Probably one of Disney’s most anticipated films for some time in the live action genre. While some of their movies have been financially successful, critically they’ve been all but universally panned. Last years Lone Ranger was an abomination that cost them over a hundred million dollars (before marketing costs!!). Before that Prince of Persia, John Carter, three of the last four Pirates movies, I can go on. Some were good, some were garbage. Most of them cost Disney more money than they will ever see from them. Can the Mistress of Evil break the curse?
I don’t rightly know. Disney thinks it can with an aggressive marketing effort that doesn’t try to sell it on previous film “successes” and instead focuses on Angelina Jolie and her embrace of the titular character. Before we get into this too much, I want to point out that two of the people I saw this with have serious issues with the movie, far more than I did. They also had problems with Godzilla. Problems I did not have and appreciated from a film makers design decision. These reviews are my opinion and from my lens and my own tastes.
Where does that leave us for Maleficent?
Angelina is fantastic. Every moment on screen she has is spent acting her heart out. She covers an excellent range of emotion and delivers a stunningly deep performance that develops her character into something more than is on the page or ever was on the page. She through the majority of the film dominates every single moment she on screen and makes it look effortless. Every choice she makes brings her character to life in a way that might annoy some who want her to be the monster from the original animated, but instead we have a fully realized post modernist Maleficent.
The rest of the cast cannot completely compete. Elle Fanning (Super 8, Twixt), little sister to Dakota, plays the sixteen year old Aurora. She doesn’t get a lot to work with, nature of the character I suppose, but she does sell it when on screen with Angelina. They surprisingly have a bit of chemistry and it makes it work. More on the surprisingly in a bit. Sharlto Copley (District 9, A Team) plays Stefan and was clearly hired for his ability to go dark in the blink of an eye and have some cultivated insanity. Everyone else is wasted in two dimensional undeveloped stereotypes. Some more annoying than others.
Ok, one exception. Newcomer Sam Riley as Diaval is the audiences eyes and window into the world. He’s everything he should be. When he stands in the shadow of Jolie he at least has a shape to himself and that is impressive.
That comes down to directing and story. Story first, Linda Woolverton is the written by credit with ten other based on credits, including the Brothers Grimm themselves. She has some movie credits to her name, but ultimately she has done a lot of TV and written for children, young children. None of her work has been solo until now. Sadly, she needs that help. Nothing here is ever fully fleshed out and the ideas are not developed as fully as they can be. I wish they had been as some of them were amazing. Others that were developed a touch, a touch were actually well done and they had the bravery to do some things. Just not enough.
Some of that goes to the director, Robert Stromberg. Don’t know the name? It’s ok. He is an oscar winner, but this is his directorial debut. What he has been is the production designer, that means he tells everyone else how pretty the setting will be, for Cameron’s Avatar, Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. Well, for the first time since Avatar he got it right. Visually. Directorially, he needs work. His sense of pacing and care for the characters he is trying to develop is horrific. He spends no time on the character interactions in detail, barely showing the development of the characters. The only thing saving him is the cast and for me the visuals.
I find the movie gorgeous. I didn’t see it in 3D but wish that I had for the flight sequences. While the creature design is great and actually kind of unique they do look CGI for the most part. They look crafted with care, but there’s no way you buy them being “real”. I was able to overlook that for the beauty, colours, and whimsy of the world of the Faerie. Froud would be happy. The details in many other sequences were also present and not just glossed over. Magnificent transitions between shots and subtle details in others really made this work. The make up on Jolie and Riley was beyond perfect. Itwas flawless.
The movie made me smile. The movie made me laugh. I felt joy and even teared up when I was supposed to. In all of this the movie works. I *enjoyed* myself during the film, even if those I saw it with did not. I let myself get wrapped into the world and taken for the ride they delivered. While I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, I can say that I enjoyed most of them.
I am a sentimentalist at heart. A true romantic (why am I single again?) and let the movie in. I didn’t think too hard. I let it bring the emotions in.
If you can do that, watch this movie.
Its absolutely for children of most ages. There is stuff for adults, but not nearly as strong as it should or could be. I do recommend the film and that when you sit down, its not about turning your brain off; but instead letting your own inner child sit back and watch the show.
Will Maleficent break the Disney live action curse? It might take all the powers of Hell, but it just might.