Once Upon A Time… there were two kingdoms – one ruled by a King and one where there was no ruler because the people who lived there, the Fairys, respected one another. But when the greed of a human man betrays the fairy who he declared was his one true love, a chain of events is set into motion which involves revenge, a dark curse and the creation of one of Disney’s most iconic villains… Maleficent.
Following last year’s “Oz The Great And Powerful” which managed to retcon the stories of the Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West comes Disney’s latest offering which seeks to set the record straight about the villain of “Sleeping Beauty”.
I must admit that I came into this film concerned that the promise of a great film may not be delivered upon, especially after the disappointment of “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” and the even more disappointing “Godzilla” given this film’s mixed press. Instead, what I was treated to was one of the better films, if not the best film, from a story perspective of the summer so far.
“Maleficent” takes the well known “Sleeping Beauty” story and adds a dash of the “Wicked” touch by telling the story from the “villain’s” point of view. Right from the off, Linda Woolverton’s script helps to engender sympathy for the character of Maleficent by making her childlike and innocent which leads her to be a credible protector for the Fairy people of the Moor. The change for the character comes when she is betrayed by her human love, Stefan, who has ambitions of kinghood and the effects of this betrayal carry deep into the remainder of the film. This is more true for the character of King Stefan as he becomes the true villain of the film seeking revenge upon the woman he has wronged under the justification that she has placed an irrevocable curse upon his daughter, Princess Aurora.
Angelina Jolie steals the show from all of her cast members, without exception in the role of Maleficent. Whilst she manages portray the Devil having the best tunes aspect of Maleficent with relish, especially in the scene where she places the curse upon the baby Aurora, it is the more humane side that Jolie plays with a greater ability. This incarnation of the character is one which garners the audience’s support and sympathy as she serves as a somewhat begrudging protector and teacher for the young Aurora which leads to the logical resolution for the role at the film’s conclusion. Yes, the Devil may get the best tunes, but Jolie manages to also prove that a villain isn’t a villain in their own mind, especially as Maleficent could be seen as the true victim of the piece.
Sharlto Copley gives a great study of how a person of once noble motives can descend to villainy when he starts treading the wrong path. The character Stefan starts as a true friend and ally to Maleficent, but once the greed for power infects Stefan, he becomes the polar opposite – craving of the wealth that the Moor offers whilst paranoid of the reach that Maleficent’s power extends and lacking in hesitation in using his childhood knowledge of Maleficent’s weaknesses against her. Very much a case of “absolute power corrupting absolutely”.
Elle Fanning uses her screen time well to match the portrayal of the original Aurora to this film. Whilst she is closeted with her three fairy godmothers – portrayed by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville – it is from Maleficent that she learns her true lessons of beauty within the world she lives whilst teaching Maleficent a lesson, one which drives the film’s final act.
I suppose it is unfair for me to call Brendon Thwaites portrayal of Prince Philip a bit “wet”, especially as you only get to see him in a few scenes. That said, the character of Philip IS a bit wet and deliberately so as the film’s conclusion demonstrates. This is by no means a reflection of Thwaites’s acting, but I wish there had been a better outcome for the character than what had been shown on-screen.
I have to admit that my favourite character, apart from Maleficent herself, is Sam Riley’s portrayal of her hench-crow Diaval. Riley elevates the character from your stereotypical hench-creature and changes Diaval into a Jiminy Cricket for Maleficent. In effect, Diaval is the catalyst for the change in Maleficent’s nature as the film progresses as she changes from hero, to villain, to anti-hero and back to hero again.
The direction from Robert Stromberg manages to combine both the beauty of a fairy tale realm with the threat of a darker tinge. That said, did the film warrant a PG rating? I’d have to say no. Granted, there are a couple of scary bits for younger children but there were quite a few younger children in the audience with their parents and none seemed affected or traumatised by what was happening in the film, and I have to admit that children need films like this to not only show the true nature of good and evil, but to use it as an “antibiotic” for the nightmares that children face as they grow older. It is simply the modern day take on a fairy tale… or a Disney animated fairy story.
The trailers tend to lead the viewer into thinking that this will be a film with wall to wall battles and action. All I can recommend is try to ignore the trailers. What you get from “Maleficent” is a well constructed story about how life choices and experience can make a person “good” or “evil” within a fantasy context. There are battles – in fact, there’s only two real battles to think of – but these don’t make the film. What makes “Maleficent” such a good film is a solid story with decent acting and an unforgettable lead.
If you’re a Disney fan or a fantasy fan – Get In The Queue
If you simply want to see an entertaining film – Wait a While