Maleficent review

Review Caroline Preece 28 May 2014 - 07:58

Starring Angelina Jolie, Maleficent claims to tell the untold tale of Sleeping Beauty. Caroline finds out if it keeps Disney's old magic...

Everything goes around in cycles and, for Disney, this has manifested itself in the form of ‘untold stories’ based on supporting characters or previously misunderstood villains. After the unprecedented success of Frozen, the idea of a summer blockbuster focusing on Sleeping Beauty’s enigmatic bad gal Maleficent didn’t seem like such a crazy idea and, with news that it would be Angelina Jolie donning the horns and black cape, Maleficent suddenly became one of the more anticipated films of the summer season.

The relatively recent trend for darker interpretations of family-friendly properties has been tricky to get right, what with the difficulty of balancing more complex material with nothing more commercially troubling than a 12A classification, and stories focusing on villainous characters make that process even harder. Maleficent, then, with or without the fresh memory of Frozen proving that it can be done, is a confused movie. It never quite decides what it wants to be, and sadly falls just shy of its considerable potential.

Production designer and first-time director Robert Stromberg (Alice In Wonderland, Oz The Great And Powerful) is at the helm and, unsurprisingly given his credits, the film looks absolutely gorgeous. From Jolie’s costume to the sweeping shots of the moors, the film is a visual treat. But, as we know from countless films including Snow White And The Huntsman - another fairytale retelling made in the same vein - style means very little without some substance to back it up, and this is where Maleficent falls down slightly.

Claiming to flesh out the backstory of a character that has become iconic despite a limited screen time and a complete lack of origin story, there was always the danger that, sans mystery, Maleficent could lose what made the character special in the first place. Here, we’re introduced to the titular character as a fairy protecting her land from humans and, as she falls for the ambitious Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and is subsequently betrayed, we witness her transformation from protector to that powerful, iconic character crafted way back in 1959.

The biggest problem is tone, which veers from family-friendly comedy and lightness to dark revenge fantasy and, periodically, a feminist fairytale in the same vein as many recent efforts such as Tim Burton’s Alice, Huntsman and, again, Frozen. There’s a welcome rejection of the typical true love narrative popularised by the animated movies of Sleeping Beauty’s era, which freshens things up a little, but, despite some interesting thematic detours, the resolution of the film still feels disappointingly predictable.

The sorrow-tinged version of the movie teased in that Lana Del Ray track and its accompanying teaser doesn’t appear often enough, and there’s also an inconsistency in the portrayal of Maleficent herself. Her motivations are murky, with the cackling, ruthless villainess that scared so many of our younger selves only appearing in one re-adapted scene and subsequently absent from the rest of the film. The performance isn’t the problem, with Jolie getting the sadness and longing of the character across, but the emotional arc never really meshes with her established quirks and sense of menace.

Supporting her, Elle Fanning’s Aurora isn’t given enough to do to make much of an impact and Sam Riley’s animal sidekick is nothing more than someone for Maleficent to bounce off of, but Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan turns out to be one of the most interesting parts of the film. The top-notch casting for this film pays off in that, despite certain characters never really being fleshed out as much as we’d like them to, pretty much all of the performances are fantastic. Jolie is obviously the main attraction but, due to a smattering of genuinely powerful moments, she’s not necessarily the only thing you’ll remember.

Maleficent is in no way a failure, and it competently achieves what it set out to do with the titular character, but its unevenness renders the resulting movie something that both adults and children could find difficult to love. The considerable darkness and adult themes might be a little too much for little‘uns, for example, but then the jarring moments of comedy are often so disruptive as to wreck an entire scene, and a grown-up audience might also find it a frustrating watch.

Thanks to Jolie's central performance and its willingness to go to some troubling places, however, Maleficent is still a worthwhile stab at a very different kind of fairytale.

Maleficent is out in UK cinemas now.

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I have a feeling this film will get buried by Xmen and Godzilla. Why they haven't made it a PG is beyond me. I've got 3 lads, aged 9, 7 and 4, so far this summer there hasn't been a film that all three would be happy to see together. Can't we just have decent kids movies without this 12a crossover nonsense? I think the movie companies have totally misjudged this Whit school holidays.

Bah. I was 9 when I saw Nightmare on Elm street, and I turned out ok.

Whats that Satan? Yes, sure... I'll do that...

I've just yesterday returned from Disneyland and judging from the amount of people wearing Malificent "Horn hats", the film will be a hit despite it's reported failings...

