Maleficent marks the directing debut of Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of Avatar, and it’s immediately clear that the man knows how to make a movie look gorgeous. The film opens with a beautiful vista: the camera shows the kingdom of men before zooming in on the Moore, where the magical beings reside. Lush trees, fantastical mountain formations and waterfalls fill the screen, all eye candy and magnificent to behold. But then you start paying attention to the clunky voice-over, the vapid performances of the young actors and the world-building of the first 15 minutes of the film… and it becomes apparent that, other than its looks, Maleficent doesn’t have all that much going for it. It’s not until Angelina Jolie arrives that the film manages to spark some interest, but she’s let down by the material.
Maleficent‘s hook is the fact it revisits the origins of one of Disney’s best villains; the titular baddy from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s an intriguing proposition: to flesh out one of the studio’s most evil and devilishly delightful creations. Unfortunately and surprisingly its hook is also the film’s major flaw because of how bland and superficial the execution is: it’s Anakin Skywalker’s disappointing transformation into Darth Vader all over again. What I mean by that is the following: both villains were presented to audiences as threatening, mysterious and powerful individuals, immovable objects really because of their perseverance and single-mindedness. The Star Wars prequels ruined Vader’s strengths by making the character too normal, his origin story too mundane, taking away from the mystery and fear factor. Maleficent repeats that same mistake: the reason for the character’s turn to the dark side is so ordinary and disappointing that it lessens Maleficent’s allure. Additionally her development is so rushed that the character flip-flops from one end of the spectrum to the other, in order for the film to present its audience with both the villain we’ve all grown to love and this new take on Maleficent. It doesn’t work, which is a problem in a movie named after Angelina Jolie’s horned fairy.
Jolie makes the best of it, though: she’s got the authority down, the presence, and, for large parts of the movie, even the warmth and the inner turmoil. While the arc is clumsily written, Jolie makes you want to look that over because her performance is so good. It’s quite hammy here in there, larger than life, but that’s exactly what the character needs to shine and, even then, Maleficent still remains a relatable character throughout the movie thanks to Jolie’s acting. That being said: she’s also the only actor who manages to give some depth and gravitas to her part, who manages to pull you into the movie’s world. The other actors don’t manage to elevate the material they’re given: Elle Fanning’s Aurora is defined by the fact she smiles at everything all the time, Sharlto Copley’s king is a egotistical and entirely unsympathetic bad guy (but not the kind you love to hate; the kind you just hate and get annoyed by) and the three fairy godmothers are, quite frankly, incredibly stupid and bothersome: the incredibly childish comic relief they provide doesn’t gel with the dark tone the film seems to be striving toward. While novice director Stromberg makes everything look nice, he doesn’t get any moving or thrilling performances out his actors aside from Maleficent‘s leading lady, which is the major flaw here. Sure, there are more problems with tone and editing, but those don’t break the movie: it’s the lack of an involving narrative, the abundance of plot holes and the fact you literally care about only one character that render Maleficent a failure.
Jolie gives it her all and delivers a solid performance, but she can’t entirely save this film: it’s hollow and dull, and its looks can’t make up for these flaws. 5/10