Once upon a time, not very long ago, there was a beloved entertainment genre, known as "fairytales." Fairytales were known for their fantasy settings, sweeping light romance, and clear-cut good vs. evil themes. But then some people grew tired of the simple, classic stories, and started a new trend of turning those tales on their heads and confusing the enjoyment right out of them -- Maleficent is one such product of that trend, and the poster child for everything ridiculous about it.
|From the very beginning this story's manipulation is forced and awkward. I mean, this is what the heroine looks like. Lurking in the shadows.|
There are two kingdoms; one filled with humans, and the other with magical creatures and fairies. The most powerful being in the fairy land is Maleficent, just a girl, but equipped with huge horns, gigantic wings, and full of kindness and love for everyone -- just like all of her kin. Young Maleficent meets a human boy her age, Stefan, and the two slowly form a close friendship that eventually turns to love. Then without warning the boy is gone. Maleficent grows up into Angelina Jolie. Then the plot really starts rolling, when the human king attacks her land, for murky reasons of fear, jealousy, or some other nasty, unreasonable human feeling.
In the battle, it is important to note, Maleficent and her forces kill many soldiers, and suffer no casualties themselves. If you think that goes against the supposed strict peacefulness of the fairies, you're absolutely right. After the king is easily defeated, and on his deathbed from a fall caused by Maleficent, he promises the throne to the person who can avenge him, speaking to his officers and councilors, but his servant is also present, a grown up Stefan (and now Sharlto Copley). Stefan grew greedily ambitious over the years; for the throne, he goes to murder the person he supposedly loved as a boy. To a little of his credit, he can't do it, but he does mange to cut off and steal her wings, which gets him the throne all the same.
|Well-played Stefan; you wanted to be a king when you grew up; now as a bonus you're also Sharlto Copley, and not even a murderer!|
Those wings must have housed all of Maleficent's goodness, because after they're gone, her transformation into the villainous, vengeful, and vile lady we all know is swift indeed. And her villain side makes much more sense than her good side. She enlists a crow (Sam Riley, when he is in human form) to be her spy and when he reports that the new king Stefan and his queen have had a daughter, she makes her move for revenge.
The obvious question now is why didn't she just go to the castle and kill Stefan immediately? Or maybe just take and eye for an eye (or eye for wing, as the case would be)? But no, her master plan of revenge is to curse his daughter. She is too good to murder the one she wants revenge on -- one who deserves it -- but she has no problem doing essentially the same to an innocent. She curses the baby girl, as we all know, to prick her finger on a spindle on the sixteenth birthday and fall into a sleep-like death (I think the technical term is actually "death-like sleep"). Only after Stefan begs her does she allow for a cure -- true love's kiss can break the curse, and nothing else -- this, because she knows true love doesn't exist; when they were young, he gave her a kiss saying it was true love's, and look at how they turned out.
|This is how that turned out.|
The further the story goes, the less sensible it gets; the very next thing the king does is have every spindle in the land burned and their remains stored in the castle. What. Then, he sends the baby away from him and her mother to be raised by three undersized, spectacularly incompetent fairies. Baby Aurora would have died in their care if not for... the protection of Maleficent and Diaval the crow.
Then as time passes there's a bunch of time-filler, masquerading unconvincingly as plot as the fairies act stupid, Aurora grows up, (turning into Elle Fanning) and Maleficent follows her around, pretending to hate her. In my boredom, I did notice that Diaval was an interesting character; he pledges his service to Maleficent after she saves his life, and is singularly and faithfully devoted to his pledge. This doesn't keep him from speaking his mind when he thinks differently from her though; he genuinely cares for Aurora and doesn't attempt to hide it. For a while I thought it would be a great twist if he were the one capable of delivering the curse-breaking smooch.
|Besides the feathers for hair he's not at all bad...|
Speaking of the smooch, when Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) -- sporting literally the worst hairstyle ever -- shows up at Aurora's house looking for directions it was so awkward and uncomfortable that I wish they had just dispensed with the romance altogether and been done with it already. I guess they somewhat understood how important romance is to a fairytale after all; but not enough to put any effort into making it meaningful -- or even romantic.
