Angelina Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent
Maleficent was beautifully complex, full of depth, light and darkness. The story, Disney’s latest in a growing vein of films featuring a strong, independent female hero, faltered briefly in the second act, but the third act was as strong as any I’ve seen. Directed by Robert Stromberg, whose first direction highlights his previous visual effects work, a strength he used to great effect to create a film that was seductively intriguing. The visual effects are truly a strongpoint of the film, filled with enough creature effects to satisfy the imaginations of any child.
The reimagining, or retelling, of the classic story left a suppressing number of elements intact. Often with changing perspective is enough to alter the narrative. This version of Sleeping Beauty casts Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as the tragic hero, and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) as the traitorous villain. Both Jolie and Copley wear their roles like a glove and deliver performances that are glorious to behold. Jolie is intimidating and alluring, performing with a restrained physicality when the character demanded and unbridled when the character is allowed to stretch her wings. Copley plays nice just enough to create a foreboding shadow of doubt to his intentions. When he breaks loose, Copley plays dangerously unbalanced better than just about anyone else can.
A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent was the strongest of the fairies. She had an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom known as The Moors, until one day when an invading army threatened her land and friends. Maleficent rose as the land’s fiercest protector, driving the invading army away, and defeating the king. When the dying king offers to name the man that destroys Maleficent his successor, she suffers a ruthless betrayal at the hands of Stefan, the human she loved.
This act begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Sinking into the darkness Maleficent sets herself as a queen, and creates an impenetrable wall of thorns around her kingdom. When she learns of King Stephan’s daughter from her loyal servant Diaval the crow (Sam Riley) she sets her mind to revenge. In what could only be described as a classically iconic scene Maleficent appears during the celebration to honor the newborn Princess Aurora. She places upon Aurora an unbreakable curse, that at the end of her sixteenth birthday Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep. At the begging of the king, she allows truelove’s kiss to wake the princess, believing true love to be non-existent. To thwart this curse, the king orders all spinning wheels destroyed, and Aurora to live with three fairies, Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple) for sixteen years and one day. As Aurora grows, Maleficent watches from the shadows.
Maleficent serves a compelling story, with stunning visuals, and brilliant performances. While the film may be too dark for young children, the light in the magical world of The Moors balances it. 4.5 out of 5