Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie‘s cheekbones and Elle Fanning‘s bleach blonde mop and shit-eating smile, is a movie designed for young, dim-witted children who fancy bright lights and high pitched voices and don’t yet understand the word “story”. It’s a retelling by way of obliteration, with debut director Robert Stromberg taking sledgehammer swings when he would have benefited so much more from the nuance of a scalpel. From the very first minute, it’s a total slog, a tonal nightmare. There wasn’t one moment where I wasn’t waiting for it to just end.
Up until Maleficent, Stromberg was a viz effects guy with a whopping 94 credits to his name. No wonder this is more spectacle than substance. Taking a page from the book of George Lucas, everything in front of us feels green-screened through and through. It’s FX prequel effect at its most barbarous and boring. Watch people act against CGI, on CGI sound stages with CGI effects. You can just feel the lifelessness waft over you.
With credits like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Hunger Games to his name, Stromberg may know how to paint a pretty picture, but he has no idea how to tell a story. In the comic world, there are artists and there are writers. Knowing your place is key. Stromberg has no idea of his and Maleficent is the 200 million dollar proof.
The story starts in the most precocious of ways with a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), horned and winged, fluttering around an entirely computer animated set. She’s a “stop to smell the roses” kind of girl but somehow she’s also in charge of things around these fairy parts. Called upon by Ent-like creatures, she encounters the equally pubescent human Stefan (Michael Higgins), an ambitious peasant, and quickly harbors an unlikely friendship with him. For you see, humans and fairies are totally not cool with each other. Because the king is a dick, or something.
The long and short of it is Stefan (now Sharlto Copley) – in a Lord of the Rings, “all men are corruptible” sort of way – also turns out to be a grade-A toolbag and slices and dices Maleficent’s wings Benihana-style in order to take succession as the new king. Why the old king was willing to trade his throne for a pair of wings (meant to prove Maleficent is dead) is beyond me, as is the fact that no-one seemed to question the legitimacy of Stefan’s claim once Maleficent – soon after – pops back into the picture. It’s like everyone involved has a short term memory of about 17 seconds. A telling sign of Linda Woolverton‘s lifeless scripting skills.
Blah blah blah, Maleficent curses baby Aurora (Fanning), King Stefan goes into uber-depressive vengeance state, sends daughter off to the woods to live with rebel fairies to skirt spindle-charged curse. Because no one uses spinning wheels in the woods, duh. The turn though is that Maleficent watches young Aurora grow, harboring untold affection towards the child she has already doomed.
Earlier live action adaptations of similar style have used the “untold” preamble to attempt to flesh out characters that we know little about – see Oz or Huntsman (which themselves are almost – but not quite – as bad as this). Maleficent pulls from a very different page, contradicting the source material at every clunky, heinously predictable turn. Maleficent herself – played by a Jolie who sorely needs to eat a pizza – isn’t a complex character, she’s just another naive woman wronged by a douchey dude. Welcome to Disney 101.
In a way, Maleficent could have been a worthy successor to Tangled, in that it shares a similar shift away from an ideology in which a woman’s only savior can be the man. But it’s done so poorly here, and telegraphed with the cheapest, cheesiest brand of phoning it in that you’ve left hanging your head if not throwing your worthless 3D glasses at the screen. There are no characters here, there’s no story. It’s nothing but a 90 minute cash grab…in TECHNICOLOR! The only magical spell it casts is making an hour and a half feel like three hours. The only curse, having to sit through it.
It’s so far from the Sleeping Beauty that we know that when Aurora inevitably does go down for the count, she’s more Napping Beauty than Sleeping Beauty. Seriously, bitch dozes for about a scene and a half. And when Jolie strips down to a leather-mama Michelle Pfeifer Catwoman get-up, y’all know it’s go time. As in, just get up and leave the theater. There’s nothing to see here.
In a movie where every single character is a moron and everything feels like a chew toy, there is nothing of worth to be found. It’s like a bowl of porridge with no raisins or brown sugar. Just lumpy, cold, and pathetic. And what may be the worst crime is just how low the bar seemed to be for this project. There were no aspirations here that they failed to reach. It wasn’t a swing and a miss. Just a lazy bunt. It’s just blah; purified, sparkly blah. It’s like having the nerve to go on Iron Chef and bake up the blandest form of yellowcake adorned with rainbow sprinkles. You have literally the biggest resource in the world right in front of you and you aim for nothing. What a joke.