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Overall Rating
3.74

Awesome47.37%
Worth A Look: 5.26%
Just Average: 31.58%
Pretty Crappy: 5.26%
Sucks: 10.53%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings


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Maleficent
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by Jay Seaver

"Not the worst idea, not the best execution."
3 stars

It's odd to argue against making a character more nuanced and motivated, but "Maleficent" sometimes pushes one in that direction. After all, the title character is one of the all-time great cinematic villains; is trading that for a conflicted but less perfectly realized character a worthwhile transaction? In this case, it's at least one with occasionally interesting results, although the actual movie around it is occasionally a letdown.

In this version of the story, Maleficent and the future King Stefan met as children, when the latter trespassed into the fairy territories that the former protected. Though they grew closer as teenagers, they found themselves in opposition as adults, and the way Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes heir to the throne leads Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) to seal herself off from humanity and effectively declare herself queen of a land that before had no ruler. The occasion of Stefan's daughter's birth brings her out, though, if only to set a curse upon the girl - one that she will find herself regretting as Aurora grows into a lovely and charming young woman (Elle Fanning).

The basic story arc that screenwriter Linda Woolverton grafts onto Disney's animated 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty is a good one, if dark; it positions Maleficent as a metaphorical date rape survivor who must balance her desire for retribution with how empty a life defined entirely by the memory of one's worst experience must be. It's a little heady for the kids in the audience, but there are layers to the onion: You can present it to kids as a story about not making someone suffer for the actions of their family or how, ultimately, one's love is more powerful than one's hate. Angelina Jolie is at her best when she gets to play close to these themes; there's something heartbreakingly true about the layer of envy she adds to the christening scene even though the dialog has changed very little from the previous version. When the story is just Maleficent learning how to live with herself and others, it's sharp and clever without being didactic, a fantasy with some heft to it.

Unfortunately, it's stuck in the middle of the Sleeping Beauty story, and recasting Maleficent as a tortured antihero would stretch that story to the breaking point even if Woolverton's script didn't make other missteps along the way. The worst is how the fairies who were kind of silly but stalwart and brave in the animated version become all-but-useless, unfunny idiots here, and his decision to trust them with his daughter's life does some fairly severe damage to Stefan's status as a potentially worthy adversary. The need to give Maleficent someone to confide in means that her pet crow often assumes human form (Sam Riley), and characters with that function are boring even if the themes of the film would seem to make the idea of this woman having a human male confidant unlikely. There's a certain amount of metatextual fun in having the handsome prince (Brenton Thwaites) just be window dressing, but it also makes him one of a number of things dragged into - or through - the movie as a reference to previous iterations, rather than a natural part of where this version comes from.

Director Robert Stromberg comes from a production design background, which certainly helps the film in a number of areas: The fairies' domain is filled with playful creatures, everything on screen gives off hints as to its importance and attendant emotion without often seeming over-designed, and for a movie that often uses a dark palette, the 3D presentation looks petty good. He and his team take certain visual elements from Sleeping Beauty but are wise enough to mostly avoid trying to recreate things that wouldn't translate from animation very well. The notable exception is Angelina Jolie's makeup job as Maleficent, which is kind of interesting in that it almost necessitates making a character I had always assumed was a human witch into an inherently supernatural being, and that alien-ness varies from effective to distracting by the scene.

For all that Stromberg has the skills to set a scene, he could use a little work at playing them out. He doesn't get particularly memorable performances out of anyone in the cast but Angelina Jolie - Elle Fanning and Sharlto Copley in particular are capable of better than they give here - although that may partly be the fault of the script, which even fails Jolie on occasion (compare both the actual lines and delivery of such that bring forth a dragon in both movies). Sequences that should be thrilling are just things that happen with relatively little fuss, and the big finale isn't quite anticlimactic, but it's close. Still, he and editors Chris Lebenzon and Richard Pearson deserve credit for keeping the movie well-paced but not small at 97 minutes rather than stretching for a more conventionally "epic" two-hour-plus length.

I wound up liking "Maleficent" more than expected - much more, actually, considering how its previews suggested yet another re-imagining that missed the point of a beloved original. For all I wound up admiring what the filmmakers were trying to do, I do wish it was a little better at telling a story; instead, it winds up working much harder to subvert its fairy-tale tropes than "Frozen" without having quite the same sort of success.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25879&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/30/14 22:56:59
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User Comments

2/18/16 Dr.Lao An attempt to cash in on Wicked, but where Wicked was overerated rubbish this movie works 4 stars
2/24/15 stanley welles sacrifices story for design 1 stars
12/03/14 Ayana Pendergrass An unexpectedly brilliant movie! Jolie captivates! 5 stars
12/01/14 Charles Tatum Fantastic, a real unexpected gem 5 stars
6/13/14 Alice It had some nice moments (The spell) but overal a bit boring to me 2 stars
6/01/14 Bob Dog Vey dark, wonderfully told tale - a new Disney classic!!! 5 stars
5/31/14 PAUL SHORTT UNEVEN, SHALLOW VERSION OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, DESPITE A GOOD STAR PERFORMANCE 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-May-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 04-Nov-2014

UK
  28-May-2014 (PG)

Australia
  29-May-2014 (M)
  DVD: 04-Nov-2014




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