Friday, 4 July 2014
Maleficent is the typical product of contemporary cinema. It fits squarely and neatly into the category of fairytales re-imagined, recreated and "restored". A sympathetic angle on the traditional villain of a well-known story is no new concept. The animated classics have always told the most simplistic interpretation of the tale, leaving much room for filmmakers to modify, manipulate and revive. Without fail every year our cinemas are graced with at least one of such adaptations (e.g. Snow White and the Huntsman, Ever After, Beastly, Hoodwinked!). These features are often ambitious and aesthetically pleasing but also rather lethargic recreations; and Maleficent is no exception. Actually no, Maleficent is worse. The CGI, tacky, underwhelming green-screening actually horrified me at points. The lifeless script tied Angelina Jolie down but given the limitations, Jolie was truly remarkable. She supplied a mesmerising, consistent performance.
This is Maleficent when she is young and pure: she leads a sweet, simple life in a magical forest kingdom which shares borders with the a power-hungry, greedy land. Against custom, she befriends a young human boy, Stefan, from the neighbouring kingdom whose ambition eventually blinds all virtue. Their friendship fades as the two grow older, Maleficent into a graceful, powerful protector of her realm and Stefan - in his frenzied pursuit for power. Betrayals, invasions and vengeance ensue. Maleficent's heart hardens as a desire for retribution consumes and becomes her. As according to the traditional tale, Maleficent bestows an irreversible curse on baby Aurora, the daughter of King Stefan, at her christening.
Firstly, let it be clear that I revel in the idea of Maleficent. The most intriguing of mythical characters are often the villains - the protagonists are often shallow, fanciful creatures with a streak of rebel, a pretty face and unhappy circumstance. But the villains are something more - they are beings made dark and bitter who actively suppress the vulnerabilities that are our emotions. The Grimm brothers tell the darker original fables which were never meant for children's ears. The Little Mermaid was a tragedy, a fairytale allegory not unlike that of a Shakespearan play, concluding at a suicide. Cinderella entails a much more gory sequence of step-sisters cutting off parts of their feet in order to fit into the glass slipper. And Sleeping Beauty, our concept-base for Maleficent, shoulders a tale harbouring metaphors of rape and necrophilia. Whilst Maleficent drifts just slightly above this material it never delves into its rich source. The wing-stealing scene is perhaps the point in the film which comes closest to it and who is fully responsible for this? Angelina Jolie of course. In a single scene, Jolie chronicles and captures pain of betrayal. Her representation implies surprising depth and a suggestion of its more intriguing themes. Jolie is convincing in a very special way: it is somewhat real to her, so it is real to you, to the audience. She never wavers or loses a moment, the audience remains helplessly transfixed. Swift and confident she firmly secures the attention of the audience, capturing the subtle nuances of a character we can actually believe exists.
Maleficent is the product of sloppy, predictable sequencing. Most notably, the battle scenes intended to be the most exciting are dreary, anti-climatic and clearly borrowed.
Elle Fanning's performance may not be considered empty but the words "petty" and "forgettable" come to mind. However, it is apparent that this is likely to be the direct intention of the screenwriters - to reduce Auror's role to a level of insignificance catering for the arch narrative of Maleficent's legend. In this, I cannot find fault. The comic relief purposed to be provided by the three fairies (Juno Temple, Leslie Manville, Imeldon Staunton) proved both unnecessary and simply poorly depicted characterisations.
Maleficent is no more than ill-fitted, cheap razzle-dazzle that may fool a child; the only real jab the film has at being taken seriously by a mature audience is the nuanced performance by Jolie in its lead. The promise of, at least, some memorable CGI creations is forgone, and story's potential, sourced from a compelling premise, is ultimately wasted.