'Maleficent' Review: A Kinder, Gentler, Impotent Villainess

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Maleficent Review: A Kinder, Gentler, Impotent Villainess

By Agent Bedhead | Film Reviews | May 30, 2014 | Comments ()


Disney has crafted a revisionist origin tale of one of its most iconic villains in Maleficent. On a few levels, Disney’s re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty tale is a glorious experience to behold. The rest of the movie manages to be both over- and underwhelming at the same time. The visuals are arresting, and the lead actress even more so, but the film never comes together as a whole. Unfortunately, this disappointment has everything to do with Angelina Jolie’s presence. She is exquisite in her performance, but the role has been tampered down even as she struggles to break free. The villainess is missing not only her wings in this story but her fangs and claws as well. This is a kinder, gentler Maleficent.

Jolie makes sure that we know Maleficent is a nuanced creature. She’s still a malevolent character but retains some goodness in her soul. Jolie toys with her audience like few actors can do, but her performance is at odds with a subpar script. This new Maleficent is best described as an antihero — if you have to place her into a box. Jolie defies that box, but the script won’t allow it.

If you take care not to take this movie too seriously (and it’s best that way), it’s quite easy to immerse oneself in Jolie’s magnificent flight of fancy. She is a true wicked delight as an actress, and she overshadows all the inferior aspects of this film. It’s a bit sad that we couldn’t see a true, raging villain, but this is a Disney film. They’d much prefer to water down their main character so that parents aren’t scared away by the prospect of terrifying their children in a movie theater. Maleficent is meant to appeal to the same set of girls who adored Frozen. In that regard, the film passes muster, but just barely. Maleficent may be vengeful, heady, and independent, but she’s still hung up on a dude.

So much for progress.

Here’s what happens. Maleficent the young fairy falls in with the human Stefan. They are from two different kingdoms, and Stefan abandons and brutally betrays his lady love to pursue his ambitions as king (as an adult, he is played by Sharlto Copley). If you were Maleficent, you’d want revenge against this a-hole too. So Maleficent crashes a christening and casts the infamous spell on Princess Aurora (played in her toddler years by Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and later by Elle Fanning). You know the drill — Aurora will fall into a deep sleep by pricking her finger on a needle by the age of 16. She grows up guarded by three well-meaning but utterly bumbling pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville). The spell isn’t all that though, but that isn’t too important to this film as a whole.

As a teen, Aurora erroneously believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother. Aurora begins to remind the villainess of herself as a young girl, and then comes the regret. Maleficent feels bad for what she did, y’all. I do admire Disney for trying to deliver a slightly new version of an old tale, but the script is lazy. They set up the groundwork for a compelling tale in the first act and then decide, “Let’s just retell Sleeping Beauty with a tiny twist.” Maleficent’s appeal is simply rendered impotent by her inner goodness. Then again, the current trend is for children’s movies to present a world where good vs. evil isn’t as clear as it initially seems to be. One thing I can’t get past is the king being a total dork. I can’t believe Maleficent would get all hung up on Stefan and mourn his loss as a lover instead of simply wanting to take revenge on the horrible injustice bestowed upon her. And the ultra-happy, sappy ending of this film? Spare us all.

Let’s get real — this is a popcorn movie for children and their overprotective parents (I myself am one). Your children will not suffer nightmares from this movie, and that strengthens its commercial appeal. Thank goodness for that because Disney spent a huge stack of Rumplestiltskin gold on the effects in this movie The amount of CGI in this movie is mind-busting. Maleficent’s wings do look magnificent. The battle scenes are sweeping and epic in their grandeur. The dragon is ridiculous but appropriately over the top. All of the visual effects pale in comparison to the transformations taking place from within the lead actress. If only Jolie could have played the truly villainous role she was truly born to play.

Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • duckandcover

    It's amazing how Disney has changed because Maleficent terrified me as a child because she had no backstory outside of what was given in the movie. She's my favorite villainess, but I have absolutely no desire to see this.

  • Buck off

    Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville - well I'll see it to see these bumble then turn it off before the end. Job's a good 'un.

