If there’s one glimmering positive to take away from Disney’s Maleficent, it’s easily the notion that all big-budget 3D epics don’t have to be three hour long, over-bloated CGI wankfests. Gasp, a tentpole film just above the 90 minute mark?
Sadly, I wasn’t admiring the decision because my buttocks couldn’t become any more numb, but because I couldn’t possibly digest another minute of Robert Stromberg’s latest spin on the tale of Sleeping Beauty. This hour-and-a-half-long date-rape PSA simply needed more than Angelina Jolie dressed up as a winged dominatrix, as some intern must have shredded entire pages of story work only to have Stromberg not notice. Or maybe an editor fell asleep re-watching this murky drivel and accidentally deleted crucial scenes – you know, that connective tissue that binds films into a wholly functioning experience?
Do you not know the story of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie)? Don’t believe all that evilness we learned from Sleeping Beauty, as Maleficent is actually a peace-loving fairy forced to deal with man’s brutish ways. Falling in love at a young age with an adventurous boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley), she watches as the human disregards “true love” for a run at the throne. After a dastardly series of events that pit creature against man, Stefan inherits the throne at the expense of Maleficent and has a daughter named Aurora (Elle Fanning) – whom Maleficent afflicts with the “Sleeping Beauty” curse. As the child grows and hurdles towards her drowsy destiny, Maleficent realizes Aurora may be the only hope both worlds have of finding peace once again – too bad she pulled that voodoo magic in a weak, passionate moment.
It’s with sympathy that I say Angelina Jolie doesn’t deserve such a mess collapsing around her. What little charm and charisma Maleficent has emanates completely from her jaded personality, razor sharp CGI cheekbones and all, while she attempts to hate an adorable child. Calling little Aurora “Beastie,” Jolie fights her hardest not to fall victim to doe eyes and pudgy cheeks, but infantile Aurora plays right into Maleficent’s false hatred for moments of genuine comedy. This, of course, is where Angelina’s reign ends, and where she turns into a dominatrix-clad anti-hero saved by her chirpy sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley).
Jolie’s performance is both commanding and inconsistent, shining momentarily before losing emotional footing down the road. I don’t blame the actress, though. I blame a story so punctured, so riddled with holes, that Maleficent herself could fly through them.
Maleficent is a horribly written attempt at revitalizing a heralded Disney property, throwing continuity to the wind in favor of fat little trolls and angry tree Ents. While it’s true that children might be transfixed by the film’s fairytale world of enchantment and wonder, this reviewer was more bothered by inconsequential characters, ever-changing motives, and absolutely zero attention to connective detail.
In Maleficent, characters are mere plot points, pushed off screen for long stretches and forgotten as new tangents distract Stromberg. Three fairies are supposedly watching over Aurora, yet they completely vanish once Maleficent takes interest in her. Aurora is seemingly gone every day, maybe even at night, yet these motherly fairies are never ONCE shown searching for her or questioning her long, drawn-out absences? Or what about Prince Phillip, played by Brenton Thwaites? The poor actor is stuck portraying an absolutely useless character with no purpose, awkwardly forced on camera when Aurora needs a love interest, ignored for large, important acts, then resurrected to achieve full happy ending status? Another example is King Stefan’s wife. Oh, come now, you know her name! Mrs…King…Stefan? Again, here’s a character that isn’t Maleficent, so we’ll just throw random off-screen lines around to remind audiences she does, in fact, exist. Right, sorry, the title of this movie is Maleficent – why should we care about supporting characters?
If there’s anything parents can take solace in, it’s Disney’s morally upstanding messages, and Maleficent is no different. Girls will learn the dangers of roofies, the despicable nature of greedy men, and of course, the truth that, if you don’t find true love with the first dashing gentleman you meet, well, you’re probably going to die a pasty old hag with strangely seductive horns. There are no redeeming lessons about true love besides a mean-spirited sorceress needing to make things right, while all other moral cues are as drastically forgotten as poor Mrs. King Stefan.
What did I learn from Maleficent? Young men are all gentlemen, but then they grow old, vindictive, untrustworthy, and callous – no reason to look ahead. You hear that girls? Make sure you remain blissfully ignorant, move out when you’re 16, and get hitched to Mr. Right immediately – good on ya, Disney.
