When the reviews began to materialize for Maleficent when it was out in the cinema, I was disappointed to see many of them were negative, claiming the film to be “style-over-substance” and “just not very good”. I waited it out and picked the Blu-ray up recently, finally sitting down, ignoring the words of numerous poor reviews I’ve read, to make my own mind up about this live-action movie based on the villain character from Sleeping Beauty. A Disney produced live-action film with a big-budget and a high-profile cast could go either way, so I was ready for anything.
Directed by Robert Stromberg as his first foray into film directing, Stromberg’s previous work in film belongs to visual effects roles, including work on major motion pictures like “Life of Pi”, “Shutter Island”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”, television work on shows such as “Game of Thrones”, and so much more. The visual magnificence of this film can be attributed to this, with Stromberg obviously having a passion and history in visualisations of worlds. That is something I will say before I even go into the review properly, Maleficent looks fantastic.
The story isn’t the deepest one in the world, but I was happy with it to a degree. It was easy-going and had enough about it to hold my attention on a Saturday evening after a busy day. A lovely young fairy named Maleficent lives a life of beauty and happiness in a forest, surrounded by fantastical creatures, blossoming trees, bright plant-life, and everything else you’d expect to see in an idyllic woodland. She keeps the land on the straight and narrow, but when she is betrayed by a boy named Stefan whom she thought was her kindred spirit, her wings are cut off at the wishes of a king. When the king dies, Stefan is named his successor, and he sits proud on his throne. Meanwhile, Maleficent, once pure of heart, is embittered and angry at the acts of evil committed by man upon her, and she vows revenge. She takes to the kingdom and puts a curse on the king’s daughter, Aurora that says that by the time she turns sixteen she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and will fall into an eternal sleep, one only broken by “true love’s kiss”, something Maleficent believes does not exist. As Aurora grows up, Maleficent watches her being raised by three fairies in a forest hideaway. The questions are asked of, will Aurora suffer the fate placed upon her, what will the king do to get revenge on Maleficent for her act, and will Maleficent change, or be swallowed up by her sadness and the bitterness of what happened in her past.
It’s a fairy-tale with a spin, a twist on a classic story, and I thought it was done well. The complaints I’ve read seem to fall on the fact that “this isn’t the story I know” or “there isn’t enough substance”, and while I understand these comments, I also feel like this film wasn’t supposed to be the same story that has already been told, and as simplistic as perhaps the story is, it is enjoyable and provides plenty of chance for the characters to grow, and the land they inhabit to be explored. It strays a great deal from the traditional story on which it is based, with the characters being very different, and the main plot being almost unrecognisable but for a few obvious similarities (the spinning wheel, the character names, the curse). Angelina Jolie, as Maleficent, is magnificent (rhyme not intended) and looks the part of the dark yet beautiful fairy vixen with a heart beneath her sourness. Elle Fanning, as Aurora, is fine, playing the good-hearted and innocent girl who is a victim of circumstance. Sharlto Copley (District 9) as Stefan is a little one-dimensional, showing little care in the things he does when it seems he should explore his layers more, but as a character we are supposed to dislike, and for Maleficent to oppose, he does okay. He’s an actor I like, especially in his roles in Elysium and District 9, but he could have been better here.
The cast is filled with recognisable names. As well as those I’ve mentioned, there’s the likes of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville as the useless fairies that try to raise Aurora in the forest cabin and Sam Riley as Maleficent’s ward, Diaval. The cast are all okay, but Jolie stands above them all. It would be fair to say that this is her movie, and she steals each scene that she’s a part of, which is most of them.
The world is really lovely to look at, and the creatures are fun and add a fantasy element which I enjoyed, but there are no grey areas explored here. Perhaps I am looking for more than I should in a family fantasy film from Disney, but with the good against evil concept, I find myself wishing more depth was given into why these characters are doing bad things, and why they have committed the acts that they have, and how they live with them. Exploring these in-between areas allows the characters to grow and have a richness about them. This was lacking here. If you love the original story, I can imagine it would be difficult to get on board with this new telling of the classic tale. It is very different, and some of the twists don’t really improve anything. I enjoyed the layers that were given to Maleficent here, and how the spotlight was placed on the “villain”, but the rest of the characters play an obvious second-fiddle and can at times feel like props with arms and legs rather than living, breathing inhabitants of the story. If you can look past the original film, and accept this for something very different, yet still charming and entertaining, then you may just end up with an opinion of the film like mine. I had fun with this, and enjoyed seeing a character who was evil and demented being re-written with a sympathetic background. It is obvious why many people were upset by the film. People don’t like change. For me, I thought it looked great, and the lead performance was very good. Give it a shot, you might dig it.