After years of protecting The Moors and its magical creatures from destruction brought by humans, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), the man she loves, who steals her wings to become the king in the human kingdom. Swearing revenge on him, Maleficent curses his daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), saying she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday, which will put her in an endless sleep that can only be broken by “true love’s kiss.” As Maleficent watches Aurora grow up into a beautiful and caring young woman, however, she starts to regret placing the curse upon her out of anger and tries desperately to keep Aurora from her deadly fate.
Despite Angelina Jolie’s amazing cheekbones and colored contacts, Maleficent just isn’t the beautiful film it should be. Sure, this Sleeping Beauty retelling looks and sounds great, thanks to special effects, costuming, and an ethereal score by James Newton Howard (who also scored Snow White and the Huntsman). But the movie, as a whole, feels disjointed—almost as if it were two separate movies. I blame the weak script, hard-to-define tone/message, and careless editing.
On the one hand, you have a human kingdom vs. magical creature kingdom plot that’s reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Ferngully. This is where we see Maleficent as a child and young adult, protecting The Moors from human invaders—the backstory of which is attributed to “greed” and never explained or shown again after the first battle sequence (which is extremely lazy).
During this part of the movie, we get the love story that serves as Maleficent’s motivation for revenge and villainy later on (*groan*). As it turns out, Maleficent (the child) encountered King Stefan when he was just an orphaned farm boy, their relationship blossoming into friendship before turning into romance. Of course, the love is one-sided. Stefan takes advantage of Maleficent, drugging her one night in order to steal her wings, which he takes to his dying king, who names Stefan his successor because of his dedication to the kingdom.
Quick rant: While I understand that Maleficent turned cold and heartless because Stefan, the man she trusted, took her pride and power (that, of course, being her wings), the pain of his betrayal was founded on her love for him, which…frustrates me (to say the least).
I get it. Love is a major part of life, and we all suffer our fair share of heartbreak. It’s a very relatable circumstance for most audiences. But crafting a female villain and her hateful reactions around the idea of heartbreak (or rape, which also happens in movies too much) takes away the autonomy of her choices and places them in the hands of a man, which is insulting. Not to mention, this promotes the “All men are evil and will hurt you” idea, which we also shouldn’t be teaching.
It’s just unfortunate because Maleficent’s evil turning point (if you will) was fine without the love story. Stefan could’ve stolen her wings and used them to become king, which would’ve turned this into a human stealing a magical creature’s power to gain his own power story. That version still requires Maleficent to hate Stefan and want revenge, but it’s more of a “Mankind is greedy for power” message (which you can see in Lord of the Rings) and less of an “OMG, men are such jerks! LOL girlpower, #amirite?” message.
Now, back to the movie. The second part paints Maleficent more as a campy fairytale villain, which, in my opinion, should’ve been in place since the beginning of the movie. Maleficent isn’t just cruel and cunning, but she also has a cynical sense of humor that plays into her encounters with Aurora, who’s the charming, innocent foil to her villainy. In fact, Jolie is so entertaining in these scenes that she makes the “Three Stoogery” of pixies Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Flittle (Lesley Manville), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple), who raise young Aurora in the woods, seem annoying and almost filler-like.
But it’s the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora that’s truly magical here. The two are destined to be enemies, but something happens while Maleficent’s lurking in the shadows, waiting for her curse to take effect—she starts to care about Aurora. Protecting her from the pixies’s incompetence and negligence (which, seriously, does Stefan not give two shits about his daughter?), Maleficent becomes an unofficial fairy godmother/surrogate mother to Aurora. She teaches her things about The Moors, and in return, Aurora softens her hardened heart, which makes Maleficent regret her curse.
Of course, the movie leads up to the climax, where Aurora pricks her finger and falls under Maleficent’s “sleep-like death” curse. And then there’s Stefan, who’s preparing for battle against Maleficent, the whole sequence of which is a giant yawn—minus the badass dragon.
The idiot pixies try to counteract the curse by forcing Prince Phillip (Brendon Thwaites) to kiss Aurora. He objects, stating he only met her once, so it “wouldn’t be right.” Okay, he still tries, but it doesn’t work. At this moment, I was like, “Is it just me, or is Disney actually trying to be more honest about relationships?” Yeah, flashback to Frozen‘s Elsa saying “You can’t marry a man you just met.”
And here’s where I’m assuming the critics’ feminism comments are coming in. Phillip hasn’t had time to love Aurora, but Maleficent has. Yes, she is the “true love’s kiss” Aurora needed. Because it was her love for Aurora that conquered her hatred and desire for vengeance, which successfully moves Maleficent from “villain” status to “anti-hero” status. It’s a beautiful moment that’s WAY more satisfying than Phillip putting his mouth on Aurora after barely knowing her.
Oh, yeah. And Stefan dies during his fight with Maleficent because she gets her wings back (and she’s wearing a catsuit for some reason). But nobody really cares about Stefan. I don’t know if that’s because he’s a one-dimensional character who never has actual closure with Maleficent, or if it’s because Sharlto Copley is just so freaking awkward as an actor. Both, maybe? Eh, happily ever after!
Overall, Maleficent is a visually-appealing look into the life of Sleeping Beauty‘s villain. But poor writing weighs this movie down. Fortunately, both Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning are enchanting, which makes it easy to ignore this movie’s flaws and focus on the surprising yet satisfying culmination of their protagonist/antagonist relationship.
For my radio review of Maleficent on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 27:09 mark).