Review Rating: 7
Spoilers are wicked!
A fresh take on the origin story of Maleficent, the villainess who lays the curse upon Aurora in the epic story Sleeping Beauty.
So we have here two kingdoms – one of Man in all his cruelty and desire to conquer, and the other of Fairie, sweet and magical. Over that-a-way is the castle and the kingdom of Men, over this-a-way is the Moors, the magical land and forest of the Fair folk. And in the Moors lives this beautiful fairy child, with majestic horns and wings that would do an Angel proud, Maleficent. She loves to fly and lives peaceably amongst the Fair folk, unafraid of the purported dangers of humans, even when a poor boy known as Stephen curiously makes his way into the Moors. Inevitably, human boy-child and sprite-ful fairy daughter make friends, then good friends, and then romance blossoms as they grow, in all its forbidden glory. “True love’s kiss” and all that. But Stephen, like all men creatures in these stories apparently, desires power and is willing to go through a deal of trouble to get it. After the Old King gets his and his troops armored selves soundly spanked from trying to slaughter the Moors and its folk, of course the Old King declares whomsoever gets rid of the Moors protector and guardian, Maleficent, shall be the next King. Despite his keen desire to be acknowledged Prince of the next reign of Men, Stephen can’t seem to actually kill Maleficent, oh no. Instead he cripples her for life, thinking that is somehow a more humane (note the word) option, and presents her glorious wings as a trophy proof of her death to the dying Old King. And so mature Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) wanders the Moors, earthbound and heartbroken for a bit, and then suddenly wrathful and bitter, winding the separation between the Moors and Men with thorns bigger than my head, and declaring herself Dark Queen. Her only companion the crow Diaval (Sam Riley), whom she changes into a man, to be her wings, and spy.
Soon after, Diaval brings the unwelcome news that King Stephen (Sharlto Copley) has become a father, and didn’t float an invitation to his daughter’s birthing celebration to Maleficent. There is a fairy presence, in the form of the three pixies set to guard Aurora: Flittle (Lesley Manville), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and their self-proclaimed leader Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton). Here is where Maleficent the malicious, the malevolent, shall rise and proclaim her evil intentions for both lands! The Princess and the spinning wheel, yes, and the deathsleep and true love’s kiss. But wait! Maleficent doesn’t believe in that sort of thing anymore, she just did it to be ironic. Sooo, what’s a paranoid and deteriorating into madness King and new father to do? Burn the kingdoms spinning wheels and send Aurora away to be raised by fairies, that’s what. Hangon again. Wasn’t it Man’s cruelty against the Fae folk that led us here in the first place? And yet the care of an infant was left to three brings smaller than the infant herself. I don’t care that they change size, that part of the Disney version of the story never sat well with me anyway.
So, because the house where Aurora is raised is on the edge of the Moors, Maleficent inevitably comes to know the little girl she affectionately terms “Beast”. King Stephen is becoming more and more paranoid and despotic, determined to raze the Fair folk and the Moors before Maleficent comes for him, as she righteously will.
Inevitably, everything culminates on the eve of Aurora’s birthday, and there is plenty of fighting and clashing and confrontation. What Aurora (Elle Fanning) ends up doing to save everyone, while a bit completely I-knew-she-was-gonna-do-that, takes real courage and at least half a brain to figure out, just in the nick of time too. We do finally get to see a dragon, but because it’s not Maleficent herself, a lot of the story impact is lost. At least visually, the dragon is quite cool and kicks much ass, but once again, that’s not the point. Not quite a remake, not quite a new take, Maleficent seems to be trying to sushi-fy, that is to say throw in a little bit of everything old and new, this film into the audiences head. Fans of the original Disney classic are likely to be thrown off by the lack of green skin, the anticlimactic spinning wheel speech threat, and the eyeball-mugging visuals. The whole Fairy storyline is actually much closer to the much older stories that Sleeping Beauty is supposed to be based on, and personally, I liked the cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass. (Unfortunately, that does mean this years Halloween is likely to be rife with rams horns and black angel wings.)