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Review | Disney’s Rudderless ‘Maleficent’ is a Waste of Audience’s, and Jolie’s, Time

maleficent review1

The best part about Disney’s Maleficent is that it ends.

That’s not to say the movie is terrible; it isn’t. But neither is it good. Rather, it just takes up space, which is much worse.

First-time director Robert Stromberg delivers a largely unfocused, lifeless and unnecessary origin story for the popular Disney villain, filled with characters incapable of having emotionally honest reactions to scenes because the plot has no room for them.

Plot and uninspired CG set pieces are all that seem to concern screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast), whose script employs a voiceover that plays less like narrative device and more like a descriptive service recapping events for the visually impaired. It’s a screenplay that devotes two chapters too many to Maleficent’s origins.

First, we get “Maleficent Begins: The Teenage Years,” featuring the once and future villain as a heroic fairy charged with protecting the Moors – a Technicolor fantasia of CG water and trees – from the kingdom of man. (Why a winged teen must protect this fantasy land when it has spear-wielding trees walking about is one of many “just go with it” concessions the story never explains or earns.)

Angelina Jolie Casts New Light on “Maleficent’s” Darkness

maleficent review4When a boy named Stefan wanders into the Moors, he and Maleficent become friends, and then more than friends. Then, naturally, adult Stefan (played by an oddly Michael Bay-looking Sharlto Copley) sets his sights on the kingdom’s throne and leaves Mal behind.

Cue “Maleficent Begins: The Jolie Years,” as Angelina Jolie does her best to service the story in between unconvincing green-screened flying sequences and staring intently at things.

Long story less long: Man comes to take the Moors, Jolie says “no,” attacks man with the aforementioned warrior-tree things and the battle just kind of deflates into a non-ending that sends Stefan on a mission to get himself crowned king. How? By drugging her and cutting off her wings, of course!

Jolie soon dons the character’s signature black look and stalks into Stefan’s kingdom, cursing his first-born daughter Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) to suffer an eternal sleep upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel at age 16 – a slumber from which only true love’s kiss can awaken her.

Director Robert Stromberg Conjures Big-Screen Worlds

Now starts the film’s second origin story – the first act’s mostly prologue – as we get treated to “Aurora Begins.” The movie chronicles the young girl’s journey to look like Elle Fanning before it becomes a dull Mad Lib of the animated classic’s plot, complete with three surprisingly unlikable and ditzy Fairy Godmothers charged with caring for the girl, as Maleficent looks on from afar — developing an affection for the child that leads her to see the error of her ways.

maleficent review3There’s a good movie to be found among this mess. Unfortunately for audiences, Stromberg doesn’t know how to find it. There’s not one choice the director makes that feels like it comes from any place of passion. There’s no hint as to why this production designer-turned-director must tell this tale.

His lack of desire and interest toward the action-heavy material is most evident in the opening battle, which plays like leftover animatics from Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings, and the Narnia films. The most jarring directorial choices are sudden zoom-ins on character’s faces. At first, they’re used to seemingly emphasize characters’ reactions to key battle moments, but then they just start happening, a lot, in rapid succession, for no reason – to the point where they border on self-parody.

Jolie does her best with what little is here, but even she can’t save the movie from its rudderless self. Casting such a lively star in such an inactive, reactive role is baffling. What life the Oscar winner brings to the material with a glance or cackle is almost entirely undone by any scene requiring her to speak more than a sentence. While Jolie seems more engaged with the material than her director, her performance lacks the spark of her previous efforts. It’s as if she’s acting in a better movie playing inside her head, and can’t be bothered to share it.

Disney Veteran Floyd Norman Recalls Walt, Maleficent and “Sleeping Beauty”

Fanning is reduced to various degrees of smiling and looking sullen, a waste of such a talented young star. And Copley suffers through a role that requires him to become a “Mad King,” having a conversation with Maleficent’s severed wings, because… that’s the type of movie this is. Full of scenes that happen because they were on the call sheet that day, void of any interesting things to say, or emotions to illicit.

maleficent review2Maleficent is the type of movie where the title character is so powerful that she can turn a bird into a man, then back into a bird, then into a dragon – but she can’t restore her wings? It’s the type of movie where fairies are called pixies in one scene, then fairies again in another, without ever bothering to account for why the distinction between the two – or explain why good fairy-turned-evil fairy has a rivalry with her own kind. (Then again, if those fairies were as annoying and one-note as the ones played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville, I’d despise them too.)

