Sunday, 1 June 2014
FILM REVIEW: MALEFICENT
Walt Disney Studio Films
Not for the first time in recent years has a fairy tale been revisited, re-imagined and viewed through a feminist lens. And there's nothing wrong with that. But much like Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012's retelling of the royal beauty who took up arms against a wicked and vain queen, Maleficent has the original heroine pale in comparison to her nemesis.
But that is very much the point of Maleficent, a re-working of the Sleeping Beauty tale. More specifically, the 1959 animated feature by Walt Disney with events this time around told from the point of view of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), a peace-loving woodland fairy who swears vengeance on mankind -- and one man in particular (Sharlto Copley's King Stefan) -- when she is literally and figuratively broken; Stefan removing her wings and breaking her heart in order to ascend the throne. Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned and deformed!
Cursing the King's first born, Aurora, on the day of her christening -- she will fall into a sleep like death upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel prior to her 16th birthday -- Maleficent then spends the next 16 years keeping a curious watch over the child, who has been spirited away to a small cottage to be raised incognito by three well-meaning but absent minded pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple).
But the more Maleficent, and her crow-manservant, Diaval (Sam Riley), watch the child (whom she comically dubs 'Beasty') grow -- eventually into the pretty but rather dull Elle Fanning -- the more she feels her hardened heart softening. Not that Jolie's wronged fairy is any kind of pushover. Imperious and with cheekbones that could shred lettuce, Jolie floats through the film (above it almost); not quite chewing the scenery, nor camping it up, but archly presiding over the intermittently beautiful but mostly dull proceedings.
Robert Stromberg, a visual effects artist and production designer making his directorial debut, worked on James Cameron's Avatar (2009). He also worked on Alice In Wonderland (2010) and Oz The Great and Powerful (2013), two less than successful re-imaginings of childhood classics that should have been some kind of portent that Maleficent would be less than magnificent (although to be fair, Linda Woolverton's screenplay, with its annoying narration (by Janet McTeer) and lack of tension, is not without blame).
Maleficent has the one trick up its sleeve and that's Angelina Jolie. She sells the fairy tale 'girl power' message; the rest of the film is green smoke and mirrors.