7:42 pm - 05/27/2014

First 'Maleficent' review: 3/5 Stars

This Disney reimagining of Sleeping Beauty lacks true enchantment, but Angelina Jolie saves the day

For a reminder of how wonderful Frozen is, watch Maleficent. This summer blockbuster season, Disney has turned out a live-action reimagining of their own animated version of Sleeping Beauty, from 1959.

As recently as six months ago, this might have felt subversive, even significant, although after seeing Elsa and Anna letting it go on icing-sugar mountains and finding endings happier than any standard-issue handsome prince could provide, the fun on offer here feels relatively thawed.

It is still fun, though, which counts for something – largely because, as with Frozen, the game involves returning to a well-thumbed fairy tale and muddling the distinction between evil and good. Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, is the wicked fairy, down to the sleek black-and-purple gown and the hat like two raised scorpion-stings.

Here, though, her wickedness is limited to that famous fit of rage at Princess Aurora’s christening – the flash of green fire, the spinning-wheel curse, reproduced here from the 1959 cartoon version almost word-for-word – for which she spends much of this film trying to make amends.

While its common ground with Frozen is entirely coincidental, Maleficent was surely prompted at least in part by the stage musical Wicked, which also used the story-behind-the-story device to paint a well-known fairy-tale villain – in that case, Oz’s Witch of the West – in a more sympathetic light.

And sure enough, when the film opens, Maleficent isn’t wicked at all: she’s flying happily and freely across The Moors, her pick-and-mix-bright enchanted kingdom. The first-time director, Robert Stromberg, was production designer on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, and if you thought those films were visually sickly, here he really has his cake and sits in it. Every frame of Maleficent is abuzz with odd and not always charming computer-generated beasts, and it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the nuclear-grade sweetness.

One day, a young trespasser from the human realm appears: this is Stefan, who breaks young Maleficent’s heart and returns, some years later on royal orders, to ensure her fairy wings suffer the same fate. Stefan, played as an adult by Sharlto Copley with the ropiest Scottish accent since Shrek, inherits the throne – and so it’s his daughter that Maleficent, fuelled by vengeance, not jealousy, turns up to curse.

For the next 16 years, on and off, she watches Aurora, who’s played as a young girl by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne, and as a teen by Elle Fanning, being raised by the three multi-coloured good fairies at their country cottage. (The good fairies’ roles are taken by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple, which makes you wish Mike Leigh had been available to direct instead.)

It’s been four years since Jolie last appeared on screen, and you’d like to think she’s having fun here, even though a smile, under the circumstances, seems physically impossible. Her mouth is ruby-bright and pursed as a rosebud, while her cheekbones, which were fine enough beforehand, here look like something from the winners’ enclosure at Aintree. The venerable special make-up effects artist Rick Baker, who won an Oscar for An American Werewolf in London, was in charge of the reshaping of the Jolie features, and his work is wildly more convincing than the digital enhancements used elsewhere.

When the time comes for Aurora to prick her finger and the curse to take effect, Maleficent has realised the error of her ways, and dashes to the castle, where a confrontation with King Stefan ensues. The action sequences are executed with rhythm and punch, and our heroine swoops and swirls around like Iron Man in a sheath dress. Maleficent may be short on true enchantment, but until we find a superhero who can pull off a black silk cocktail gown in battle, she’s very welcome.

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sandstorm 28th-May-2014 12:50 am (UTC)
I don't want a masterpiece, I just want fun.
somnus_angel 28th-May-2014 01:09 am (UTC)
ilouboutin 28th-May-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
same. i really hope this does well. angelina seems so excited about this film.
hpxstac 28th-May-2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
Me too. I just want to see Angie slay.
snowweisz 28th-May-2014 12:51 am (UTC)
I love Maleficent, I stan for Don Hahn and I have a flawless record with Linda Woolverton.

