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Maleficent
Genre Fantasy
 
Review:

Maleficent is the self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil, immortalised by Walt Disney's 1959 film, Sleeping Beauty. After not being invited to a royal christening, Maleficent curses the baby Princess Aurora to "prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and die" before the Sun sets on her sixteenth birthday. The curse is softened from death to a deep sleep by one of her guardian fairies, with true love's kiss her only salvation.

In Disney's live-action film Maleficent, the film-makers have taken the story from her perspective. At first, Maleficent's portrayed as a good fairy and a protector of the realm of the supernatural. After befriending a boy named Stefan, Maleficent's tolerance of the neighboring human kingdom is put to the test when Stefan betrays her in order to win favour with the King. Her hatred festers, resulting in a vengeful curse on the Princess Aurora.

Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent and long before the film released, it was difficult to think of someone more fitting based on her appearance and seething performance in Beowulf. Jolie has presence and her venomous looking make up does wonders for her cheekbones. She owns the part and carries the film with enough dark majesty to rival Charlize Theron's role as Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman.

She's supported by our very own Sharlto Copley as the entertaining Stefan, who brings an Irish twang to the treacherous and malevolent Prince John archetype. Elle Fanning plays the sweet and naive Aurora, counterbalancing Maleficent with cheeks you want to pinch. Then it's great to see Sam Riley branching out with the grubby and fiendish crow-turned-minion, Diaval.

In trying to make a live-action fairy tale that appeals to everyone, the film-makers have delivered a mixed bag. Maleficent is no longer the supreme villain we know from Sleeping Beauty. Instead she's been softened to play evil enchantress and fairy godmother. As hero and villain, there's more character complexity, however this opens up the see-sawing drama to ridicule.

Maleficent is Robert Stromberg's first feature film as director. The visual effects virtuoso is behind the effects in Pan's Labyrinth, The Hunger Games and Life of Pi. As expected from Stromberg, Maleficent relies quite heavily on visual effects artistry. While the battle scenes are quite brilliant, the perpetual need to add visual effects and CGI backdrops to almost every frame gives the fantasy film a camp and inconsistent feel as though the original storyboard was intended for Disney animation.

The unreal world is ambitious and the variety of live-action to animated effects falters, never really establishing a sense of consistency. To alleviate some of the swaying, the script injects the sort of lightweight comedy that would probably work better in an animated world. Instead, it just comes across as cheesy with some of the dramatic moments drawing unintentional laughter.

Choices relating to the story and its origins, also seem off-key, as Maleficent's character is reinvented and aspects of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale get revised. It's as if Disney's trying to backpedal one of their most notorious animated villains, veering from the predictable happy ending or possibly suggesting something more sinister. Either way, the contrivances of the plotting don't quite add up.

The CGI/live-action mixture, camp tone and awkward comedy echo Oz the Great and Powerful. This film originated from The Wizard of Oz, which gave it license to embrace some of these elements with some success. Unfortunately for Maleficent, it's trying to reinvent the spinning wheel... gathering the dark drama of Sleeping Beauty and then pricking it with daft comedy involving crows, floating captives, mud fights and irritating fairies.

Maleficent is visually spectacular at times and powered by a defiant performance from Angelina Jolie. Stromberg's first feature film is full of fantasy eye candy, but struggles to find its stride as it's over-reliance on visual effects stretches the canvas to breaking point. While the fairy tale is familiar, with some good and horrible ideas, the storytelling is discordant, the tone is camp and the comedy cheesy.

The bottom line: Flawed

 

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