Maleficent (2014)

MaleficentWhen Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) falls for Stefan (Sharlto Copley), it seems that the human and fairy realms might finally exist together in harmony. Unfortunately, Stefan is corrupted by the power promised to him by King Henry, and severs Maleficent’s wings in order to prove himself worthy of the throne. Maleficent craves revenge, and curses Stefan’s firstborn daughter to eternal sleep on her sixteenth birthday. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is hidden away by the new king, entrusted to a trio of good fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) who promise to protect her until the curse has lifted. They prove incapable of raising the child, however, and Maleficent begins to take pity on her. Together with her raven sidekick (Sam Riley), Maleficent watches over the child, even befriending her when she comes of age. Even she if unable to lift the spell, however, having only included a single loophole: true love’s kiss. For this she must employ the help of Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites), who met Aurora only hours before the curse took effect.

Though not without its old-fashioned charms, Sleeping Beauty was never one of Walt Disney’s best fairy tale films. The likes of Snow White, Cinderella and Ariel have enchanted little girls for decades, whereas Princess Aurora hasn’t had quite the same enduring appeal. Now, especially, with the likes of Tangled and Frozen telling audiences to be strong and independent, the story of a sleeping sixteen-year-old waiting to be saved by true love’s first kiss seems not just quaint but backwards. With Disney revisiting its classics for a series of live-action remakes the time seemed right for a 21st Century makeover, doing for Aurora what Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman had done for her peers. Maleficent had always been the most interesting character in Sleeping Beauty, and the studio’s decision to focus on the villain with Angelina Jolie in the leading role was met with intrigue and excitement.

The problem, however, was that neither Alice in Wonderland nor Snow White and the Huntsman were any good. Disney seemed unable to distance itself from its own source material, and rather than brave new imaginings what audiences received instead were hollow retreads of past glories. Big-name casts, impressive special effects and epic final battles were no substitute for the timeless magic of the earlier films, and Maleficent does almost nothing to buck this trend. The truth is that Shrek (DreamWorks) and Enchanted (developed outwith the studio before being bought by Disney) did more to shake up the traditional princess formula than any of these film-specific remakes, with the latter in particular already providing a modern update of the character in the form of Susan Sarandon’s despicable Queen Narissa. Rather than redefine Maleficient, Robert Stromberg’s film undermines her.

There was great potential for a deliciously dark comedy chronicling the ultimately doomed attempts of Maleficent to exact her revenge on King Stefan and his daughter (think Catwoman in Batman Returns or Winifred Sanderson in Disney’s own Hocus Pocus) — and there are occasional glimpses of it in Jolie’s occasionally remarkable performance. Her initial disdain for children and reaction to Aurora mistaking her for a fairy godmother are indeed smirk-worthy, but for the most part the actress is wasted on drab dialogue and repetitive scenes of shadowy sulking, which is a shame because she at least looks the part. The film robs her of her villainy, and by extension her place in the narrative; we are told through endless voiceover that Maleficent really isn’t so bad, and that she in fact regrets cursing the girl almost from the moment she does it. She then spends the rest of the movie nurturing the princess, trying to save her from her own curse. If Sleeping Beauty denied Aurora her agency, this film does the same for Maleficent.

As a result Maleficent doesn’t have a story to tell — no momentum, no stakes. Not that that has stopped Stromberg, who somehow manages to fill 97 minutes with…well, filler. The film takes place over approximately thirty years; for some reason we are introduced to Maleficent in her own childhood, decades before the original story started, in order to watch Maleficent fall in and out of love. You’ve already lost patience with it by the time Aurora is born, and even then it’s sixteen years before the curse kicks into effect and the drama really begins. Ostensibly a children’s film, audiences spend most of their time watching adults sulk; yet the film is far too immature and innocent to appeal to parents. When the story finally shifts to young lovers-at-first-sight Elle Fanning and Brenton Thwaites it is almost at its end, and both are quickly sidelined once more so that Jolie can have her final showdown with Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan.

Considering this is a project that has been in development since at least 2011, Maleficent is an incoherent mess. I don’t know who the continuity advisor was, or if the film even had one, but at times it’s almost impossible to understand what’s going on. Aurora is swept between the human and fairy worlds for apparently no reason, Maleficent switches costumes almost with every edit and Prince Philip disappears and reappears as if at random. What is Maleficent trying to do? Who is this movie for? What on earth is going on? If the filmmakers don’t know after three years of development, how do they expect viewers to work it out in 97 minutes — however long they seem to last. One thing’s for certain: it’s not just Aurora who Maleficent will have regretfully put to sleep.

2-stars

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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