I still cant bring myself to remotely care about this movie.
taleasold 28th-May-2014 05:30 am (UTC)
super late but i agree with every single thing you said.
bunnycupcakes 28th-May-2014 12:51 am (UTC)
3/5 stars is better than I was expecting tbh. My expectations have been raised. :)
ionadelfina 28th-May-2014 12:52 am (UTC)
lmao. This movie looks terrible.
placentipede 28th-May-2014 12:52 am (UTC)
It looks fun but the "king stefan broker her heart" angle is shit
h0tfuss 28th-May-2014 01:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, and going after his DAUGHTER is odd. I wouldn't like it either way, but wouldn't it make more sense to act out against the wife?
jigglemypuff 28th-May-2014 01:14 am (UTC)
This is some Snape bullshit right here.
devourlove 28th-May-2014 02:34 am (UTC)
mte. had to be about a love interest ofc
pervert_bitch 28th-May-2014 03:28 am (UTC)
More like the bastard [Spoiler (click to open)] cut her wings! She sad when he "broke her heart" but it's the betrayal and agression that made her bitter and vengeful.
littleonelychee 28th-May-2014 02:02 pm (UTC)
Just saw it tonight, I actually really liked this angle and it definitely worked with what he did to her :(
theblackwidow 28th-May-2014 12:52 am (UTC)
I want to see this but the lack of promo makes me think Disney doesn't care.
bodyline 28th-May-2014 12:58 am (UTC)
Disney probably realized no one was here for it because everyone loved Maleficent as the cold-hearted villain and not some sympathetic figure with a tragic backstory.
getnassty 28th-May-2014 01:10 am (UTC)
antique_faery 28th-May-2014 04:22 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not getting making her sympathetic at all. It also seems to ruin the story. NHFT.
killerlooks 28th-May-2014 12:59 am (UTC)
i think disney is just expecting people to see it out of curiosity and/or nostalgia
logan_lerman 28th-May-2014 01:00 am (UTC)
really? i feel like i see promo everywhere
saintclaire87 28th-May-2014 01:02 am (UTC)
I see commercials for it all the time.
h0tfuss 28th-May-2014 01:14 am (UTC)
I really wonder why they didn't just amp up the "normal" Sleeping Beauty story (Aurora has something like 18 full lines in Sleeping Beauty). There's a lot of potential for exploring, say, Aurora's loneliness or Philip's quest for true love, or even addressing the passing of time while she was asleep. But I guess they cast Angelina and were afraid to not make her the lead?
sandstorm 28th-May-2014 01:17 am (UTC)
They just had an 'Maleficent hour' on HSN of all places.
chilli_cheese 28th-May-2014 01:44 am (UTC)
no way, pretty sure i saw 100+mill spent in promo for this movie. crazy!
ugotnothinonme 28th-May-2014 01:56 am (UTC)
whatttt i see commercials on like every channel and angie's done a bunch of interviews for it
wicked_jade 28th-May-2014 01:59 am (UTC)
They keep showing promos during the NBA Eastern conference finals on ESPN. It's some of the weirdest cross promotion ever.
emptyobsidian 28th-May-2014 02:52 am (UTC)
Lack of promo? Part of me thinks you have to be in the wrong post because I have literally not seen more promo for any other movie this year compared to Maleficent. I want to see it, but just the overwhelming amount of commercials/ads/random mentions I see of it makes me want to SCREAM. Maybe they are pushing it harder in certain regions?
thebloomroom 28th-May-2014 03:03 am (UTC)
what? the posters are EVERYWHERE in my city
illiade 28th-May-2014 12:52 am (UTC)
I'll still check it out, can't be any worse than that Snow White movie really.
vanishingbee 28th-May-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
Soooo what we were expecting lol
knighthowl82 28th-May-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
What I was fearing. They made maleficent sympathetic. Damn it just wanted her to be a true villain.
onhold4u 28th-May-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
"When the time comes for Aurora to prick her finger and the curse to take effect, Maleficent has realised the error of her ways, and dashes to the castle"
i'm going to take a leap of faith and say she doesn't make it in time
snowweisz 28th-May-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
Here, though, her wickedness is limited to that famous fit of rage at Princess Aurora’s christening for which she spends much of this film trying to make amends.</i>


See, nobody needed that. Nobody ever ever said oh hey I wonder if Maleficent ever felt bad for cursing Aurora? No. Bitch was cold hearted, determined and unapologetic. She meant to curse the kid and she meant for her to die. Nobody wants to see a Maleficent apology movie.
killerlooks 28th-May-2014 12:56 am (UTC)
ugh, this. maleficent is evil. the angle of her being a scorned lover, who later regrets cursing aurora, just makes her sound pathetic.
booneral 28th-May-2014 12:59 am (UTC)
mte. she placed that curse bc she was 100% petty and didn't get an invite, i don't have time for this sympathetic bullshit
squishinator 28th-May-2014 01:02 am (UTC)
yeah that seems really lame.
sweet_heloise 28th-May-2014 01:13 am (UTC)
ion_square 28th-May-2014 01:22 am (UTC)
Yeah just seeing this now and it's pretty disappointing.
lunarskye 28th-May-2014 01:22 am (UTC)
Welp, there goes my excitement for this movie.
thelilyqueen 28th-May-2014 01:36 am (UTC)
Or they could have furthered the really old school fairy route, where they're more a force of nature and if you keep on good terms they can be a huge help but a horrible enemy if you slight them.
evilgmbethy 28th-May-2014 02:22 am (UTC)
this would have been best
sixdemonhag 28th-May-2014 06:11 am (UTC)
I'd say getting your wings taken away is a hell of a slight.
antique_faery 28th-May-2014 04:25 am (UTC)
MTE. It's just an awful play on the story. What makes her appealing is she don't give a fuck.
roseofjuly 28th-May-2014 06:58 am (UTC)
This. I was excited about the movie because I thought it was going to be ~2 hours of Maleficent being a stone-cold bitch. I don't want a warm sympathetic villain. I get enough of that with Regina (who admittedly I love, but Lana Parilla just has a way.)
cuzilubb 28th-May-2014 12:55 am (UTC)
Not surprised Angelina is the best part of the movie. Should have kept her a villain though, instead of a wounded ~complex figure.
bananasnrum 28th-May-2014 12:55 am (UTC)
The casting of Angie alone makes me want to see this. She is so perfect.
fenchurchly 28th-May-2014 03:17 am (UTC)
bodyline 28th-May-2014 12:55 am (UTC)
is there a full version of the creepy piano version of Once Upon a Dream they use in the trailers? because i have a desperate need for it.

i wish i was more interested in this movie because Angie looks amazing in it and i love Queen Elle, but i just don't like the fact that they seem to be trying to give Maleficent some tragic backstory to explain/justify her actions. i love that in the original film she's genuinely just pissed at being disrespected and not invited to the damn party.
thejoker 28th-May-2014 01:04 am (UTC)
Is it the Lana Del Rey version you're talking about?
bodyline 28th-May-2014 01:07 am (UTC)
I don't believe so. There's a piano version that plays at the beginning of the theatrical trailer that doesn't sound at all like Lana's version.
hausofashley 28th-May-2014 01:57 pm (UTC)
Keep me up to date, because I want that too. <3
war_machine_rox 28th-May-2014 12:56 am (UTC)
Still excited and not surprised how wonderful Angelina seems to be.

It looks like a fun role.

Nhf the romance angle but it is what it is.
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