REVIEW: Maleficent

1 06 2014

What’s old must become new again in order to keep movie studios’ back catalogues fresh so they can earn money; thus, we end up with “Maleficent,” a reimagining of their “Sleeping Beauty” tale.  It’s a film that uses the same formula as “Oz the Great and Powerful” and then splashes it with flourishes from Tim Burton’s 2010 revisionist “Alice in Wonderland.”  It trots out the familiar mythology – only now in sleek CGI! – and then puts a few twists on it to justify the remake.

Analyzed in tandem with the Mouse House’s 2013 megahit “Frozen,” the film yields interesting insights into the psyche of Disney.  This marks their second straight tentpole that does not give the audience the expected male-female romantic ending, leaving them to ponder the many different forms love can take.  One can only wonder where these progressive messages will ultimately end.

But that’s about all the intellectual discussion I can pull out of “Maleficent.”  It’s a sloppily written film filled with feckless characters whose discernible motivations are few and far between.  The movie needlessly complicates the simple 1959 classic story, making it a slow plod.  And, from a perspective likely only depressing to me, it reduces great actors like Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville to playing cartoonish fairies in a failed comic relief subplot.

What should be the star in absence of these elements, the visual effects, are even quite confused.  Scenes designed to showcase the work of artists who work in the medium of pixels are cluttered with details that don’t cohere for a unified look.  At times, the film resembles the Pandora of James Cameron’s “Avatar;” at others, Burton’s “Alice.”  The opening scenes resemble an illustrated children’s storybook … and then, there are 3 mo-cap fairies.  The whole collective vibe recalls a 2002 video game like “Kingdom Hearts.”

Maleficent

So with everything else failing, it falls on Angelina Jolie to carry “Maleficent,” a task which she is well-equipped to handle.  Though she hadn’t appeared on screen for most audiences since 2010’s “Salt” (I consciously chose to reference that over “The Tourist“), the power of iconography feels stronger than ever.  Jolie is the only person that could play the role of Maleficent, and she performs it with exactly the kind of icily reserved regal gusto that can be expected.  Her acting phasers are set to smolder for the duration of the film, and she never fails to entrance.

Her persona alone makes the movie bearable to sit through.  Thankfully, the film is tailored to her strengths – namely, letting the camera linger on her steely gaze.  “Maleficent” is practically an ode to Jolie’s beauty, glorifying her piercing eyes, her pallidly sensuous facial musculature, and the surreal contour of her cheekbones.  She’s immaculately lit throughout the film like a studio star of olden times, making it an even bolder declaration of her enthronement atop the throne of beauty than her 2012 Oscars protruding leg.

The film is essentially a $180 million photoshoot for Jolie, proving she can still be sumptuously sexual rocking a pair of horns (and the occasional drab set of wings).  The images of her it spawns, as well as the GIFs the film will make possible, make the venture somewhat worthwhile.  Still, even the ultimate Jolie showcase can’t make the movie very good.  If the title reflected the quality of the film, we’d call it “Meh-leficent.” C2stars

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2 responses

2 06 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…Well, it’s like they always say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!…

Betty

2 06 2014
CMrok93

I wish there was more of a story here, because it’s obvious that everything else is doing just fine. The beautiful imagery, the fun, playful performance from Jolie, and even the fantasy-elements as well, but there’s just barely a story to be found here. Good review Marshall.

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