Saturday 31 January 2015

Maleficent - 2nd Look

As I am such a huge fan of Angelina Jolie; almost to the point of adopting a bevvy of multi-ethnic children and dragging around a Brad Pitt waxwork to any UN Summits that happen to be occurring in my local vicinity, I jumped at the chance to review Disney's Maleficent. Yes, I know it came out in 2013, and that's so two years ago, but please stop throwing wormy radishes and let me tell you why it still deserves attention.

Directed by Robert Stromberg and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Maleficent. Stromberg also worked on the likes of Avatar and Oz the Great and Powerful, with Jolie on board as an executive producer [you may have heard of her; she was in Hackers, a film that is so unapologetically 90's it should be sporting jelly shoes and a neon Baby-G wristwatch, Girl, Interrupted and my favourite film of all time, Tomb Raider. What do you mean you didn't think Tomb Raider was the best film ever produced? That's it, you can't play in my tree house any more.] Following the popular trend in recent years of showing the other side of the story, here we have the classic Sleeping Beauty tale turned on it's head and its magical fairytale wings very literally ripped out of it.

A positively Dionysian feast for the senses, the visuals will entrance younger audiences from the moment the castle of the iconic Disney opening sequence melts into this fantastical fairytale realm. We are introduced to a tweenage Maleficent, whose genuine lust for everything innocent and positive in life makes it immediately apparent that she's never had the misfortune of reading the comment section under a Youtube video. Girl meets boy, Stefan. Girl patronises boy. Boy judges girl on societal norms [humans and fairy-folk don't mix]. Girl smiles sweetly. Boy abandons all previous morals in hopes of dating girl, including throwing away his iron ring [iron burns fairies. Like physically, not in the "girl, those shoes with that dress, nuh-uh!" kind of burn.] They date. Everything's just peachy.

Fast forward a few years, we are shown that human kind is innately greedy, always searching for promotion, gains, more, more, more. Stefan has dutifully cast Maleficent aside in hopes of moving up through the gentry, and the King has decided he wants the Moors, where the magic people live, so there's this epic battle starring some tree-warrior type creatures, [the kind that would be invited to the same family picnic as Treebeard and Groot], a giant earthern serpent and Maleficent "I don't need no man" Goodfairy. You can't argue with the tech guys they had working on this film, this battle is epic, if somewhat short. Eventually Maleficent kicks the King's ass, he mopes back to his castle, and declares if anyone can kill Maleficent, he'll be the next king. And of course, Stefan hears this during his daily castle skulking so bounds off into the forest to slaughter his ex. Bad Stefan, shame on you.

But, like a guy who's had one too many Jack and cokes, when he gets Maleficent alone, he can't do it. Instead, he slices her wings off with some iron chains and takes them back to the castle to swap for a crown. The following scene, where Maleficent awakens to find her tawny wings missing, is harrowing. Not visually, so it won't cause distress to the young'uns, but more so to the older audience who will perceive the distress Maleficent faces when she realises that symbol of her freedom and whimsy has been stolen from her by the man she thought she loved. The final shriek of Jolie, the aural representation of her trust and naivety leaving her body will send chills down your spine. And from here begins our descent into the macabre [or as macabre as Disney can possibly go; which is a bit like putting black lipstick and a leather jacket on grandma Mildred; you know there's never any chance of true evil but you still get a bit of a shock when you glance up as she passes you an extra roast potato at Sunday dinner.]

Some of our favourite characters are here, including the sprightly "good fairies" from the original, but to suggest that the ill-aimed humour of these three would be appreciated by the children watching would be an insult to the intelligence of the younger generation, and is unfortunately an obvious example of Disney being "too Disney." Give the kids some credit. Perhaps I'm being a little too maleficent [hold for applause] but the juxtaposition of the seemingly slapstick fairies with the intelligent, witty quips of Maleficent herself jarred me slightly; however I will hold my Grumpy Cat Christmas jumper up and admit that I am a bitter individual and the jolly spirit could all have been lost on me.

A few years later when Stefan has a child, and foolishly decided not to invite Maleficent to the christening, heralds the introduction of Maleficent with her world renown horned silhouette, and begins the most hilarious sequence of the film, entirely down to Jolie's stellar ability to use intonation, timing, gesture and expression to set the writing on fire with a deliciously disdainful green flame. If you weren't already enamoured with Maleficent at this point, her treatment of the good fairies will win over your icy little heart.

When we meet Aurora [Sleepy B.] as a young adult, I thought the black empty space where my heart used to be would be repulsed by the sickly sweetness of this perfect individual, but Elle Fanning portrays her so effortlessly, so truly, so genuinely, that it is indeed impossible not to fall in love with her. Dammit. Towards the unavoidable pricking of Aurora's finger on the spindle, suspense is thrust upon the audience through the mesmerising combination of ghostly cadences and warped visuals, testament to the talents of cinematographer Dean Semler, and although you know that the inevitable is going to happen, a small voice is conjured in ones consciousness that screams, "there's still a chance Maleficent will save her!"

I'm not going to ramble on and spoil the ending, but there are some wonderful highlights, including a glorious battle scene that ends up as an expression of one woman's deep hatred of a man with too many iron accessories, a peculiar jaunt involving the token Prince Philip that thankfully only lasts all of 5 minutes, so we'll gloss over that and pretend it never happened, and a heart-breaking confession of love from Maleficent to Aurora that will have you catching a whimper in your throat.

While I won't go as far as to say that this film will be an instant classic; those that admire the mysterious majesty of the character of Maleficent, and appreciate a delightfully decadent piece of CGI cinematography with a sinister smirk; will relish the experience that is Disney's Maleficent.

Maleficent wakes up to a 4/5.


Dale Smith

Maleficent at CeX

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