The idea behind Maleficent (Disney, 5.30) is to re-imagine Sleeping Beauty along feminist lines so as to reach a female audience that has no use for the old fairy-tale mythology about put-upon female characters finding happiness by hooking up with a gentle dashing prince at the finale….and who can blame them? Malificent is about commanding woman power in the form of Angelina Jolie‘s vengeful sorceress of the flaming cheekbones, no longer a wicked fairy godmother and Mistress of All Evil but a girl who was betrayed and mutilated by a loathsome turncoat (Sharlto Copley, who always plays scurvy creeps) so who can blame her for wanting a little revenge? She’s never entirely sincere about being evil, in short, and even if she seems wicked-ish at times she certainly has her reasons so calm down and give the girl a break.
All the men in Malificent are either foul, stupidly aggressive, evil-incarnate types (Copley, Kenneth Cranham‘s King Henry) or marginal supporting characters (Sam Riley‘s Diaval, whom Malificent turns into a raven or dragon, depending on the need) or boy-toy cameos (Brenton Thwaite‘s Prince Phillip, hired to look good but playing next to nothing).
I don’t need males to be the shining heroes or saviors of anything but I didn’t believe a word of Linda Woolverton‘s Malificent script — it’s not an organically reinvented or reborn myth as much as a stab at formulaic feminist reconstruction that is solely about selling tickets.
Jolie is fairly enjoyable and certainly visually striking as Malificent, Elle Fanning does a lot of radiant beaming and alpha-shining as Princess Aurora, and every shot in the film is very nicely CG’ed and visually handsome and pictorially balanced, but that was a given, I suppose, with the hiring of Robert Stromberg, the accomplished visual FX guy and art director (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful), as director. Disney spent $180 million on this thing? Wow. At least it’s over within 97 minutes.
I particularly enjoyed the CG work in the presenting of the three little pixie-fairie babysitters, which artfully reshapes and cartoonizes the real-deal faces of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville (a good paycheck gig that no doubt came out of her unsuccessful Best Actress campaign for her performance in Another Year).
Maleficent is a mostly pleasant but negligible thing for the most part. It’s nowhere near original enough to make any kind of real mark. I felt no hate or annoyance and at times I even felt a certain grudging admiration for the difficult technical work that went into it.