- Movie Rating -

Maleficent (2014)

| May 31, 2014 | 0 Comments

The first thing you notice are the horns.  They’re impressive. They rise at least a foot off of Angelina Jolie’s head, twisting and turning like a country road and then arriving at two fine tapered points that face east and west. You can’t stop staring at them, and the fact that they tower above one of the most famous faces of the 21st century is nothing but a bonus.

Angelina Jolie is the reason to see Maleficent; the movie practically rises and falls on the power of her performance. She has a face seemingly born for menace and so it is surprising that out of a career that spans nearly three decades this is the first time she’s ever played a villain. She comes to it very naturally. There’s great joy in her menace – a certain perverse pleasure in snapping her fingers and wreaking havoc on the spot. She could have been one of the X-Men.

Her organic tools work well here. She has a dark look about her, a menace that she can’t hide even when the character is called on to be nice. Her bright green eyes are hypnotic, her complexion is a pallid white, and her famous lips are painted blood red as if slathered on with a paint roller. They accent a perfectly wicked smile. When Maleficent smiles she bears a row of pearly whites that spread across her face like the Cheshire Cat, underlining the ominous feeling that something wicked this way comes.

Jolie is so good in the title role that you wish she were cast in a better movie. We are told, as you may have heard, that this is the legend of Sleeping Beauty told from the villain’s point of view. On that track, it works, until a third act and a crummy finale that yanks the rug out from under what we’ve just seen.

As the movie opens we meet Maleficent, a winged, human-sized fairy who lives in a dark wood where she is feared by mankind. At first, she isn’t all bad. She’s actually kind of nice, adopting the Grizzly Adams role of the fairy tale forest populated by walking trees and tiny sprites. Next door is a kingdom where lives a king who fears Mal and her defense of the realm.

The king threatens her. One thing leads to another. Mal is tricked by Prince Stefan (Sharlto Copley) who mutilates her in her sleep. Years go by; the prince becomes a king, then marries and has a daughter that he names Aurora. Over the years, Maleficent stews in hatred and when the baby is born she visits the castle wherein she curses the newborn child to sleep forever upon pricking her finger on a spinning needle on her sixteen birthday – essentially all the stuff that you saw in the trailer.

Actually, up to this point, the movie isn’t half bad. Director Robert Stromberg, a former visual effects artist who won Oscars for Alice in Wonderland and Avatar, has a sure hand with his visuals. He tries to tell a pure fairytale without being cheeky or modernistic (this isn’t Shrek). He wants to capture some of the Disney magic of the past, and in many ways he succeeds. The forests don’t look like real woods, but like something out of a book. That’s a smart idea. He keeps the modern world out of the story, save for one amusing reference in which Jolie tells a little girl “I don’t like children.” Think about that.

Where he fails is in the story department. Some sympathy with Maleficent is fine up to a point, but the movie leans too far in that direction until she practically becomes a hero. The supporting characters – save for Prince Stefan – are all vapid, dunderheaded and one-dimensional. They include Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) who’s plucky demeanor has one speed: pluck. And there’s her savior Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) who has the personality of a box of drywall screws.

Plus, there are three dimwitted fairies charged with looking after Aurora: Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistletwit (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) who are so irritating that they literally bring the movie to a dead stop – Jar Jar Binks was more hip.

The final act of the movie is a mess, the motivations aren’t very clear, and Sleeping Beauty’s famous slumber is relegated to a power nap (the kiss to wake her up is just bizarre). The latter half of the movie reeks of Summer Movie sameness, in which we get the lion’s share of CGI, bombastic music, and a script that feels like it was written by committee. The movie’s ending stumbles badly by closing on a positive note where it should be leaving an opendoor (this is, after all, a prequel). Yet, right in the middle of all this hot air is a diamond in the rough, a performance that brings the movie out the doldrums. Angelina Jolie is clearly the right actress in the right role who seems to be having fun with it. She takes the role by the horns and she doesn’t let us down.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.