If Maleficent is successful at anything, it’s this: It doubles down on this summer’s failure to give audiences emotionally resonate films based on established property – save for X-Men: Days of Future Past. It reinforces the need for that which it can’t provide – better product based on intellectual property – and reminds us that zero creative executives know how to light our way to that end, because they all are perpetually in the dark.

Disney’s Maleficent opens today nationwide.

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Comments

  • JokersNuts

    I was hoping this would be good, but the focus on origin is where they seemed to f up the most.

  • DanCMH

    On the bright side I know of at least two drag queens who already have the horned head piece made up for Pride next month so maybe a small cottage industry can bloom from this…

  • lewis4510

    Pretty much lines up with other reviews I’ve seen.

    Maybe they need to use CGI effects in all Jolie’s movies so she doesn’t look so repulsively thin.

  • Fo Real

    Don’t believe any of the reviews you claim that you read said anything about how thin she is. Way to get off the subject. Smh.

  • David Fullam

    She’s beginning to look like a Rob Liefeld drawing.

  • momaw

    I just saw it and thought it was fantastic.

  • Taylor Yancik

    I saw it last night, and absolutely loved it. *shrug*

  • Tophman

    If you want a mindless action film, wait for Michael Bay’s Transformers movie. This wasn’t supposed to be an action film so slamming it for the lack of action sequences isn’t fair to the movie.

    Obviously the reviewer has major biases against the actors and the director as I definitely did connect with Angelina’s emotional portrayal and Elle’s loveable innocence. This is a family movie (albeit with extremely dark tones that would scare the little tykes). All of the story beats leading up to Maleficent turning evil was necessary to help us understand her motivations for taking over her magical land & why it turned into a dismal place. This all served to show why she went from a fun-loving care-free child that everyone loved to someone they feared.

    As for Angelina’s look, the filmmakers obviously wanted to create an homage to Maleficent’s appearance from “Sleeping Beauty” which worked to show us an ‘evil’ villain at first glance but allowed her to show her emotional range once you’ve given her a chance. Imho, it works perfectly well.

    The only thing I do agree with is the treatment of the three fairies (who happen to be the main protagonists of “Sleeping Beauty”) but I understand why it was necessary.

    So my recommendation would be to go see it for yourself as the film Phil saw was definitely not the same as what I did. … so yeah… *shrug*

  • anon

    Learn how to speak English before you start criticizing others, fool!

  • Yakushiji Tenzen

    Jolie has no talent. Even worse I hear she’s going to be playing Cleopatra? WORST casting choice evar! She’s probably going to use one of her weird made-up accents that doesn’t even sound remotely near what she’s suppose to sound like! To think Elizabeth Taylor is being followed by Angelina Jolie?! DISGUSTING

  • Fo Real

    Learn how to read English before you start criticizing others on how to speak it ….. Fool.

  • Fo Real

    Hate to tell you , but Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t a good choice either . So just don’t go there . And Jolie has talent . Oscars wins tend to prove that . If you just don’t like her , that’s cool . Just don’t lie about how good she is .

  • GreyTalon

    “failure to give audiences emotionally resonate
    films based on established property – save for X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

    Keep riding those X-Men nuts, CBR.

  • Yakushiji Tenzen

    Oscar wins don’t prove shit! LOL Leonardo DiCaprio has NEVER won an oscar. An actor who has proven himself time and again to be oscar-worthy. NO instead they give one to Lupita Nyong in 12 years a slave who has BARELY any acting experience. Oscar wins… LOL gtfo!

  • a person

    The writer of this article should keep their opinion to themselves, and not spoil the movie for the rest o us that have or are going to watch it.

  • non a yo biz

    She is a great actor. stop being a hater

  • kani

    Ruined one of the most classic fairy tales – Worst Disney movie ever