A little sense long wanted is restored when Maleficent finally regrets cursing Aurora. That moment is the most compelling the character and actress ever gets. On her sixteenth birthday, Aurora discovers her parentage and her curse, and guesses that it came from Maleficent, sending her off to the castle, and not long after that, sound asleep in a bed.
|No surprise there!|
The twist is actually legitimate. Over the years Maleficent came to love Aurora like a daughter, and after Phillip's kiss fails to do the trick, Maleficent gives her a farewell kiss on the forehead, promising to protect her even as she sleeps, and Aurora wakes up, without even a hint of a grudge, which was really very nice of her. The problem here being not that Maleficent's love shouldn't have been able to break the spell -- of course it should -- but the implication attached to Phillip's failure that fairytale-brand "true love" -- true, and romantic love -- doesn't exist. And the movie never gives us a reason to believe that it does. In the end Aurora and Phillip still have that super-awkward cutesy attraction, and it's played like a good thing. But, if his kiss didn't work, then he didn't love her, so why would they still end up together? The most obvious explanation is that selfless love and romantic love are mutually exclusive, and that is a conclusion that I do not appreciate.
|Another explanation is "The Frozen Rule": "You can't love someone you just met." I take issue with that one too.|
With the climax comes the worst plot hole of the film, when Stefan discovers that Maleficent is in the castle and wages war on her in a parlor. Now, Stefan became an interesting character to me, and I even held out hope that he, like Maleficent, would get a redemptive turn in the end. But I shouldn't have. So Maleficent defeats him, (with the help of Diaval in dragon form, and her wings which apparently can live separate from her and fuse back to her back just in time) but being a good guy doesn't kill him, and just leaves him -- to attack her from behind and fall to an anti-climatic death from a tower. Confusion added to disappointment when I suddenly wondered why Maleficent hadn't just told him that Aurora was awake.
I so wish they had, to see what it would have stemmed. On the one hand, Maleficent's evil motivations were the loss of her wings, and Stefan's was the (impending) loss of his daughter, so once neither had the motivations they should have been able to bury the hatchet. That was my first thought, based on the simple assumption that Stefan loved his daughter, but then I considered the other hand -- that he might not have as much as I'd thought. This goes with the cursing scene -- it bothered me a lot that all he does to defend Aurora from evil-intending Maleficent is to stand there stupidly, asking her to please not to. He never lifts a finger to stop her, suggesting that his life was most important to him.
|"I'll just be over here.... destroying your daughter's life!"|
And perhaps his hatred of Maleficent was more deeply seeded -- and what started with concern for his daughter morphed into a revenge and power obsession, and guilt-suppression, until he lost sight of where it began. This makes sense with his cold reception of Aurora upon her return. So perhaps knowing she was awake wouldn't have made a difference. But the question is moot; he was never given a chance to go one way or another -- though either would have been interesting to see. Instead his character was cut short, along with my last hope of seeing anything remarkable come out of this movie.
In comparison to the previous 1,500 words of my nit-picking problems, other details of this movie left very little impression. Visually, it was occasionally not bad and slightly memorable, and for the most part the acting wasn't terrible -- though when it was terrible, it really was. The writing and plotting was cheap and filled with holes. And even as the best the film had to offer, Maleficent never interested me. Not being a fan of Angelina Jolie, I wished more screen time for every single character besides her (and those three super-annoying fairies), but Elle Fanning was left with nothing to do, Brenton Thwaites actually detracted from the movie, Sam Riley flew along under the radar, and the promising arc of Sharlto Copley's character turned out to be no more than a long fall and a sudden stop.
Actually, that a bit how the entire movie felt; very long fall; very sudden stop!