Topic: Maleficent Review by Darth Praxus (There Be Spoilers)

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*sigh* This movie bummed me out way more than I expected it to.

I was expecting it to be a perfectly forgettable, mediocre flick, something that I wouldn't remember anything about within the next week. However, there are glimmers in Maleficent—glimmers of what could have been a truly awesome movie. Instead we received an incredibly broken movie with some awesome bits, and that's disappointing.

A brief plot summary, as the film diverges a fair bit from Sleeping Beauty for obvious reasons: when the movie opens, there is a state of enmity between the corrupt and greedy realm of the humans and the lush, magical Moors, the realm of the fairies. The young fairy Maleficent rules over the Moors and is happy to avoid the humans—until one of them, Stefan, wanders into her domain. Rather than punishing him, Maleficent becomes Stefan's friend, and eventually they fall in love. However, Stefan jilts her, returning to the realm of the humans to seek greater power. After the humans mount a failed raid on the Moors and their king promises his crown to the man who can kill Maleficent, Stefan seeks her out, but cannot quite bear to kill her; rather, he drugs her and slices off her wings, bringing them to the king as "proof" that he has slain his former lover. Bent on revenge, Maleficent erects a massive wall of thorns around her domain and places the famous curse on Stefan's daughter, Aurora, who is then shepherded away by a trio of fairies who watch over her. Unbeknownst to them, however, is the fact that Maleficent, along with her shape-shifting crow servant Diaval, is also keeping a close eye on the child...

The good first. Jolie's performance works very well three quarters of the time. Her scenery-chewing villainy is a delight to watch—she plays her haughty, at times genuinely malevolent role perfectly—but also does more subtle work—a standout example of this kind of acting occurs in the moments she awakens from her drugged sleep and realizes her wings are gone; her grieved wailing is utterly believable and moving. The best scenes of the film are the ones that focus on this grief and pain spiraling into an over-the-top, maniacal villain; Jolie is truly menacing, and the atmosphere is marvelously dark.

However...

About a quarter of her performance doesn't quite come off. This is less Jolie's fault and more that the material she is working with in these instances is full-on narm, very difficult for anyone to play well. The film's other performances are nothing special at best (though Sam Riley's Diaval is likable enough), and at worst are actively annoying—the trio of fairy "aunts" who raise Aurora are the Jar-Jar Binks of this movie, attempted comic relief that is smotheringly unfunny and idiotic (and, half the time, chipmunk-sized with voices to match). The film does the job of making Maleficent someone we're interested in, but forgets to do this with anyone else.

The movie is almost certainly one of those copy/paste jobs made up of multiple drafts, as evidenced in its two biggest problems: its rapidly oscillating tone and its inconsistent characterizations. To address the tone first: nearly no scene connects to the other in terms of atmosphere and mood. We whiplash from truly dark material to slapstick comedy on a scene-to-scene basis, cut from men being bludgeoned to death by magical beings to incompetent fairy aunts throwing flour at one another and quarreling in a wildly over-the-top manner. Part of this, of course, is due to the fact that it's almost impossible to make a truly dark Disney movie—the closest comparison I can make is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which could have been the mature masterwork of the Renaissance era if it weren't for studio meddling inserting stupid comic relief—but another part, I think, comes from different drafts being cobbled together. It's a huge hindrance to the film, and hamstrings its attempts at creating a unified world and mood.

Consistent characters are the film's other massive problem. Maleficent goes from a perfectly nice person, though a person who is ready to defend her home, to a power-hungry tyrant within the course of a single scene; bitterness and a desire for revenge are a half-reason for this transition, but not nearly an adequate one, not at the speed at which it occurs. Following this, Maleficent's character cannot make up her mind as to whether she is evil or not. She places the curse of a sleep like death upon Aurora, but immediately brings her food when her fairy aunts cannot figure out how to feed her, saves her life from afar when she almost tumbles off a cliff, and so on and so forth, before the two finally meet and form a special bond. This in between Maleficent's minions bludgeoning dozens of humans to death when they attempt to enter her domain. The film cannot decide if it wants Maleficent to be a truly evil, vengeful person or a softie at heart, and thus depending on the scene she is one or both, rather than gradually transitioning from one to the other. The same applies to Stefan—he goes from a decidedly gray person who at least has a solid motivation for what he's doing and genuinely loves his wife and daughter to a raving lunatic, every so often easing back to the former before jerking back to the latter.

Other quibbles: the CGI in this film is some of the most obnoxiously over-the-top, cartoony stuff I've seen in a long time. This wouldn't be quite the problem that it is if it weren't for the fact that the film's sets, particularly the castle, are clearly sets, and are shot almost entirely differently than its CG creations are. It's another instance of vicious whiplash between two visions for the film. The action choreography is sloppy and unrealistic (though the dragon at the film's end is a nice bit of work—despite the fact that it's not even Maleficent, which I'm not sure how I feel about). The ending twist—the true love needed to awaken Aurora is not that of Prince Philip, but Maleficent herself—would be more interesting if it hadn't been done in Frozen just a few months ago. And the film's final scene is insultingly on-the-nose, spelling out the moral in ham-fisted narration rather than just trusting its audience.

I didn't expect to write a review of the film when I had seen it. I didn't expect to care enough to do so. But there are moments that are genuinely good, that truly work, and it's the fact that they're buried under so much disappointment that bothers me. I actually hope that the FIYH crew cares enough about the film to do a commentary, because I'd love to hear their thoughts on how it could be fixed. As is, Maleficent is broken, but some of those broken pieces are what they were meant to be, and that's far more frustrating than the mediocrity I was expecting.

Last edited by Abbie (2014-06-01 05:10:08)