  • RilesSD

    It's visually stunning. The directing leaves something to be desired. The hold the camera on the actors a beat too long and it takes away from their abilities. Especially the King. He seems terrible until you realize he's Sharlto Copley. And his accent ranges from American to English to Irish.

  • Barbaric Yawp

    Hi, I'm here to start some stuff. SO SPOILERS AHHHH.

    I'm extremely troubled by Maleficent's backstory. Namely, that the writers were so lazy that the best (read easiest) way they figured they could sway the audience's sympathy was to make Maleficent a rape victim. The scene where she had her wings torn off after she was rufied, only to wake up screaming and then bravely hobble away on her self-fashioned cane was, I felt, tasteless victim baiting. The king was a cartoon of the worst sort, serving no purpose other than to be the perfect scapegoat. This was worsened by the fact that SPOILER ALERT she gets her wings returned to her, in a total mindfuck in terms of wings as rape symbol. She can fly again everyone, it's okay! So what the story was a fucked up stockholm-syndrome dream wherein maleficent is allowed to redeem herself for her rape-vengeance curse by helping to raise her proxy rape baby. It's okay! Ug.

    Edit: called it. For the record, I may still be troubled by the ham-fistedness of it (but its a pg disney movie, what else could it have been), but that's my own bullcrap. I think the message is important, and I applaud Jolie for attempting to start the conversation. (it dovetails nicely with her UN work). Unfortunately, it's ignited a new rape definition argument, as to whether rape in its archaic "Rape of the Lock" form still applies, or whether there has to be something inherently sexual to raise mere mutilation to rape. I personally believe the former still applies, because rape is about power and control before sex, and the king's actions were solely for those reasons.


  • Lord Inferno

    I gotta say, I don't fault Disney any for not wanting to scare the children. I always thought of it as a problem brought on by over protective parents, but then I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in theaters...

    That was the first time since I was a kid that I had seen a movie in a theater PACKED with children. We are talking five and under crowd too. Parents were probably thinking, "Oh, it's Harry Potter, it's a kids movie."

    Oh My God... When the last act started to play out with Voldemort and the severing of the hand and all that, all fucking hell broke loose. It was like the evacuation of Saigon meets The Exorcist meets Lord of the Flies. Over a hundred kids in this theater all started running, screaming, crying and vomiting like it was the Rapture. There was a little girl two rows ahead of me who stood on her seat and let out this blood curdling scream while she ran in place. From my perspective it looked like her head was spinning around.

    Never Forget.

  • sterlingreputation

    I appreciate that this was traumatizing for you, but I giggled. A lot.

  • Maddy

    This was what I was afraid of dammit. And it's all because of a dude? DAMMIT. I still want to see it for the Jolie but this disappoints me.

  • e jerry powell

    For all the advance press this was getting, I was expecting some SERIOUS BEATDOWN. Like Charlize Theron Evil Queen, knock Kristen Stewart in her sour-puss ass-whoopin'.

  • e jerry powell

    So basically Maleficent is a bitchy drag queen?

  • Uriah_Creep

    You've probably seen better on Ru Paul.

  • stella

    To be fair, most things are better on Ru Paul

  • e jerry powell

    Also true.

  • e jerry powell

    Hell, I've probably seen better in person.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I momentarily forgot what a colorful life you lead, Jerry.

  • e jerry powell

    Back in the day, it wasn't Angelina Jolie, it was Michelle Pfeiffer. And Lynda Carter before that.

    (And yes, Miss Thing had an Invisible Airplane built for that. A few years later, she got a galvanized rubber Catwoman costume. The queen was sickening with the fabulous.)

  • janeite1900

    For those who've seen it. Is the horny hat explained?

  • Jifaner

    It's not a hat. She has horns, and her wings are horned at the tips

  • janeite1900

    So, I saw it this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. The horns were kinda cool, and the wings were magnificent. I wonder how long it will be before we see on the Interweb some body modification gal (or guy) with cheek implants and horns.

  • e jerry powell

    And it's so DRA(G)MATIC!
    The Drag Queen Known as Angelina Jolie
    The Drag Queen Known as Bianca Del Rio

  • stella

    I think its from the disntey movie...

