Elsewhere Review: Maleficent

Nutshell: I give Maleficent a B.  This movie shouldn’t be any good.  It’s a one-character show with poorly constructed supporting characters, and an ending you can see coming a mile away.  But the fact that Jolie really loves being the fairy, a killer mix of Rick Baker makeup  & CGI FX, and a truly satisfying climax, goes a long way towards a fun film.

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Movie Review: Maleficent

Twitview: Gloriously lush sets & Jolie’s performance make the film better than it has a right to be. B

 

Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned.  Especially when that fairy is played by Angelina Jolie, and has a damn good reason for being so ticked off.  With the popularity of “revisionist fairy tale history” nowadays, Maleficent could have played out like a Very Special Episode of Once Upon A Time (which did have the Big M in the show, but threw away the character even though True Blood’s Kristin Bauer van Straten knocked it out of the park with her performance).  You gotta know from the trailer that this is gonna be another Frozen-esque story of how Womyn-with-a-Y are stronger together than the negative forces of Mankind, but Jolie is so magnetic in the role of the fairy gone bad that the trip is a fascinating one.  There isn’t much for anyone else to do but either get in her way or lend her aid, but otherwise?  It’s a fun 97 minutes, with plenty for newbies and old-school Sleeping Beauty fans to enjoy.  There are a few things that got under my skin, but all-in-all, the Enchanted Forest ain’t a bad place to spend a little time.

Way back in the day, there were two kingdoms; the Kingdom of Man (da-DUM) and The Moors.  Man does his usual mannish stuff, what with the subjegating, warring and power struggles.  Meanwhile, The Moors are a peaceful place full of mythical creatures that all live in an agreeable harmony with no one ruler.  Cue Maleficent (as played by Jolie doppelgänger Isobelle Molloy), a sweet little fairy girl with groovy horns on her head and glorious wings.  She finds human boy Stefan in The Moors, trying to make off with something.  She asks him for it back, then tosses it (back) into the water.  He tells her he’d rather have kept it if she was just going to “throw it away”…. And a friendship is born.  Friendship blossoms into love, at least for one half of this pairing.  (Hint: it’s not the thieving human.)  Years later, Stefan — who has always longed to live in the castle because Being Somebody Is All There Is — is a squire for the King, who has fallen ill thanks to trying to bring The Moors into his total domination.  Seems Maleficent doesn’t take too kindly to those who try to take over her land, and neither do the rest of the Moor-folk.  Stefan uses his friendship with Maleficent to do something absolutely heinous (hint: you didn’t know she had wings, did’ja?) and becomes King.  Maleficent, on the other hand, becomes bitter, angry and vengeful.  Cue Sleeping Beauty baby Aurora!

maleficent poster-1

For those spotty on the exact Sleeping Beauty myth, good old Princess Aurora is fated by Maleficent to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” on Aurora’s 16th birthday.  Fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (Knotgrass, Thistletwit and Flittle here) are able to water down the curse to “fall into a deep sleep:, which only true love’s kiss may break.  Maleficent shakes that up a bit, with the evil fairy cursing Aurora to sleep ‘til a kiss, which works well because who’d believe in true love after having been so royally screwed over?  But when Aurora is sent off into hiding — and who thought raising Aurora in the woods that Maleficent calls home was a safe idea? — baby, and later girl, meets her nemesis.  But it’s not all fire and brimstone, and the rest of the tale is a far different one than you’re used to..

Again, Jolie is amazing in this role.  Not just because she’s even more stunning with Rick Baker’s FX makeup, but because she tears into the role with glee, apparently relishing every scene, from innocent naif to bloodthirsty villain.  Meanwhile, Aurora is given very little to do but be wide-eyed, innocent and happy for most of the film.  And as Elle Fanning (Super 8) is 16 in real life, she could pretty much rock that in her sleep.  (Get it?  Fine.)  It’s not that Fanning gives a lackluster performance, it’s that Jolie’s is the Alpha and Omega of this film, and everyone else is gonna be taking a distant backseat.  Like that final bench all the way in the back of a huge minivan.  Yeah, way back there.  Don’t even get me started on King Stefan, who is nothing but a Grade A douchebag who slowly goes bonkers obsessing over how he can get even with Maleficent after her curse.  Him I could have done without, but a hero(ine) needs a villain to tangle with.  Yeah I’ma go there with the villan thing; you started all this, dude.

There’s one exception to The Maleficent Show, and that’s Sam Riley as Maleficent’s sidekick/raven Diaval.  He gets off some pretty good quips, and the buddy chemistry between Riley and Jolie makes the film more than a soggy revenge trope with feminist leanings.  And let’s not forget woodland fantasy FX so lush and detailed it feels like Avatar gone fairytale.  Do you need the 3D?  Not really, but if you’re gonna enjoy something this pretty, it’s a nice add-on.

Yes, the climax has a dragon breathing fire, and a princess in a coma.  But all is not as it seems at first glance, even though at the second or third you’ll see what’s coming down the road a mile away.  Still, Maleficent brings a satisfying 21st Century spin on the classic story.  And Angelina Jolie is even more spectacular than I’ve ever seen her before.  Now that’s magic indeed.

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