Monday, June 9, 2014

Très Jolie

Year: 2014
Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

The best I can say about first time director Robert Stromberg's Maleficent is that at least its miles better than its "gritty fairy tale reboot" brethren, the dreary Snow White and the Huntsman, the lightweight Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, the much derided 2010 Alice in Wonderland, and the quickly forgotten Shyamalan-lite fable Red Riding Hood.

That's not saying much and Maleficent isn't much, but at least it's not a night at the movies that you're going to regret for years to come. It turns out that this film, or at least this character, has been something of a pet project for star Angelina Jolie for quite some time, which means that even when the rest of the movie lies anemic and twitching around her, she can always be counted on to bring depth and gravitas to the situation.

And the power of pure glam.

The alternative fairy tale goes like this: Once upon a time, there was a beautiful fairy named Maleficent (Angeline Jolie), who was the protectress of the fairy realm, located in the moors alongside the human kingdom. Despite her horns and terrifying Lady Gaga facial protrusions, she was a kind and gentle fairy. One day, when a human boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) meets her in the woods, an unlikely friendship is born, one that seems to extend beyond the long-standing hatred between man and fairy.

That is, until Stefan drugs Maleficent and cuts off her wings in order to become ruler of the realm (the kingship had been offered to anybody who could vanquish Maleficent because apparently nobody had told them that nepotism was a thing yet). So, one harrowing rape metaphor later, Maleficent is stunted by man's greed and vows revenge on the new king - the man who made her lose faith in True Love.

Yadda yadda, you've seen Sleeping Beauty. She curses his daughter that she'll prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a sleep like death that can only be ended by True Love's Kiss, which to her is just a huge middle finger because she truly doesn't believe such a thing exists. Clearly, she hasn't seen Frozen yet, although technically the laws of statistics state that anybody who hasn't seen Frozen has actually already seen it 2.3 times.

Do you wanna build a leaf man?

So the baby Aurora (Elle Fanning, eventually) is sent to be raised far away from the castle until the day after her sixteenth birthday, under the care of three bumbling fairies, Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple). When the careless fairies almost starve the poor child to death, Maleficent is forced to be a reluctant caretaker for the child to make sure she survives long enough to actually feel the effects of the curse.

So here we have Maleficent, the villain with a heart of gold.

And cheekbones of diamond.

I shan't spoil what happens after that, because that's no fun, is it? Suffice it to say that Angelina Jolie is forever and always the best part of any scene she is in, although the portentous music by James Newton Howard is a close second, full of droll evilness and a perfect combination with Jolie to instill the film with the sense of how much fun she is having playing this role.

It's a good thing either of those exists at all, because man is the rest of the film that surrounds it middling to awful. Elle Fanning is blisteringly annoying and flat as the vacuous Aurora and Sharlto Copley offers nothing interesting in a generic villain role, paling in comparison to the far more appealing villain that is the protagonist.

And the CGI that creates most of fairyland looks like somebody forgot to render it and even Henry, my resident silver lining enthusiast, had scant praise: "At least it was better than Days of Future Past."

True, but Days of Future Past had Shawn Ashmore, so I'm willing to trade any day.

But the biggest flaw, one that constricts the entire film in a tight boa constrictor chokehold, is the pacing. Every single scene, beat, and moment of the movie is inexplicably rushed, and much of the character development and many of the major events feel like they're played on fast forward. Maleficent's shift from cackling villain to reluctant overseer takes place in the space between two scenes, Prince Phillip (Oculus' Brenton Thwaites) is only in the film for a grand total of about 34 seconds (although it's not like he needs more - he is more useless than ever here), and I'm going to mention this because it's so egregious, but I'll have to put it in spoiler blocks, [Aurora, popularly known as "Sleeping Beauty" is only asleep for about two minutes. Not just in movie time. She's literally asleep for two minutes in the context of her own story. It's more like "Napping Beauty" than anything.]

The film feels uncared for by anybody but the lead actress, but at least she's brilliant, bringing a layer of humor over the proceedings when it needs it, especially in her uncomfortable interactions with young Aurora, and being delightfully, venally evil when it does not. Maleficent is one of the preeminent Bad Guys in all of Western storytelling and Jolie does her magnificent justice.

So overall, the movie is entertaining for what it is - a piece of fluff driven by a woman who was born to play a role. Do I wish the rest of the movie was better? I certainly do. But I'd take Maleficent over Kristen Stewart biting her lip at Chris Hemsworth any day.

TL;DR: Maleficent suffers from massive pacing issues, but is a fun and largely entertaining film thanks entirely to Angelina Jolie's powerhouse performance.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 983

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