Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
Release date: May 28th, 2014
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Angelina Jolie.
Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.
Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.
Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.
After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.
“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).
Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.
Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.
Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic.