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Maleficent Review: A Kinder, Gentler, Impotent Villainess

By Agent Bedhead | Film | May 30, 2014 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | May 30, 2014 |

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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