RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
If Maleficent is good for one thing, it’s shedding some insight as to why Brad Pitt ended up choosing Angelina Jolie over Jennifer Aniston. Homegirl is capable of some dark, messed-up things if scorned, so it’s best just to stay on her good side.
Jolie, rocking the horns and razor-like cheekbones of the villainess in the 1959 Disney animated classic, goes Jerry Springer-style crazy, all because some dude played her by tricking her into think a hot hookup in a meadow was leading somewhere. Not only does Jolie’s Malificent explode in a Darth Vader, Star Wars Episode III-style “N00000,” she explodes in a green-lightning hategasm that lights up the skies. Then she curses the dude’s baby daughter and runs off into the woods to enslave crows to do her bidding and conjure dragons in castles.
The movie takes the Wicked route by justifying Malificent’s horrifying brand of crazy–framing her as, a narrator claims, “both a hero and a villain.” Director Robert Stromberg’s movie, thanks to Jolie’s crazy-eyed performance, makes the villain angle a lot more clear than the hero one, despite its attempts to show the soft side of a demonic, baby-cursing witch fairy.
She’s not so bad, I guess, because she is kind to her manservant who can transform into a crow, grows protective of the teenage princess (Elle Fanning) she damned to a life of eternal sleep as an infant, and — deep inside — is just a sweet, innocent girl who wants to get even with a dude who’s done her wrong.
The movie’s efforts at making Maleficent seem like anything more than Fantasyland’s worst-ever ex are about as convincing as Solange’s justifications for beating down Jay Z in an elevator. The greater flaw at play, though, is that the Sleeping Beauty story happens to be one of the most boring and ludicrous stories in Disney’s backlog. Its hero prince and damsel in distress are both such aimless dolts that it hardly matters that the only interesting character is an irredeemable freak show. The three airhead fairies (Juno Temple, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton) who play Aurora’s caretakers provide some moderate amusement by playing practical jokes on each other, but their tendency to morph from full-sized women to awfully animated wisps is distracting.
For better or worse, this is Jolie’s show, and she vamps it up with relish. Disney-mandated wholesomeness means there’s not a hint of sex to her performance, but she’s got the acting chops to channel life into a two-dimensional watercolor slice of evil.
On the whole, there’s nothing much here for those outside the PG Disney Princess-aimed target market to sink their horns into. Don’t expect to come away with any bold new revelations about what made Maleficent tick, or a new appreciation for the blandest of 1950s fairy tales. Every happy ending for a hero may be a painful one for the villain, but every ending of a mediocre movie like this is happily ever after for all.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharito Copley, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton. Written by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Robert Stromberg. 97 minutes. Rated PG.