The story of a faery child and what turned her into the legendary Maleficent.
I have to be honest, I didn’t have a good feeling about Maleficent.
Maybe it was the fact that it was being pitched as one of those often ill-fated ‘passion projects’ – with Angelina Jolie attached to the film for years before it went into production. Or perhaps it had to do with the it being helmed by a first time director – the Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg. Or maybe I just didn’t really care to know how Maleficent got evil?
Thankfully, I was mostly very wrong.
I say mostly because Maleficent is a very strange film and that strangeness sometimes threatens to undo the entire endeavour. For example, it has so much to pack into a short 97 minute running time that it flits through decades of time in mere minutes. And in doing so arguably skips over story elements which seem much more interesting.
That makes for a shaky opening act where young stars give away to more familiar faces and the movements of Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty slowly come into focus. This is where the film really hits its stride and a lot of that has to do with Angelina Jolie.
She’s simply magnificent in the title role – earning a wonderful introductory moment and really selling her wing-ed faery character no matter how preposterous the setting. She’s ferocious, fiery and faultlessly beautiful and she keeps step with every tonal shift in the film brilliantly.
And she really does have to work as there are at least two different movies at play here. The first is a brutal tale of revenge and betrayal revolving around Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan and it goes for the jugular way more than you might expect for a kids film. Writer Linda Woolverton seems very intent on explaining just why Maleficent was so cruel and she makes a good case with the events here.
The other film is more of the fairytale you might expect, particularly once Elle Fanning appears as Aurora. There are fantastical creatures and softer moments, as well as the slapstick faeries played by Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville and its all quite jolly – until it cuts back to the nefarious King Stefan.
Jolie somehow balances this all out with her performance, sometimes chilling and just as often possessed of a dry sense of humour that helps to give this film much more personality than I was expecting which also helps to sell the blossoming of the softer side of the character.
In short, Maleficent is much better than I was expecting. Needless to say Stromberg brings his award winning sense of visual style to every frame and conjures up some memorable set pieces. But the film belongs to Jolie who takes a potentially turgid tale and turns it into a bit of a fantasy triumph and a whole new perspective on the tale you know so well.