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Maleficent: Review

Even putting aside the fact that Maleficent was only green-lit because some producer realised that Angelina Jolie shared a similar facial structure with a drawing, it’s difficult to approach Maleficent without an edge of cynicism. Disney’s latest plan for making all the money in the world seems to be ‘reimagining’ their animated and existing properties into live action, based on tenuous conceptual hooks. The first two movies in this line – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful (2013) – were creatively dead projects with garish GCI cinematography and no sense of their source material’s magic; both were tedious and painful to watch yet somehow made the company a vast sum of money. Clearly envious of the success of stage-musical Wicked (after trying to make their own version with Oz) Disney this time have re tweaked 1959’s underrated Sleeping Beauty, with the aim of showing audiences the tale from the villain’s point of view, to let audiences know what ‘really went down.’ It seems however that what really went down wasn’t actually very interesting, and watching Maleficent, it’s hard to find any justifiable artistic reason for its existence. It’s basically profit hungry, studio mandated fan-fiction.Maleficent1The film begins with uncomfortably with a clumsy opening prologue, showing us how Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) came to be. And this leads us to the films biggest problem – its script. There’s an inherent laziness to the writing, with an awkward voice-over pulling the audience along, and there’s no real agenda or drive to the plot. The story has to bend to fit the original tale, which it doesn’t do convincingly, and it feels like the script is just ticking off certain checkpoints (the Christening) and padding the rest of the plot with whatever kind of fits. The movie is a strange remix of elements from the 1959 movie, sometimes more direct – the Christening is almost shot for shot (though in this version, Maleficent can’t teleport in and out, so we get a humorous moment where she has to turn and run out of the room) whilst other moments – the dragon – are kind of just reshuffled in. The original elements – the Moors and its wars – feel completely derivative of Lord of the Rings style fantasy movies, plastered on screen here with no real heart or purpose, and it’s hard to pay any real attention to them. Maleficent’s motives are always a stretch, and it’s strange they picked Disney’s least human villain (the character in Sleeping Beauty was basically evil for evil’s sake, something like Satan) to try and humanise. This is most noticeable with the softening of the actual curse, which was fatal in the original story but here jumps right to eternal slumber – in Sleeping Beauty, the three fairies amend the curse from death to sleep when Maleficent leaves – it’s clear that the producers felt having Maleficent try and kill someone would push her from anti-hero to actual villain and cost sympathy, which says a great deal about the movie’s tone when compared to the animated movie. Worse, as much as they try and build Maleficent into a character, she isn’t actually given a great deal to do in her own story, rendered for the most part as an observer of the plot. Even the big twist is stolen from Frozen.Maleficent2Things aren’t helped by the directing and cinematography. Robert Stromberg is quite pedestrian and fails to raise any sense of tension and engagement. The cinematography is however, more offensive in its blandness, seemingly stolen from numerous other sources (Lord of the Rings, Avatar) but presented in garishly bright, fake CGI. There’s no sense of reality of weight to this world and it’ll makes audiences long for the run-down but highly creative fantasy worlds of the likes of Labyrinth. The designs are just bland – the worst imitation of modern day Tim Burton (who himself is a bit of a joke these days) which all just adds to the movie’s lack of purpose, creativity, and really, reason for existing. Maleficent’s main issue throughout is that it feels like it was ran through a studio built machine; there’s no life to any of it. It’s worse when you consider how visually striking the original Sleeping Beauty was in comparison. maleficent3The film’s saving grace is Angelina Jolie’s performance as the main villain. Despite being underwritten and with stretched motivation, Jolie does well to align us with the villain, and shows a great deal of range across the role – passionate and in pain, spiteful and angry, and at times, very fun. She plays the role heavy on the camp, which works, coming something like Tim Curry’s Dr Frank ‘N ‘Furter mashed with David Bowie and with a heavy dose of drag queen. It works though, and Jolie serves as the highpoint of the film. She elevates the poor dialogue – there’s a lot here which would have fallen dead in the hands of a weaker actress. The costume and makeup department deserve top credit for turning her so believably into the eponymous villain too. Elle Fanning, a wonderful little actress (check out Somewhere and Super 8) suffers from weak writing and is grating here in her sickly sweet dumb role. Her prince is basically a non-entity in the plot. Sam Riley, making a rare appearance in a big budget blockbuster has fun with his role as a crow. maleficent4Maleficent  is the sort of movie you could watch on a hangover if it was on TV sometime in the distant future. It’s generally, fairly poorly made, with a great turn from its lead actress, but it’s hard to get on board with much of what’s going on. By far the greatest thing about the movie is Lana Del Rey’s haunting cover of ‘Once Upon a Dream,’ which plays over the credits and achieves a kind of atmosphere the actual movie could never hope to accomplish.

5/10

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