fairy world is a delight to observe.
I also had a soft spot for the perky Princess Aurora, with Elle Fanning absolutely playing it straight as a classic wide eyed Disney Princess. However, my personal high point of the film and its major redeeming feature was definitely Sam Riley as Diaval – a raven shapeshifter and Maleficent’s confidant. Their snarky banter brightens up the film whenever they come in together, and their relationship feels like by far the most genuine, warm, complex and nuanced thing in the film.
How bad is it really?
It isn’t really bad, per se. It’s just an incredible waste of potential and it suffers hugely from having come out in the aftermath of a number of vastly better re-imaginings of fairytale villainesses. Angelina Jolie is alright, but she’s not Regina of Once Upon A Time, no Elphaba of Wicked, and definitely no Elsa of Frozen, who’s redemption through familial true love is a comparison which lies heavy on this movie.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Almost every single scene featuring Maleficent and Diaval, particularly the many scenes where she transforms him into something else, mostly because of the subtle visual touches that Robert Stromberg leaves to show his raven heritage – a wolf with a ruff with a feathery touch, for example. The combat at the end with Maleficent in full Angelina Jolie ass kicking form, and Diaval as a dragon is also pretty awesome, and I rather liked the early scenes with a young Maleficent and a young Stefan exploring the land of the fairies
What’s up with…?
- Why does Angelina Jolie change costume halfway through the final scene? She walks in in long black robes (a la the traditional Maleficent look), gets cornered, and suddenly she’s in a leather catsuit.
- Why does it take King Stefan so long to bring the cold iron out? He finds out as a small boy that cold iron is anathema to the fae, and then despite waging war against them for decades afterwards he doesn’t drag out the cold iron until the final scene where he’s going one on one with Maleficent.
- How do Maleficent’s wings stay alive, flapping, and ready to reattach to her for sixteen years? Are her wings some kind of weird symbiot being? And if they are so self willed, how did King Stefan get them back to the castle and the old king to claim his throne (the old king promised his throne to whoever could defeat the winged fairy) in the first place? Why didn’t they fly back to her then?
Production values – I can’t fault it here. Maleficent is beautifully made and lights up the screen from start to finish. 2.
Dialogue and performances – Hrm. Massively variable. Sharlto Copley and Elle Fanning give one tone performances, but I think they were asked to. Sam Riley and Angelina Jolie do a bit better, but they can’t quite carry the film and the dialogue they all have to work with never rises above ‘hackneyed’. 12.
Plot and execution – It’s a reasonable plot, because they nicked it from a number of far better films. The execution, however, is disappointing. 11
Randomness – It isn’t entirely nonsensical but some decent character motivation would have been nice. 8
Waste of potential – Now, this is where Maleficent makes all its points back. The original Disney film is a classic. The original Disney villainess was superb. The world is ready for fairy tale re-imaginings right now, and it had a fan base waiting to love it, and sadly, it threw it all away. 15.