Placing all their eggs in the “Here’s A 3D Dragon!” basket, Maleficent‘s visuals disintegrate in a melting pot of similar titles. Snow White And The Huntsman, Alice In Wonderland, Maleficent – what’s the difference? All these woodland creatures are starting to mimic one another, from caterpillar people to roly poly monsters, but these universes all seem like they could co-exist, like ideas are spilling from film to film. Furthermore, Maleficent turns into a dizzying mess of cinematography, failing to capture the intensity of war while refusing to impress through vivid animation. Angelina Jolie can’t ACTUALLY fly, so obviously her computer generated body had to suffice, but her pixelated form isn’t without glossy imperfections. Oh, and seriously, that face? How does she go from beautiful fairy to skeletal vileness? Can someone please get this woman a Big Mac and make sure she’s OK?
“But Matt, what about the thrilling action set-pieces where summoned monsters bash through hordes of ironclad knights?” I hear you asking. Well, don’t expect battle scenes throughout, as Maleficent is more about a maternal bond than vicious warriors. Action sequences act as bookends, introducing us to Maleficent’s protective qualities and addressing King Stefan’s mighty vengeance. While the introductory forest brawl is nothing but a forgettable blur, Angelina and Sharlto square off in a fiery circle of shield-banging peers for a rousing memory.
Here’s where things get confusing, though. We learn early on that iron burns fairies, but when Maleficent becomes entangled in an iron net, minimal damage is done because someone in the costume department was too proud to watch their work go up in flames. Maleficent introduces danger, but then never follows through with consequences – a recurring nuisance that unnecessarily fluffs up an already marshmallow-soft script.
Addressing the biggest of problems, motivation muddles our characters beyond comprehension. Sharlto Copley has saved entire movies, like last year’s Oldboy, yet even his superior prowess is lost playing a thickly-accented King whose scheming mirrors Saturday-morning-cartoon stupidity. One minute he’s hopelessly in love, the next he’s a soulless Devil. Ignore the fact that Stefan could have united two kingdoms himself, because it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without an overly vile enemy with neon signs glowing the words “BAD GUY” for all to see.
King Stefan’s protective plan is to send Aurora away until after the curse’s timeline, yet when she coincidentally returns on the day she’s to prick her finger and enter a “death-like” sleep, all he does is lock her in a chamber. Guards? Nah, only hidden doors for her to sneak out of! Not one single guard is posted to watch her. Not one set of eyes confirming she’s awake at all times. For an overly obsessed, OCD-like planner (shown by MASSIVE iron spike mazes built throughout castle halls), Stefan coincidentally glosses over the most important part of his plan – stupidly and uncharacteristically.
Stefan isn’t the only momentarily braindead inhabitant of Maleficent though, as no one comments on three fairies defecting from the Moors. These dimwitted blunders defy Maleficent and side with Stefan, yet absolutely NOTHING is said of their backstabbing choice – again, no consequence. Or what about Angelina Jolie’s final scene with Stefan? Nothing emotionally jarring stems from Maleficent‘s climax. It simply happens, it’s over, and life moves on – without consequence. Honestly, I’ll bite on Maleficent’s change of heart, as even that MAJOR plot point is carried out with minimal grace, but everything else seems absolutely inconsequential. We don’t even meet the kingdom Stefan rules over, just a contrived King who locks himself away like an angsty teenager.
Robert Stromberg’s bold new Sleeping Beauty takes a fabled villainess and turns her into a psychotic ex-girlfriend, teaching children that lying boys will ruin your life – so why not set out to ruin theirs? Maleficent feels either unfinished or poorly edited, refusing to expand upon important details or provide any equal and opposite reaction to character actions. Audiences are at the mercy of hapless advancement and nonsensical scripting, albeit flashy nonsensical scripting, but Maleficent unfortunately ends up being Disney’s shallowest, least impressive release in years. Be it song, theme, or story, Disney typically ends up scoring major points among at least ONE of those categories, but despite Angelina’s best efforts, her wings are clipped and she never recovers – plummeting faster and harder as time goes on. Much like Maleficent.
Maleficent is an uncharacteristically shallow Disney release, conjuring an inconsequential story and flat, meaningless characters - despite Angelina Jolie's best efforts.