By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That is unless you’re Maleficent, or at least the version of the wicked fairy portrayed in this Disney update of the same name. To appeal to modern audiences, Disney producers have decided to take a clearly evil and malicious villain from the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and turn her into a more realistic, somewhat amoral character. The intentions to accomplish this are admirable; however, director Robert Stromberg and writers Linda Woolverton and Charles Perrault go too far and remove much of the fire from what is considered to be one of the more frightening villains of cinematic history. Their story attempts to give dimension to the character and offer a backstory explaining why she goes down a darker path. The problem is her path never fully embraces the dark side.
Maleficent does go beyond the usual adaptations of Sleeping Beauty, giving the audience an origin story starting with the childhood of the title character. Maleficent lives in the magical land of fairies tucked away in a forest. As she grows into adulthood, she grows in her magical powers and abilities. She also comes to realize that the greed of humans will threaten to rob them of their land. When King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) rises to power after attacking Maleficent, she grows bitter and seeks revenge. Maleficent eventually puts a wicked curse on his daughter Aurora, but as Aurora grows into her teenage years, Maleficent realizes that the princess may be the key to the survival of both races.
I can appreciate that the writers and director desired to update a somewhat sexist fairy tale and empower the female characters, but their biggest mistake is not allowing Maleficent to truly become the villain most people know and fear. The journey from good-hearted child to evil witch feels muted and watered down. The overall result is bland storytelling and character development. There are some welcome surprises in the film, but I wanted more excitement and thrills from Maleficent’s personal journey. I felt some empathy for her character, but I also wanted to fear her like her incarnation in Disney’s 1959 animated film.
The film does have some gorgeous visuals, though not all of the effects work well. The CGI done on the three fairies who care for Aurora looks cartoonish and cheap. Most of the live sets impress, as do the costumes and makeup. The 3D conversion does not impress at all, though. I’m pretty much at the point where I wish movie studios would stop doing post conversion 3D if they can’t deliver impressive results. Several recent 3D movies I have seen don’t even look like they are in a 3D format! It’s like needing special glasses to clarify an otherwise blurry image. The image lacks depth and nothing leaps out of the screen! Enough of my 3D conversion soap box, I see no point in spending the extra money for the 3D version of this movie. The visuals will look much better in regular screen.
To be completely honest, I can’t recommend catching this movie at all theatrically. If one has a great looking high definition, flat screen TV and a decent sound system, then it would be better to rent a BluRay copy. The story does disappoint to a certain level. The performances of the cast are not bad at all, though. Angelina Jolie does her best with the material. I just wish she had been given the opportunity to show how wickedly evil she can act. Elle Fanning also stars as Aurora, the sleeping beauty, and performs admirably. Sam Riley offers a solid and pleasant performance as Diaval, Maleficent’s shape shifting raven. Sharlto Copley, who has delivered some unusual and horrendous performances recently in Elysium and Spike Lee’s version of Oldboy, actually does well as the greedy King Stefan. As the fairy trio charged with the responsibility of raising Aurora, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville all perform splendidly, but the comic material they’re given is a bit flat.
That really is the problem with the entire film. The movie has too many dull and flat moments of dramatic and comedic varieties. The climactic conclusion of the film has its moments, but by then, I think I was just happy that something interesting was happening. The film isn’t a total bore, but the entire affair feels weakened by taking too much mal- out of Maleficent I am giving the film a generous rating for its attempts at making a fairy tale more progressive; however, there are some old school elements that the film is sorely missing.