New Review: Maleficent (2014)
Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copely, Sam Riley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Michael Higgins, Isobelle Molloy
Note: Some spoilers ahead. If you plan to see this movie, proceed with caution.
Where do you start with a movie like this? Calling Maleficent an empty and soulless spectacle is perhaps showing it a kindness that it doesn't deserve. There is very little reason to recommend this movie. The screenplay, written by The Lion King scribe Linda Woolverton, is lazy, rushed, and painfully predictable. Some of the visuals are certainly pretty, but the majority of the film looks artifical and chintzy. While a lot of money was spent to bring it to life, there is not a second of this movie that's wondrous, exciting, or engaging in any way. Not since 2012's dreadful Snow White and the Huntsman has there been such a lifeless fantasy spectacle.
What's sad is that the filmmakers had a potentially interesting premise here. The movie attempts to paint the Sleeping Beauty villainess Maleficent in a much more sympathetic and heroic way, and the ingredients were certainly there. The movie opens up by introducing the title character (played as a child by Isobelle Molloy) as a cheerful and friendly winged fairy who lives in a magical land called The Moors. We learn that her parents died some time ago, but the movie never says what happened to them. One day, she finds a young boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) stealing jewels from The Moors, and once he returns to her what he stole, she strikes up a friendship with the young lad.
As the years go by, their friendship turns to love, but Stefan soon becomes corrupted by the world of men, and he completely drops out of her life. When he returns to her years later (and is played by Sharlto Copely), he pretends to want to start his friendship again, but his real goal is to drug her, cut off her wings, and use them as a means to become the next king of men. Enraged by his betrayal, Maleficent (now played by Angelina Jolie) exacts her revenge by placing an irrevocable curse on his firstborn child Aurora: When the girl reaches her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep as deep as death.
Maleficent is nice enough to let King Stefan know that only a "true love's kiss" can wake the child from her sleep. What is King Stefan's first course of action? Entrust the child's safety to three fairies he doesn't know or seem to trust, have them take her to a cottage in the woods, and raise her until she's 16 years and one day old. The three fairies, played by Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple, are an aggressively obnoxious bunch. They spend much of the film fighting and hitting each other in an attempt to provide comic relief, although they're bound to elicit groans from the audience more than laughs.
The very talented Elle Fanning plays Aurora as a 16 year old. She's all smiles but no personality. Maleficent, who (for some reason) has been secretly looking after the girl her whole life (they didn't do a good job hiding her), takes her to The Moors and reveals herself. Aurora thinks Maleficent is her fairy godmother and strikes up a friendship with her. Time passes, and Maleficent begins to sincerely regret ever placing a curse on the girl. Eventually, Aurora learns of the curse that's been placed upon her, yet frustratingly enough, the scene where her three fairy guardians tell her of the curse is cut out of the movie. We get a moment where one of them says, "We have to tell you something," and then we cut to a shot of Aurora running out of the cottage with tears in her eyes.
Why did they cut that scene out? Did it require more substance than the filmmakers cared to put into the movie? It would have added something to the relationship between Aurora and the women who took care of her her whole life, which had received no attention at all by that point. This is literally the first scene 16 year old Aurora has with her three fairy guardians.
Eventually, a handsome prince (Brenton Thwaites, wasted in a virtually pointless role) comes out of nowhere and charms Aurora in a very poorly written scene. After Aurora pricks her finger on a spinning wheel (in a room inside Stefan's castle that's, oddly enough, loaded with spinning wheels) and falls into her death sleep, Maleficent races to the castle with the handsome prince, thinking that his kiss will wake the child from her sleep. Of course, this being a "revisionist" take on Sleeping Beauty, we know that his kiss isn't going to do squat, and it isn't hard at all to figure out whose kiss will eventually break the spell.
The climax, like the rest of the movie, is rushed and criminally unexciting, which is surprising, given that it features a moment where Maleficent turns her sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley, in a thankless role) into a fire breathing dragon (Diaval is really a black bird, although Maleficent can turn him into anything she wants). Stefan has pretty much lost his mind over the course of the movie, tries to kill Maleficent, which of course leads to a "fight-to-the-death" that couldn't have been less exciting if the movie had Stefan slip on a banana peel and fall off the castle tower to his death.
Maleficent's transition from good girl to bad girl to good girl again isn't convincing at all, and Jolie (who's not an untalented actress) brings no warmth or humanity to the role. The visual effects used to create The Moors are stunning, but the rest of the movie looks surprisingly fake. Even King Stefan's castle looks like a CGI effect (as much as I hated Snow White and the Huntsman, at least the castles looked real). The movie marks the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg, who won Oscars for his visual effects work in movies like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and James Cameron's Avatar, and he doesn't seem to know what he's doing here. Then there's the movie's voice over narration, which is provided by a character who's absent during most of the movie's events. Parents who take their children to see this movie are bound to be bored to tears. As for the kids, apart from a couple of pretty images, even they're likely to be bored by this mess.
Rated PG for fantasy violence
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other thoughts on Maleficent (2014) :D
- Dustin Putman's Review: Maleficent (2014)
Maleficent (2014) - 2.5/4 Stars - If every great actor gets a chance to portray a number of varied roles in their lifetime, they usually are best remembered for only a couple. One of those for Jolie will indisputably be Maleficent.
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