Retelling a fairy tale from an unlikely perspective is nothing new in this day and age, but Maleficent seems rather strained in trying to retell the Sleeping Beauty myth the way it really happened. The film builds up a young romance to hinge Maleficent’s “evilness” on, and while her rage is warranted I don’t know if she should be redeemed either. Actually, I don’t think the film does a good job of redeeming her. One of Maleficent’s best scenes is her big, emotional confession, but like most everything in this film nothing is really earned. Making everyone in the world so grossly incompetent doesn’t make Maleficent a great caregiver, and there is not one scene between Aurora and Maleficent that makes me believe Maleficent truly cares about her. We are only told we should.
The film rushes through everything. Decades pass in voice over and while this would be fine if I felt like I was connected to the characters, I never feel like I know anyone’s motivations. Stefan is a terrible villain and an undercooked tortured soul. Yeah, a poor kid wanting to live in the castle makes sense, but that is all the motivation we are given about why he might betray his relationship with Maleficent. They completely gloss over the fade between the two and Maleficent so easily taking him back reads as a pretty poor female empowerment message.
Speaking of message, the film doesn’t really have one, well, again, it has one but it is completely undeserved. The big emotional beat of the finale is all centered around Maleficent realizing her motherly love, but like everything in the film it never came close to earning the moment, even if the scene is executed well technically. The de-winging of Maleficent is also a not so veiled reference to rape, which is an interesting and challenging subject to tackle in art, but I’m not sure that is the route you want to explore in a PG Disney movie.
The cast of the film is also unable to elevate the material, but the tone-deaf script might be a big reason why nobody can really settle into their roles. Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent’s anger fairly well, but all the attempts at her dark humor feel out-of-place and never land. Elle Fanning was directed to basically act like an aloof fool, which is actually par for the course for most characters in the film. The trio of helpful fairies are the absolute worst, and so dumb, I wish Maleficent would have just killed them. Sam Riley is the best actor working here, but his CGI animators for the animal versions of his character might deserve a lot of that credit. Love that crow. Sharlto Copley might be betrayed the most by the script, as he gets no motivation and becomes a babbling idiot over the course of the film. Someone give this guy another good movie, please.
Also, what was up with the first King having super powers? Or did he just have an iron glove?
Maleficent is an interesting idea that is poorly executed. The movie looks expensive, but the script and direction betray the cast. You never get a feel for the world, the characters or their relationships. I appreciate the attempt at a fairy tale with modern filmmaking, but Maleficent falls flat in the fairy tale arena.
Maleficent is a D+