Not so Magnificent

Certificate: PG

Length: 97  minutes

Writers: Linda Woolverton, based on a number of stories

Director: Robert Stromberg

Starring: Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley

Apologies for the late review. I can blame a number of things: 1) the World Cup, 2) a rather brilliant beer festival last weekend, and 3) the fact that there were absolutely no films that I wanted to see. For those of you who perhaps don’t go to the cinema as much as I do (which is, presumably, everyone), droughts such as these are quite common, especially when there is something else on to divert everyone’s attention, like… I don’t know… a huge sports tournament or something.

So the options weren’t great to be honest, and it was out of pure boredom that I went to see Maleficent last week. And… what can I say? I am so not the person that this film is meant for. I only like a couple of Disney movies (The Road to El Dorado is probably the most recent one that I enjoy) and haven’t seen the majority of the recent ones. From what I’ve seen of Frozen, it’s alright. That’s it. It’s just an average Disney film. I really don’t get why people have flipped out so much over it or even why people still talk about it. Guys, just let it go…

So Maleficent is essentially a reboot (of sorts) of the 1959 cartoon Sleeping Beauty except with a cunning twist. As the title would suggest, the story this time focuses on the character of Maleficent, one of the archetypal villains from Disney’s canon, and how she became so darn evil. Guess what? It’s because the guy she loved screwed her over. Original.

This is what I don’t understand; people have been labelling this film as being progressive and empowering for women, some even going as far as to say it’s ‘feminist friendly’. But this, to me anyway, just isn’t true. I mean, Maleficent becomes evil because of a man… Wasn’t it more empowering before? When she was evil because she wanted to be? It’s especially apparent in this film because the true villain is the King character played by Sharlto Copley (who really underplays the part and has a Scottish accent for some unknown reason). He’s just evil. He needs no reason. He wanted to be king and did terrible things to get there. Why is it that Maleficent needed a reason? And why is that reason a man? It’s kind of hard to explain and I don’t intend to anger anyone here, but I just don’t get how the story is meant to be empowering.

Anyway, Maleficent here is apparently a fairy (read ‘weird-winged-demon-thing/earth-mother-personification) who defends a magical realm known as the moors from the evil humans. She falls in love with a human (obviously) who turns out to be a bit of a wrong’un, cuts off her wings and thereby becomes king. Maleficent is, naturally, terribly vexed by this and curses the King’s daughter Aurora to eternal sleep on her sixteenth birthday etc. In an odd twist, Maleficent then watches over Aurora as she grows up, becoming closer and closer to her until they eventually form a mother-daughter bond. I won’t spoil the end, but I can tell you that the story goes absolutely mental before they all live happily ever after.

I can say one thing for it: Angelina Jolie is brilliant in this film. Naturally she gets a lot to do and plays every emotion to perfection, switching seamlessly from distraught to contemplative to total maniacal evil in a heartbeat. She was genuinely a pleasure to watch in this movie, and every minor qualm I have with her character can be attributed to bad writing. Her motivations occasionally seem a bit odd and certain scenes feel strangely silly when actual people are doing them instead of a cartoon, but other than that she is the highlight of the film.

The rest of the movie is pretty terrible by comparison. The story isn’t worth a damn, though I suppose that’s what happens when the entire narrative is character development and very little plot. The ending is ridiculous and really overdone. The film is incredibly effects heavy, which wouldn’t be so bad if the creature design wasn’t so bizarre and slightly disturbing (it’s the smiling Disney faces on little messed up creatures of nightmare that does it). The child actors are appallingly bad, and the rest of them – Jolie’s performance excluded, of course – aren’t much better (the guy playing the crow is alright I guess). The three fairies are nearly the most irritating characters in the movie, pipped to the post by Aurora herself who is sickeningly, eye-rollingly, repulsively happy throughout the film. This does create an interesting dynamic between Maleficent and Aurora in that Maleficent acts like a normal person while Aurora is literally running up to things and smiling at them.

There are a few interesting interpretations of this film that I have heard; that the movie has a Tolkein-style anti-industrialisation message; that it is a fable about losing touch with nature; and – my favourite – that the central conflict of the film is between Christianity and paganism. One of the great things about this film is that it can be interpreted in any way that you like. Although this can result in Frozen-style misrepresentation of the main message; like that insane radio show in the US that insisted that Frozen was intentionally brainwashing children to be gay.

The film was followed by a strange, stunned silence from the adults who had been watching. It’s just… a mess really. None of it really gels. In trying to do something different with an already great (if clichéd) story, the writers somehow managed to make it more trite. However, the saving grace of the film is that it attempts and succeeds in doing something interesting with the typical storyline of true love at first sight. A large part of the movie is to do with the subtleties of female relationships instead of using the same tired romantic storylines over and over. That at least is commendable.

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