  • Jifaner

    I took my daughter today. Picked her up from school early just for the occasion. We loved it. It's a beautiful movie visually, Jolie is incredible, Elle Fanning is charming, and I loved the little nods to the animated movie version. I didn't think she was mourning the relationship at all, just the loss of her wings and his betrayal. He behaved exactly how she expected a human would. Anyway, I'd recommend it.

  • Jaime Birren

    I have to agree about mourning the relationship. It would have been so if she had cursed Aurora because Stefan met someone else, but it was much more about the fact that he mutilated her on top of it, and all for nothing but the throne. It's her regret later, her love for the child on her own terms, that stuck with me. I also really REALLY loved that "true love" was revealed have absolutely fuck-all to do with romance. There's a message that kids should be getting behind.

  • Lee

    I went with my son and we totally loved it. I was actually emotional at the end - mostly because of Jolie's performance, not the script. She totally made this film - it would have been rubbish in the hands of a less luminous, talented actress.

    And Jolie is 'otherworldly beautiful' as someone else said.

  • Gotta be honest, I just stare at Jolie every time I see her, questioning if she's a mole deployed by super-smart aliens who plan to steal all of our M&M's while we gawk. She is the visual aid you use to explain that "beautiful" is not just a level-up of "pretty"... no matter how many "very's" you line up in front of pretty (or cute, or sexy), beauty is its own thing, and I don't mean her digitally-enhanced knife-cheeks. She has... something going on there. A lot of it physical/genetic, maybe, but also influenced by what we know about her (or think we know, anyway). She's an interesting woman, and I just pretty much enjoy watching her do ANYTHING.

    Agree.. I'd have loved to see Angelina Jolie tear up a better-written version of Maleficent, but as a pleasant 90 minute diversion, this wasn't bad. Just a little...FLAT, for all of Disney's attempt to "turn the good vs. evil upside-down." The villain was just SOOO villainy that you could barely trace the psychology behind the behavior - just seemed to EXIST for the sake of being crazy evil. And it was a little hard to buy that Maleficent was THAT damaged by her loss, THAT fast. Ohhh, I'm so EVIL. Oh, you know what, i'm really not that much, anymore. Whatever. What's on TV?
    Still.... Angelina is a bad script trumps plenty of current movie starts getting good ones. So... win.

  • Jifaner

    She is otherworldly kind of beautiful.

  • stella

    She doesnt even turn into a dragon *kicks wall*

  • BWeaves

    Aurora does not prick her finger on a needle. She pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. That's why the king and queen have all the spinning wheels confiscated and destroyed, so Aurora won't accidentally run into one. (I'm amazed the entire country isn't running around nude. Where are they getting their cloth from if they can't make yarn?)

    However, Disney got this wrong TWICE. The place they put the pointy bit is NOT where spinning wheels have a pointy bit. And the kind of spinning wheel they show doesn't even use a pointy spindle, so there is no pointy bit. I'll stop now. I already ranted about this when the trailer came out. I'm actually glad this movie is a bit of a bust.

  • thebeardedlady

    Thank you! Not only that but the curse from Maleficent is that she dies after that little spindle prick and the remaining wish-grantless fairy changes it to the watered down deep sleep curse.

  • foolsage

    How hard is it to have one freaking person on your staff who actually looks up this stuff and makes sure the movie is consistent with the real world? Spinning wheels are a real thing. If you're going to show one, don't just create something vaguely wheel-shaped that spins and call it a day.

  • That's what I gathered from the trailers: Maleficent wasn't bad. She was just drawn that way.

  • So I actually went and saw it. Some thoughts (Spoilers, if you wish):

    - Maleficent isn't a villain. She's a victim and she lashes out in anger. That's not the same character as the villain in Sleeping Beauty. Which makes me question why they didn't call her a different name.
    - The other fairies are as useless as Batman on a sunny, peaceful day.
    - Sharlto Copley is wasted as Stefan. Besides moping and losing his mind speaking to Maleficent's wings or being a greedy jerk, he's as bland as the rest of humanity.
    - I did like how her own curse worked against her later desires to take it back.
    - Overall, it's not bad. Just the latest in fairy tale reimaginings. It's not quite Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples" but it's better than the last Alice in Wonderland. Just don't expect much.

  • BWeaves


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