The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Review: Maleficent (UK Cert PG)

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, right? Beautiful princess cursed by evil fairy to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and sleep til true love's kiss awakens her. But what about that evil fairy? What's her story? And it could it be that the truth, as we know it, is not the truth at all? This is the premise behind Disney's Maleficent. It tells the untold story of the evil fairy and why she did what she did. Basically, Maleficent does for Sleeping Beauty what Wicked did for The Wizard Of Oz.

Angelina Jolie really sinks her teeth into the central role, and you can tell she's really enjoying herself. The performance is high camp in places, but it's not played for laughs or played broadly or like something you'd find in the local amateur dramatics society annual pantomime. The scene where she gatecrashes the christening is just sublime- Jolie looks fantastic (the costume team have done a brilliant job) and relishes her waspish dialogue. It's a thoroughly committed performance throughout and the most important thing is that you actually sympathise (or empathise) with her- she's driven to do what she does after she's comprehensively shafted by Stefan. 

The adult Stefan is played by District 9's Sharlto Copley who gives a decent enough performance, even if his sink into obsession and paranoia occasionally brushes into the melodramatic. Elle Fanning plays the teenage Aurora, a naive, sweet girl who veers to the side of saccharine occasionally but isn't merely a simpering, whimpering child (which is good). There's comic relief in the form of Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple as the trio of good fairies charged to look after Aurora and keep her away from Maleficent's evil. I also particularly enjoyed the performance by Sam Riley as Maleficent's henchman Diaval, occasionally acting as her conscience and advisor. 

So performance-wise, it's all pretty good. The script by Linda Woolverton (inspired by Disney's 1959 version and the original Perrault and Grimm fairytales) is pretty solid. There's exposition a-plenty on how Maleficent becomes seen as evil and nothing feels rushed, despite a relatively short screentime of 97 minutes. The main theme is one of female emancipation and empowerment, which is very refreshing to see. It's just a poor matter of timing that Frozen is still laround (and which contains a very similar theme). I'm not judging Maleficent too strongly on that because, as we have previously seen, twin films come along quite often.

However, there are a few flies in the ointment. Whilst director Robert Stromberg has a good eye for an epic shot, the action sequences are dreadfully shot, with muddy and shaky camerawork which really undermines what's going on. The CGI on some of the faerie creatures leaves a bit to be desired (looking like rejects from Harry Potter). Unfortunately, fantasy has been done many times since The Lord Of The Rings and has been done better. It's perfectly fine but there's nothing particularly innovative in the effects (and, as usual, 3D doesn't add much apart from a bit of depth of field). 

I will be honest, I didn't go into Maleficent with the highest of expectation. Disappointing films like Snow White And The Huntsman and Oz: The Great And Powerful have meant I've lowered my expectations for revisionist fantasy tales but I was pleasantly surprised to find Maleficent was better than I expected. It's a thoroughly decent film with a strong central performance by Jolie. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


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