Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, and Sam Riley
One of the most anticipated non-super-hero films in the last couple of years is finally here, as Disney brings one of their most infamous villains to life with the live-action Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the evil fairy herself. Jolie and Disney show us just what happened to make this all-powerful fairy into the embodiment of evil we see curse Princess Aurora into the sleeping beauty we’re familiar with.
I knew going into the film that it would try to both explain and redeem the character of Maleficent, to show that she’s not all bad and that she could in fact be good. It’s a Disney family film after all, so it must ultimately have a happy ending for its lead character. Still, the saccharine tone present in the first and last acts of the film is unfortunately more than I expected.
For starters, the film spends too much time in the first act with Maleficent as a little girl, meeting her first human and leading up to the hostilities that cause her to cast aside her sweet self and curse the humanity that spurned her. However, there is a neat battle early on where Maleficent – as an awesome angel druid of nature commanding tree warriors and a tree serpent like Poison Ivy only wishes she could – takes on an entire kingdom’s army. But even with that, I couldn’t help but find myself waiting for THE Maleficent. I wanted the one I remembered from the original Disney animated Sleeping Beauty, the one who just strolls in and strikes terror into everyone as she mocks the royalty and curses the princess to her inevitable sleep.
When THAT part happens, it’s fantastic. Jolie is perfectly wicked and cruel with a captivating smile and crackling laugh that keeps you salivating for what dark and demented plans she could unleash upon the poor humans that dared to slight her. And then that scene ends.
Don’t get me wrong. There are other good scenes throughout the film, particularly when Maleficent plays the trickster and has fun at the expense of others. Maleficent’s interactions with her shape-shifting crow Diaval (Sam Riley) are filled with enjoyable snark and bickering. But then the film continues into its third act, and Maleficent starts to learn that maybe she was wrong about the whole evil bit.
The acting in the film is good. Jolie is a great actress, and she’s at her best when Maleficent is at her worst, when you can’t help but root for the villain. The other actors play their roles well enough, but some are unfortunately served the short end of the character stick. In particular, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is sorely lacking driving motivation to make his actions and paranoia make sense.
The film also has some odd inconsistencies when it comes to Maleficent’s weaknesses, particularly when she starts hitting weapons built around them out of the air like flies in the final fight. It’s like if Superman started swatting kryptonite bullets out of the air with no problem.
The visuals of the film keeps wavering back and forth on that very fine line of heavy CGI usage: either looking magnificent and magical, or sticking out like a sore thumb. The practical work though, particularly costuming and make up, are very well done. Jolie looks like she walked right out of the original animation, and there’s a particular suit of armor in the final fight that looks particularly bad ass.
Overall, there are several enjoyable aspects of the film, moments that really stand out (mostly all due to Jolie’s performance), but the sum of the film’s parts isn’t as great. My basic problem with the movie is the difference between what I wanted it to be versus what I got. I wanted a movie about the bad guy. I wanted to see what dark things happened to turn this person evil, to see what her actions would cost her, and that if she were to turn away from the dark path, to see a bit more internal conflict in the process and end up ultimately more neutral than a full on good guy.
Instead I got a tortured hero who quickly corrects course and is made whole again by the end. And if that’s what you want this film to be, you’re in luck. Me? Less so.