Let me first say this – regardless of this review, I am just happy to see Angelina Jolie back on the screen after a shocking four-year absence. She is a talented actress, and I am happy she actually made a more family-oriented film. Now onto the review.
It is difficult to criticize this film without nitpicking. It is far from perfect, and there are far too many flaws to make it a good film. But the flaws lie in the tiny details, which can mark the difference between a great film and a mediocre film. Maleficent is just above mediocre.
The one aspect that contributes to this film being pretty much average is that it trades in story for visuals. Don’t get me wrong – it has a story at its core (unlike Avatar, another visual bombardment), but it never really wants to go anywhere, and while it is visually stunning, it would have been much better if a coherent storyline had been fleshed out a bit better.
This film just seemed like 80 minutes of Angelina Jolie walking around with horns and then 15 minutes of story. The worst part? It was written by Linda Woolverton, who is a legendary Disney screenwriter, having written Beauty and the Beast and Mulan, and contributing to Aladdin and Mulan.
Now onto a positive – Jolie gives a masterful performance as the titular antihero, and she shows us why she is part of Hollywood royalty. Her best moments are her more quiet, because quite honestly her screaming, epic moments are actually laughable at best. However, Jolie really puts in an effort, and her grace and aura elevate a character who was already iconic and turned her into a valuable part of the Disney canon. It is a great portrayal, and one that will be difficult to top in future Disney live-action incarnations.
Now Sharlto Copley, who was hilarious in District 9 and rather good in The A-Team, gives one of the worst performances I have ever seen. He was a blend of insecure servant and some gruff woodsman. He was actually doing well until he actually became king, and then it just turned into a shouty, loud and hilariously bad performance where he doesn’t just descend into madness – he is thrown in and his head held under water until the performance was dead. But whose fault is it? Some might say that Copley just overdid it, but I actually think his character was undercooked and underdeveloped – an afterthought at best. But maybe Copley just wasn’t the right person to play the role – after all, his previous roles have been pretty good, but they’ve all been a lot more earthly, grounded-type characters. Copley was just not king-like at all, and I wish the character was given more thought, because he and Maleficent had the potential for a really interesting dynamic. I will still support Copley for as long as he continues to break down the barriers for Africans in major films, and this film doesn’t dampen my opinion on him at all – every actor needs a bad performance every now and then.
Not much else can be said about the rest of the film – it is a beautiful film, and it takes an interesting approach to Disney films. I felt it was trying to be gothic, but remain child-friendly, which doesn’t really work, because a full-out gothic drama about this character that terrifies the pants off audiences would have been amazing, and a child-friendly redemption story would have been equally great – this just falls in between, and I wish a more definitive distinction was made as to where Stromberg and the rest wanted to go.
This film won’t be remembered and revered for being amazing or groundbreaking. It has a great performance from Angelina Jolie, a spectacular visual style and a new approach to Disney films. However, the reason it will not really stand out is that I predict that by the time it should have amassed a cult following, there will be at least a half dozen similar films that improve upon the idea. But here’s to Hollywood sort-of having an original idea.