New Release Review - Maleficent

Live action re-imagining of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites, Ella Purnell, Hannah New, Imelda Staunton, Sam Riley, Kenneth Cranham




The young fairy Maleficent (Purnell) resides over the moors, a peaceful land existing outside the human realm. She develops a friendship and budding romance with Stefan, a human boy, but it dies out as he begins to spend more time with his own people. Years later, a human army attempts to invade the moors but is quelled by a force under the leadership of the now adult Maleficent (Jolie). The adult Stefan (Copley), son of the human King, ventures to the moors with the intent of murdering Maleficent as a way of ensuring his succession to the throne. Meeting Maleficent, he drugs her but being unable to bring himself to kill her, he instead cuts off her wings, presenting them to his grateful father. Stefan becomes King, and his wife gives birth to a daughter, Aurora. As an act of vengeance, Maleficent places a curse on the child: on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger and fall into a sleep, one which can only be broken by true love's kiss.
Angelina Jolie has been off our screens since the much ridiculed 2010 The Tourist; it seems she's spent an age working on this update of Sleeping Beauty. With its central themes of estranged fathers and nature versus nurture, it's easy to see why Jolie adopted the film as a pet project, given her well publicised relationship, or lack thereof, with her father, actor Jon Voight, and her adoption of three children.
On the surface, it seems like a cheap move for Disney to rehash one of their existing properties, but there's more going on under the surface of Maleficent than every other big Hollywood movie of the last year combined. The film tackles some of the most timeless philosophical issues; nature versus nurture, the futility of revenge, and whether or not true love exists are the most predominant themes explored in its admirably tight 97 minutes.
As Aurora grows closer to her doomed sixteenth birthday (played by an adorably goofy Fanning in the character's teen years), Maleficent is forced to admit that she has come to love the child as her own, and attempts unsuccessfully to revoke the spell; thus begins a quest to find Aurora a true love. A young Prince, who looks like a rejected member of One Direction, arrives on the scene, and the film brilliantly plays with classic Disney conventions. The most misunderstood of emotions, love is too often no more than a polite term for lust, but few movies, certainly not big budget Hollywood ones, are willing to break this facade. That a film aimed ostensibly at children dares to do so proves that a cynical concept doesn't always result in a shallow execution.
At its core, Maleficent follows the plot structure of rape revenge movies like Ms 45 and I Spit on Your Grave. When Stefan drugs Maleficent and steals her wings, the analogy is all too clear, and deeply disturbing. Jolie's reaction upon awaking and discovering her physical violation makes for a truly upsetting moment of cinema, rivalled in recent times only by the beach scene in Under the Skin, a film that coincidentally shares a similar central theme. The actress gives the performance of her career, ranging from malevolent but melancholy rage to hilariously deadpan comic timing. A scene featuring an encounter between Maleficent and the infant Aurora (played by Jolie's daughter Vivienne) is one of the year's standout movie moments, the type of simple human encounter we see all too rarely in modern Hollywood productions.
No other contemporary actress has wasted her talents to the same degree as Jolie, having amassed a CV that reads like the Razzie Awards' Wikipedia page. Hopefully she can turn a corner with Maleficent, and more importantly, let's hope Hollywood can follow her around that corner.
8/10


Eric Hillis