Mark Reviews Movies

Maleficent

MALEFICENT

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Stromberg

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham

MPAA Rating: PG (for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 5/30/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 29, 2014

Maleficent follows the latest trend of reimagining classic fairy tales in such a way that they barely resemble their source material. Here, it's the classic animated film Sleeping Beauty that gets the work-over, and if one is into prologues, this is the movie for you.

Maleficent doesn't just answer questions we probably didn't have about the story of the 1959 film but also creates new questions that have no bearing on the original tale. A very limited number of people might have wondered why the horned villain wasn't invited to the princess' christening at the start of the original film. Most of us know she wasn't invited because she is the villain. This is how fairy tales go. There is good, and there is bad. A king doesn't just go inviting the villain to his daughter's christening, and that should be reason enough for us.

This movie and its conceptual antecedents are the result of another line of thought: that the villains in stories like this are inherently more interesting characters than the goody-two-shoes heroes. It's true, but a lot of that interest comes from the fact that there is a certain level of mystery to the villains' origins and motivations. Take away that mystery, and there is the hazard of eliminating whatever fascination we may have had in that character in the first place.

The Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) of this movie is portrayed as a tragic figure, and the screenplay by Linda Woolverton goes to great lengths in the movie's extended prologue, which is really three successive prologues that take up almost half of the movie's running time, to enforce that. The story begins with two worlds: the human world and a mystical land in the forest called the Moors. The eponymous protagonist begins as a good-natured fairy, who spends her days flying around and offering greetings to the Moors' computer-generated inhabitants. This, of course, leads us to one of those questions we never would have thought to ask: How did she lose the wings we never knew she had?

One day, a human boy enters the Moors to steal a jewel, and Maleficent begins a friendship with him, which, as the handy narrator (voice of Janet McTeer) tells us, becomes something more. The boy disappears for years and grows up to become a knight. His name is Stephan (Sharlto Copley), and he has great ambition.

The second prologue depicts how the king (Kenneth Cranham) wants to conquer the Moors but is defeated in battle.  The battle is a cacophony of visual-effects carnage, and it's around this point that we might start to suspect that none of these characters is going to be doing any singing anytime soon.

On his deathbed, the king offers succession to the throne to whichever of his knights kills Maleficent (As the man asked: Is this really a sound basis for a system of government?). Stephan tries to kill her but stays his hand at the last moment, deciding instead to cut off her wings. The scorned Maleficent decrees herself the queen of the Moors and vows revenge on the man who wronged her.

The third prologue is the one we all know from the original animated film. Maleficent arrives at the princess' christening and curses her to prick her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep on the day before her 16th birthday. King Stephan has all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed and sends his daughter to the country to be raised by three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple, who have been shrunk and whose faces have been copied to create eerie creatures that are the nadir of the movie's clunky visual effects).

With so much time spent establishing the character's malcontent, there is, ultimately, very little for the movie to do with her or itself once the familiar story finally begins. The twist is that Maleficent becomes more of a parental figure to the princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) than either her father or the creepy pixies. She saves Aurora from the pixies' absent-mindedness, shows her the magical realm of the Moors, and eventually comes to regret the curse. The surprise is that there is an emotional payoff despite the CG-happy build-up, although the climactic battle that unnecessarily results doesn't follow through on that thread.

Jolie's performance is the highlight, although not for the supposed depth the additions to and switches of the original story bring to the character. It's in how she apes the personality and, more surprisingly, physicality of an animated character. Part of the latter is in the makeup, which whitens her face and accentuates her already-high-and-pointed cheekbones to impossible heights and pointiness, but there's also something unreal about her movements, as if she has traced herself upon the already-rotoscoped animation of the original film.

Whatever point the movie is making (Clearly, there is an admirable feminist one in the hero-villain and "true love's kiss" reversals) is lost in a narrative that is over-reliant on establishing. Maleficent isn't thematically pointless, but it definitely feels like it is narratively.

Copyright 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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