Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bonus Review: Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent, for those who may have forgotten, is the main villain in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, a film that remains an undeniable high point amongst so many animated classics from the House Of Mouse. This film is all about her, and allows people to see a different side to the famous baddie. Apparently, the story that we all thought we knew didn't play out quite as we were told. Maleficent changes that, giving viewers the other side of events. It is to Sleeping Beauty as Wicked is to The Wizard Of Oz, to make the obvious analogy.

I don't want to give too much away, as there are a number of pleasant surprises here in the way that the plot unfolds, so all I will say in my summation of the storyline is that Maleficent is introduced as a happy, winged fairy (played by Isobelle Molloy) and then experiences something that turns her into the scary adult that cursed a princess named Aurora. The scary adult version of Maleficent is played by Angelina Jolie, and the Aurora who is due to suffer on her sixteenth birthday is played by Elle Fanning.

Let me start with the positives here, because I liked a lot of aspects of Maleficent. The first, and main, ace up its sleeve is Angelina Jolie in the lead role. There may be scenes in which her cheekbones are far too distracting (no, really, I'm serious, I thought they were going to rip through her skin at some points), but her performance is almost perfect throughout. She puts on a decent British accent, looks superb in the costume and make-up, and manages to move from scary to funny to sad as the scenes demand. I know, I know, that's a basic requirement for many actors, although you wouldn't always know it, but she really dances through all of the mood changes with ease. The rest of the cast also do good work, although Sharlto Copley is left to go overboard as the distraught king/father who becomes obsessed with destroying Maleficent before any harm comes to his daughter. Fanning is very likable, and Sam Riley is an absolute standout as Diaval, a crow transformed into a man. Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple are fine as fairies (although they are given far too many comedy moments that aren't really all that funny), and Brenton Thwaites is perfectly acceptable as the bland Prince Charming type, Prince Phillip, to be exact.

The production values, and the design of the world shown onscreen, are also excellent. There are often an over-abundance of FX shots in each sequence, but they're pretty gorgeous. This is eye candy, and it's eye candy that many will find most satisfying when things move from the sweetness and light of the opening scenes to the darker visual style of the next hour.

Unfortunately, that's about all I have in the way of compliments.

Director Robert Stromberg, enjoying his first time in the big chair, fumbles things from the very beginning. I have little doubt that many decisions were dictated to him, and I should have expected a final product like this from Disney (damn my eyes for letting the trailer deceive me), but the bright, colourful moments don't feel as if they belong in this movie. When things darken, however, they don't go dark enough. This isn't a twist on familiar material. This is an entire rewrite to make everything sweeter, which makes the movie lazy and clumsy when it should have been interesting and much more impressive.

Thankfully for Stromberg, he can quickly point a finger at screenwriter Linda Woolverton, because this is one stinker of a script. Oh, there are some great lines here and there, mostly made great thanks to the delivery by Jolie, but it's 95% awful, made worse by the fact that it's clearly meant to be clever and fun throughout. The voiceover narration, by Janet McTeer, is especially bad, often relating information that could have been shown onscreen. In fact, it's occasionally describing exactly what IS being shown onscreen. At the start of the movie I thought it was irritating, but acceptable, as a shorthand way to throw viewers into the world. But I soon wanted McTeer to just shut up, which she doesn't (okay, she does, but the narration keeps cropping up at various points throughout the movie).

This is a film made enjoyable by the sheer force of Jolie's adopted personality in the main role, and even she can't always do enough to improve the lines that she's given. That would take real magic, and there's none of that here.


Enjoy Maleficent's original appearance when this is released in the UK in a few days -

I WILL keep reminding people that every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself). So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

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