May 30, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent

Coming on the heels of Alice in Wonderland (the Burton one), Oz: The Great and Powerful, and Snow White and the Huntsman (never bothered with Mirror, Mirror), I found it difficult to muster all that much enthusiasm for Maleficent. Now, I am sure there are ways to have made those other movies, you know, good, and I am sure there is a way to tell a fascinating story about Maleficent. The problem is that none of this has actually been done. Maleficent is just the latest debacle in this revisionist fairy tale cycle. While there may not have been that many movies, yet, let's hope that it either comes to an end or someone with a solid idea steps up and gets the job done.

What Disney has managed to do, or rather what director Robert Stromberg (special effects guy making his first directorial turn) and writer Linda Woolverton (Burton's Alice in Wonderland, The Lion King) have managed to do, is defang one of their best villains. Granted, it has been sometime since I have seen Sleeping Beauty, but always had this image of Maleficent being one of the meanest of the mean, a nasty character who lived to manipulate. This retelling of Sleeping Beauty mixed with an entirely new backstory for our villain undoes all that and seeks to portray a misunderstood villain who is not all that bad, and may ultimately be a heroic figure.

The whole thing reminds me of that Charles Xavier quote from X-Men: Days of Future Past: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn't mean they can't be saved.” Perhaps not completely accurate, but still seems to fit here. There is a determination to show her get back on track, if you will. It really isn't a pretty sight. A lot of the time it is just watching her sit or stand just outside the action, manipulating it, playing something of a guardian to Princess Aurora in the face of the buffoons caring for her, or just the general nastiness of the humans. Yes, they make the human characters the villains.

Perhaps a better analogy would be to what Michael Myers fans accused Rob Zombie of doing to their masked killer, make him sympathetic. Now, I am not one of those folks, but there are those who believe explaining how Myers came to be the killer we know him to be somewhat humanizes the evil and perhaps makes us sympathize with him. I do not think it does in that case, but here it is exactly what happens. There is this jilted love aspect and it goes a long way to explain why she becomes so nasty (besides the need to have some manner of redemption throughout). Basically, they make her relatable, tempering her evil ways with sympathetic explanations. No sir, I do not like it.

Beyond all that, there is an odd and disturbing element that crops up early on. There is this jilted love that I mentioned, it is between Stefan and Maleficent. They become friends and when they reach the age of 16, he gives her true love's kiss, and promptly disappears. Later on when the current king wants to take down Maleficent, Stefan sneaks over, rekindles the romance and then proceeds to roofie her and have his way with her (by taking her wings). This tale is essentially a rape/revenge tale. I am not sure if that is what they were going for, but that is what it seems.

It is a strange film that does not really entertain. There are broad strokes, flat humor, and this odd disconnect between characters, like none of them were in the same room as the other. Angelina Jolie has this aloof look, as if she doesn't want to deal with anyone else. Elle Fanning has this grin plastered on her face the whole time, it seems unnatural. Then there is Sharlto Copley, I like this guy but he just doesn't fit this movie, or maybe it was just a bad role.

Overall, this is not a good movie. It is reliant on special effects over character, it fails to make the characters interesting, I felt no reason to care about any of them. It just does not work and really could have used another point of view, something that retained the villainous nature of the titular character. Flat, lifeless, and dull.

Not Recommended.

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Top Alaska Fishing Lodge Sitka AK said...

In its attempt to depict the 'real story' of Sleeping Beauty, this Django Unchained of Disney fairy tales never soars as high as its bad-girl-gone-good namesake.

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