Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
Directed by Robert Stormberg
Distributed by Disney
Early in Maleficent, there’s some stuff that makes you sit up and take note. Amidst the Disney-ness of it all comes a scene where the title character, a woodland fairy, is drugged and violated. It happens off-screen, of course, and the violation isn’t of a sexual nature (though that is somewhat implied). Her wings are hacked off and stolen, leaving her to limp injured into the woods to recover from her injuries.
I’d heard about Maleficent making some pretty odd narrative choices and yet the fact that I was watching Sleeping Beauty reimagined as a rape/revenge fantasy still took me by surprise. Our scorned fairy curses the man who wronged her by casting an irrevocable spell on his daughter—dooming her to fall into a deep sleep on her 16th birthday that can only be awakened by true love. Because Maleficent doesn’t believe true love is attainable, this is essentially a death curse, and one that she relishes.
It’s in these scenes that the film shines. Angelina Jolie has more than enough gravitas to play the villain with aplomb, and she’s incredibly fun to watch when she’s in dastardly mode. The problem? Dastardly mode is two scenes. Once the king (Sharlto Copley) discovers his daughter has been cursed, he sends her into the forest to be protected by three fairies until her 16th birthday. It never makes much sense, considering he knows all too well this is where Maleficent resides, and also because Maleficent has previously bested the three fairies entrusted to protect his daughter.
Maleficent watches the daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), grow and the fairy begrudgingly develops affection for the girl. There just isn’t anything more for Maleficient to do as a character and as the movie goes into its second act, it loses all of its steam. There’s hardly any conflict to speak of, and while Jolie manages to sell every scene she’s in, there’s only so much she can do when the rest of the production collapses around her. And it does. Copley and Sam Riley (as Maleficent’s servant) are absolutely awful and while Fanning is acceptable, she doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do.
From a writing standpoint, the film is murkier. We’re never really clear on how the two kingdoms in the film co-exist. There’s a mystical version of the moors from where Maleficent hails, and they border a human kingdom that is determined to wipe them out. The politics of why are offered up in a few passing sentences that never convince us, and character motivations are equally grim. It’s fine that the movie wants to give us a bigger villain in Copley’s king, but the character is too wishy-washy to serve that function. When he reaches full-on villain mode in the finale, he’s just rather bland and there’s never any question that Maleficent will be triumphant.
Clocking in at 90 minutes without credits, Maleficent is a movie that could’ve spent more time world-building. Despite its desire to be a sprawling fantasy, the movie often feels small and empty because we see almost no one other than our principal cast (and faceless extras in the bookend action sequences). It’s not a terrible film, though. Once the third act connects to the revenge tissue dangling from act one, there’s some satisfaction to be gleamed. It also features a satisfying twist on the Sleeping Beauty story when it comes to the nature of true love. Kids will probably love it, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else walking away feeling like it’s anything other than an interesting misfire.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Disney gives Maleficent a five-star technical presentation. The image is absolutely perfect, with detail flowing off the screen. Close-ups are crystal clear and CGI environments look wonderfully rendered. This is a 2D presentation, as Disney didn’t see fit to release the fake 3D conversion to disc, which is fine with me. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is among the best I’ve ever heard. Dialogue is full and textured, never bowing beneath the music or FX. During the movie’s two big action sequences, your surround speakers come to aggressive life, but what I liked best about this film’s sound design is how well lesser ambient sounds fill those channel in the quieter moments. It’s a constant, encompassing experience.
The extras are disappointing. As this was a labor of love for Angelina Jolie, I was hoping she would’ve sat down for an audio commentary with first time director Robert Stormberg. All we get here are a handful of forgettable shorts you can buzz through in thirty minutes.
Though I found Maleficent to be a disappointment, Jolie’s enthused performance makes it worth watching. Beyond that, there’s a few inspired moments that warrant consideration, even if they really only heighten how lackluster the movie built around them is.
- Aurora: Becoming a Beauty
- From Fairy Tale to Feature Film
- Building an Epic Battle
- Classic Couture
- Maleficent Revealed
- Deleted Scenes