There truly is not a more appropriate title for Maleficent.
Because, really, the title character is the only thing that shines in Robert Stromberg’s dark fantasy adventure flick. Great for leading lady Angelina Jolie, but unfortunate for everything else.
MINI-SPOILERS MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
Simply put, Maleficent is Wicked for Sleeping Beauty. To translate for the non-Broadway fans, this means that the movie is a famed fairytale retold from the viewpoint of its antagonist.
A dark fairy with an unfortunate name, Maleficent morphs from the Sleeping Beauty villainess we know from our childhood to the heroine of her misunderstood tale. Betrayed by her friend and lover, who becomes the King, scorned and furious Maleficent takes it out on the King’s daughter, Aurora, with the same curse we know from the 1959 Disney classic. As Maleficent watches the girl grow, she begins to question the true nature of her own soul and if she is truly capable of being the villain.
What we get is a strong, developed and believable now-protagonist in the form of the very likeable Maleficent, who is, in this film, desperately deserving of a more pleasant name. Angelina Jolie is breathtaking as the horned magical mistress with beyond-sharp cheekbones, bringing to life the complexity and depth that make her character pitiful and fully worthy of the audience’s sympathy.
Jolie pours her talent into the soul of her character, expressing effortlessly with simple, pained expressions the inner struggles of the “Mistress of All Evil”. Maleficent’s desire to be the villain, conflicted with her inability to do so because of the goodness in her is captured beautifully by Jolie, whose spectacular performance makes Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora, in its growing and later stages, very believable and effectively sealed as the driving force in the movie. In short, Angelina Jolie is the heart and soul of the movie, as she is the heart and soul of the title character.
But Jolie is undoubtedly, and unfortunately, the film’s only source of true strength and power. For without the development of the central character, and a legendary talent like Angelina Jolie to bring it to life, the film falls into its death-like slumber, perhaps not even worthy of reawakening.
At 97 minutes, perhaps in an effort to keep the film short for young Disney audiences, Maleficent‘s plot comes across as just scratching the surface. The general storyline is laid out decently well, but with the exception of the title character’s story, everything else severely lacks detail and development.
Even Elle Fanning‘s Aurora is too one dimensional, perhaps because this is the first time a Disney princess has taken the backseat to make room for the “villain” on centre stage. Fanning is still convincingly sweet as Aurora. If ever there were an award for the most smiles by an actor in a film, relative to screen time, Elle Fanning would win. And that is not a bad thing; it never hurt for an actress, and her character, to be so easily likeable. The problem is that it is Aurora’s relationship with Maleficent, and not Aurora herself, that shines in the film.
Maleficent exhibits a dangerous trend with its supporting characters; the more minor a character is, the more oversimplified and shallow the character becomes. Charming Aussie Brenton Thwaites, setting girls’ hearts ablaze with his Disney prince-esque good looks, is bafflingly useless, and perhaps the most useless Disney prince of all. Even Enchanted‘s Prince Edward, with all his theatrics, had tried to rescue the girl. Thwaites’ Prince Phillip, with his brief appearance, seems to only be in the film to set in motion a key plot twist.
Sam Riley plays shapeshifting raven Diaval, known in the 1959 film as Diablo, Maleficent’s loyal and sweet companion. But there is only so much Riley can contribute to an underdeveloped character, as is the case for virtually all of the other cast members. Sharlto Copley is villainous as King Stefan, but emotional reactions to his character’s actions are only the audience’s concern for Maleficent. Imelda Staunton, clad in pink and almost reminiscent of her Professor Umbridge days, teams up with Juno Temple and Lesley Manville to play the three fairies trying, but desperately failing, to raise Aurora in a safe environment. With the exception of one genuinely funny moment, their attempted is humour is essentially annoying. If anything, the three fairies’ shortcomings are opportunities for the title character to shine.
The key plot twist, albeit a somewhat predictable one, works very well for Maleficent’s story and is a wonderfully emotional moment for the emotionally invested audience. But the topic of the twist itself, however, while intelligent, shows signs of being overdone by Disney. It is crucial that Disney never repeats this plot twist ever again in future fairytale adaptations to come.
Thankfully, the film avoids Hollywood cliche by not having a major war scene in an open field as a climatic finale; this comes early in the film, and briefly. Maleficent, however, cannot resist having giant fantasy creatures and walking works of nature that is, in this era of cinema, unnecessary and excessively overdone. The film could also do less with the cute but goofy-looking fairies and magical creatures in Maleficent’s land. Their presence is appreciated, but could be cut down to keep the film in line with its melancholic tone.
Angelina Jolie deserves to be renamed ‘Magnificent’, for she is the only thing that keeps the film from being an utter failure. It is a shame that Jolie’s powerful performance did not receive the backing it deserves from the rest of the movie that might have otherwise made this film a potential Disney masterpiece.
But alas, what we get is what we get.
Rating: 3.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Okay, I guess? Could be better.”)