Maleficent Review: An alternative take that is utterly boring

Suprateek Chatterjee

May 30, 2014 10:41:56 IST

A princess who has issues with her magical powers curses the kingdom she lives in and stays in isolation, until true love melts her heart -- actual true love, the kind that doesn’t necessarily require a handsome prince. Wait, isn’t this the plot of Frozen? Yes it is. It’s also the plot of Maleficent, Disney’s latest offering after last year’s Oscar-winner revived its critical and commercial fortunes. An alternative, origin-story take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is also a vastly inferior film – one that attempts to subvert and thrill but somehow ends up being even more boring for it.

In its titular role, it features Angelina Jolie, an embittered fairy who was betrayed in love by King Stefan (played as an adult by South African actor Sharlto Copley, from District 9). In a land that is divided by one part that is inhabited by humans, and the moors, inhabited by magical creatures such as fairies and elves, young Maleficent (played by Ella Purnell and Isobelle Moloy) is shown to be a carefree and happy girl, without a ‘heart of stone’ as the character is traditionally said to have (depicted brilliantly in Disney’s animated 1959 version).

She meets young Stefan (Michael Higgins and later Tony Regbo), a thieving boy, and love blossoms between the two. However, for unspecified reasons (aka that old chestnut: ‘man’s unending greed’), the ruler, King Henry, decides that he wants to take over the moors. By now, Maleficent is a young woman being played by a 38-year-old mother of six. And it shows. She uses the help of giant, Ent-like creatures (the second time we’re seeing such creatures this year, after Noah) as well as her own powers to send the King’s army packing. It is at this point that the film’s weaknesses truly start showing, with this crucial action sequence lacking style, suspense and urgency.

 Maleficent Review: An alternative take that is utterly boring

This image released by Disney shows Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, left, in a scene with her daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, portraying Young Aurora, in a scene from Maleficent. AP

The King, who is now dying, lays out a challenge – whoever defeats Maleficent gets to be his heir (Game Of Thrones fans may want to call this method of accession -- *puts sunglasses on* -- ‘Royal By Combat’). Stefan, who now mysteriously possesses Copley’s sing-song South African accent after growing up with an English accent, heads out to meet Maleficent to warn her. However, he betrays her by drugging her and clipping off her wings (in more ways than one).

There is an interesting ambiguity here: did Stefan betray her to become King or did he do so to protect her? “Meh,” replies the film’s screenplay, hell-bent on avoiding anything that might give this story some depth. The rest of the story follows an arc similar to the fairytale, with a number of key changes that I won’t reveal.

This film has been directed by seasoned production designer Robert Stromberg, who won Best Art Direction Oscars for Avatar (2009) and Alice In Wonderland (2010), and the influences of these two movies are extremely evident here; the moors, for example, look a lot like Pandora, especially in scenes that show a young Maleficent soaring through the air.

Given that the packaging is pretty without being memorable, the least this movie could’ve done is given us charismatic performances. The only one who comes close to fulfilling this is Elle Fanning, playing Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty herself), whose charming screen presence makes you realise you’re watching a movie and not merely an accomplished art direction + visual effects tutorial. Copley is sincere but miscast, although it’s heartening to see that Hollywood is starting to warm up to accents from outside the British Isles when it comes to fantasy fiction.

But the worst offender is Jolie, who, quite frankly, looks utterly disinterested in the proceedings. Her interpretation of Maleficent is to play her as though she’s suffering from a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome. The simmering rage that she should have possessed – that the first act of this film painstakingly sets up – is absent, with the camera more interested in capturing her pout and digitally-enhanced cheekbones.

Here was a chance to really add some life, some humanity to an iconic character, and Jolie squanders it with an expressionless and dispassionate performance. Perhaps she did this film just to cash in on Disney’s rejuvenated box-office clout. Viewers, however, should prove her wrong by simply re-watching Frozen.

Updated Date: May 30, 2014 15:04:28 IST

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