Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent (2014)

I'm attracted to anti-heroes and certain spin-offs, so when I saw the trailer for this movie, I was instantly hooked. Maleficent is a Disney, live-action retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story (and its 1959 Disney animation) from the perspective of the villain.
The first third of the movie is devoted to setting up Maleficent's history: who she is before she becomes the Maleficent that we know. She lives in a beautiful magical land that is distinct and remote from the human world, with unconventionally beautiful creatures such as the skull-looking guards. Even she herself is a bit different in the protagonist narrative--the imagery of someone with pointy horns has religious associations with unholy, evil things. But pointy horns by themselves are just horns on a faerie, and she is no ordinary faerie--she has larger wings than usual, and can fly faster and more powerfully than any other creature in the land. As a result, she acts as a protector of the island and is cute until the betrayal, that leaves her scarred and thirsty for vengeance.

But ultimately, there is a path for redemption, and I like stories of redemption that are believable. The film makes it clear that while Maleficent was hurt and filled with green lightning and fury, she is still not a bad person. Who in the world wouldn't be so furious at such an act of betrayal, of not only her but her fellow magical beings? Sure, she puts on the eyeliner and dons some black clothing while placing a shroud of mist over her land, but her dedication to protecting the magical land remains the same.

Jolie's screech hurt my ears though. She screams at least two times in the movie, one after the betrayal, and one when she shoots green light into the sky. Both times were quite unpleasant to my poor ears. Some people are just ugly screamers, but I don't think the screams conveyed her sorrow or anguish so much as just earsplitting noise (and maybe childbirth, although I haven't witnessed it personally). Her acting overall was amazing and perfect for this role, but the scream felt unnecessary.

There are humorous parts that come after the serious first third of the movie, and I really enjoyed them. I liked Diaval, the raven-man. He and Maleficent enjoy an interesting dynamic of servant-master in which the master isn't a crazily abusive sort like the old Maleficent from 1959. He also clearly cares a lot of Aurora in the way of a raven godfather.

Aurora is a cutesy baby and the part of her upbringing is heartwarming. I like the new portrayal of the faeries as almost homocidally incompetent at taking care of human babies. Their incompetence ranges from ignorance (what do human babies eat?) to dangerous negligence (oh, let's have Aurora play by the cliff while we do our own thing).

The teenage Aurora
Aurora as a character in this movie doesn't have much beyond a charming smile, laugh, and a big handful of sweetness, although it's a bit understandable since she's been incredibly sheltered and isolated in the forest with no one to talk to except three hella funky ladies for most of her life. Aaand that she was "blessed" that way by the mini-faeries. She functions as a side character and a source of internal conflict for Maleficent, who struggles between her grudge against the king and the fact that this poor, innocent baby has horrible caretakers.

Like Frozen (2013), Maleficent redefines the meaning of "true love." I appreciate that Disney has started updating the lessons that it imprinted on young children for so many decades. The revelation wasn't as shocking here as it was in Frozen, but it's still important and I'm glad they're being consistent about distinguishing true love from instant chemistry.

While some people question the purpose of the prince in the film, the prince here is still charming and sweet, and he is there to teach an important lesson about relationships and to prevent stereotyping all human men, so I disagree with people who say he's unnecessary. And besides, female characters are placed into male-dominated films all the time with varying degrees of "usefulness." We might not know the prince very well, but he's valuable in the way that he shows us that we don't need a prince to save the day every time.

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