Ha Ha! I was 6 when I was taken to see Jaws in 1975. Those beach holidays on Anglesey were never the same again. Its the 4 year old I'm concerned about. It looks pretty dark. I remember my Mum having to escort my sister out of Snow White about the same time!

You're probably right Moobit but I think it would have done better as a PG because all the big films out at the moare a 12. I think it will probably go the same way as Battleship that sunk, without trace when it opened in the US a couple of weeks after Avengers Assemble. Malificent has two huge movies to compete against.

Is that important in UK and USA? Here in Spain I don't know anyone who pays any attention to the PG/12/etc thing. Maybe when it comes to videogames, but I've never seen a parent commenting on how their children would not watch a movie because it is +12.

Great review! It's interesting how Disney's animation department has been on top form recently, but many of its live action offerings have been 'good' at best, with many being mediocre. That said I'm not as familiar with all their live action films. But as Farniboy stated, being a 12a there are other films out there more likely to attract such a demographic at the moment.

Was prince of Persia really liv action Aladdin? But gritty? I.e. No genie, humor, or other redeeming qualities? I kid, I liked it. Only watched it once but I'd DVR it.

I remember really looking forward to seeing SWatH afterwatching the trailer and look how that turned out. Hated it with a passion. Even now I cant watch a film with the woodentop herself, Kristen Stewart. I have had the same sense of deja vu over this. (Mind you I love AJ - who has developed into a quality actress).

I would say definitely, over here. I don't have kids myself, but have friends that do, and they would never show their child with an inappropriate certificate rating.

Interesting. Here I've only ever heard some comment on +18 (if the kids are, say, younger than 14), but under that everything is pretty much fair game. I watched TASM 2 sitting behind a 5-year-old boy and there were more than a few kids in the movie beside him!

From the marketing, this just seems like "Disney's Angelina Jolie, starring Angelina Jolie"; I'm not interested in the same way I'm not interested in "Tim Burton's Johnny Depp, starring Johnny Depp"

I tend to vet 12 certificates, some are too intense for kids. Its each to their own I suppose but I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to films. The Marvel films are mostly 12 and I have no issue with them, but I've not let watch the Nolan Batman trilogy. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy but if the hadn't been based on a well loved classic they would have been given a 15 certificate. There's no way I'm letting my kids watch them til they are mature enough.

From what I read of the plot, this is basically a feminist take on the character.

Thus as a woman she can't be evil, it has to be some man's fault, right?

How silly.

The whole appeal of the character was that she was like a personification of evil.

Should never ave been made.

What next? Countess Elizabeth Bathory bathed in her victom's blood because he boyfriend cheated on her?

I've just been wondering I saw Peter Capaldi listed as being in the film a little while ago, but when I've looked up the film more recently, he's been nowhere to be seen. Has anyone seen the film and does he play a role at all?

Yes, wondered the same thing. He was even interviewed about it. Wonder if his scenes were cut as imdb makes no mention of him.

**Maybe a breif spoiler**
I saw this last night and I thought it was going to be the origin story of Maleficent, but it's a different retelling of the story. I'm not sure if you have missed that point as you mention 'Claiming to flesh out the backstory of a character that has become iconic despite a limited screen time and a complete lack of origin story' which again is what I thought it would be about. But, without trying to spoil anything a voice over near the end says about this being the real story.... I agree the narrative changes a bit too much, but
I enjoyed the film a lot. Jolie was brilliant. Copley was good, but his South African over took his Scottish sometimes, which made me chuckle.

But all in all I thought it was very enjoyable.

It's a PG.....

Erm it is a PG.....

I read the review and it mentioned 12a, it didn't say it was rated a PG in the article. I found out later that day but couldn't be arsed changing the comment. Cheers for the heads up tho. My wife can take the boys now.

That's okay and I've no idea why this reviewer put it as a 12A. I do recommend it though. I don't think the reviewer understood it's not just an origin story. I hope your wife and kids enjoy it :).

Seems the film overran and 15 minutes were cut. Capaldi and Miranda Richardson had their contributions removed from the final cut.

Shame!

I thought this was great. Jolie was incredible

Agreed, really enjoyed this along with my wife and 2 boys (11 & 7).

Unlike the reviewer though I thought the casting of King Stefan was a mistake, but that was my only major gripe.

I don't know the only thing with the casting of King Stefan for me was that my family and I couldn't get past that he was Murdoc in the A Team movie!! and also that it sounded that Phillip (the prince) said he was from Ofstead!
great movie though Jolie was just incredible :)

Again, like Farniboy, I was going off what was said in the review. My mistake!
(Sorry for the extremely late reply, haven't been been on discus in an age!)

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