Maleficent (2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/7/14
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning

This re-telling of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) is refreshingly cynical, but amounts to little more than a star vehicle for Angelina Jolie to channel the sinister charms of the title character. Without her enigmatic presence, the film falls apart. It's a cautionary tale about the evil that men do, as a young man named Stefan betrays the love and trust of a young and innocent fairy named Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), all in the name of power. The scorned and fallen Maleficent retaliates by cursing Stefan's daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), which leads to war between the human world and the fairy realm. Only true love's kiss will lift Aurora's curse, but does such a thing even exist?

Much like Disney's other live action attempts to revisit their animated classics, "Maleficent" is a great looking film full of wonder and visual splendor. Similarly, it's also largely uninteresting and lacks any warmth or charm. Jolie's portrayal of Maleficent is magnificent, and she dominates every scene she's in with ravenous glee. Her compelling presence is intoxicating, despite her awful red lipstick and unconvincing colored contacts. Elle Fanning is suitably adorable, although her cheeriness and sense of wonder feels forced and lacks authenticity. She's much more convincing when she's frightened or sad. The three pixies are annoying as hell, and exist solely for attempts at comic relief. While the fairy folk are all extremely well realized, I found the character design to be completely uninteresting, which ruined any sort of emotional bond I might have with them. The humans are all portrayed as vile, wicked creatures, reflecting the greed, paranoia, and hatred of the increasingly mad and irredeemable King Stefan. The story attempts to introduce a clever twist, but heavy-handed foreshadowing gives it away in the first fifteen minutes. The film definitely lacks subtlety, and suffers from an overabundance of narrative exposition. This also introduces some extreme logic holes and self contradictions, which left me scratching my head afterwards. If they would just stop talking so much, the film would make a lot more sense. Overall, it's a solidly mediocre film, featuring some nice fantasy action scenes and a strong music score, but your enjoyment will be mostly determined by how much you buy into Ms. Jolie's performance.