There is an ever-broadening genre of fairy tale revisionism, whether by television, theater, or film. I haven’t seen all such efforts, but I’ve seen enough to know that some are good and so Maleficent was not something I went into with a lot of dread. I was even almost excited to see a show just about her.
This is despite the loads of potential disappoint that were possible from messing up my favorite Disney villain of all-time. We find out that Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) wasn’t always evil. She was good and was betrayed by a guy who went on to become King Sefan (Sharlto Copley), the father of Aurora/Sleeping Beauty (Elle Fanning). She went bad after that, putting the famous curse on Aurora. As Maleficent sees Aurora grow up, though, she begins to question the whole curse deal and works to make amends.
This particular feature is the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg, who is one of the top visual effects guys in Hollywood. He won back-to-back Oscars for art direction with Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. The guy has talent. Sadly, it’s not for direction. Visually, yes, the film is quite striking, and there are several occasions where anyone and everyone will be impressed. Then the CGI takes over, and you realize that what impressed you before is as good as it’s going to get. After all, a movie is more than sweeping landscape shots and luminous fairy creatures.
For Maleficent, the emphasis on visuals is nice. The complete lack of things like plot consistency, internal logic, quality dialogue, and convincing performances kind of sinks the whole project, as you can imagine. We go from Maleficent wiping out whole armies of soldiers, casting all-powerful curses, teleporting, etc. to having to sneak into a castle and club people over the head. Why can’t she just call on all that hoodoo from earlier? Who knows? Probably because the movie is right at 90 minutes, and they needed something to increase the run time.
The acting. Oh man, the acting. Jolie is pretty good, even though she basically just riffs on Eleanor Audley’s classic voice performance from the animated movie. Even many of her facial expressions are just parroting the animation version. This is ok because it’s tough to improve on the cartoon portrayal. Sharlto Copley plays the same manic and crazy guy he usually does well with. Then it falls off a cliff. Elle Fanning smiles a lot and speaks in such saccharine tones as to reach nails-on-a-chalkboard levels. Sam Riley as Diaval the sometimes raven/sometimes guy is bland as cream of wheat. And then there are the fairies. Not Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether. This is Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest. Coupled with horrific CGI figures, the good fairies are enough to make one want to walk out of the theater. How these characters made it out of advance screenings is an enigma. They are that bad.
The worst part of the film comes from the fact that Maleficent represents the increasingly popular “twist” of abolishing male heroes. Prince Phillip is in the movie but is a maguffin (at best). The movie actually goes out of its way to demonstrate this. There is enough denigration of men by Hollywood these days. It’s a rare thing to see any show where a guy is something other than a buffoon or a killing machine. When a tale as famous as Sleeping Beauty comes along with a male hero that has the potential for heroism and chivalry, it’s truly a shame to see him shoved off to the corner in favor of such a trend. My wife left the theater bemoaning how many movies reverse the “natural order of things” in this manner. For Catholics, this is not something we should promote or praise.
It’s all very benign as far as the rest of the content goes. There are fantastical creatures and some dark battles and magic, but it’s nothing so beyond the pale that I wouldn’t let a kid see it. But why see it? Life is too short to see bad movies. Maleficent is a bad movie and a disgrace to one of the greatest villains ever. Why see a movie that makes so little sense and takes a path that debases men as heroes? Why indeed. Avoid Maleficent. You’ll thank me for it.
Half a tiara.
Review by Throwback