2014-05-31

Maleficent – Born to be Bad?

by Yo Snyder

Woe to those who call good evil and evil good…those words
resonated through my thoughts throughout the entirety of Maleficent. The problem isn’t so much that this movie adds some
complexity and depth, and yes even some shades of grey to one of Disney’s most
iconic villains – and in doing so makes her somewhat of the good guy – but
rather in the effort to add greater depth to Maleficent herself, that same
depth of character is taken away from nearly every other character. And since
Maleficent is now the hero of sorts, there needs to be some sort of bad guy,
and so characters that were previously the good guys are now the villains, or
if not villainous, than incompetent imbeciles. In short, the good guys are now
more or less the bad guys, and the bad guy is now the good guy. Evil is good,
and good is evil. How can this be? Well, we were never told the real story of
Sleeping Beauty, you see. However, in spite of the subtlety subversive subtext
of revisionist post-modern non-absolutism beliefs, Maleficent is an enjoyable
fantasy yarn, and is worth seeing if for no other reason than to see Angelina
Jolie play a role of a lifetime.

Indeed, Angelina Jolie carries this move all on her own, and
does so quite ably. She is mesmerizing to watch as Maleficent, often conveying
just as much with a look and a flick of the wrist as with her perfectly
enunciated speech. She embodies the role and both literally and figuratively
fleshes out a character that was once both literally and figuratively just a
sketch. The movie has been pretty much marketed on her presence alone, which is
just fine, because it’s that very presence that makes the film so enjoyable and
mesmerizing. I can’t remember a time when someone was able to so completely
become an iconic character. (I know, Jolie tried with Tomb Raider, but trust me, that wasn’t even in the same ball park
as this portrayal.)

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as
well. Indeed, all the other characters are as two dimensional as the animated
Maleficent once was. There are many wasted scenes that had the potential for
great character moments and dramatic beats with the likes of young Aurora and
King Stefan. In fact, this movie could have been quite brilliant had it the
vision not only to explore how the shift in the way these events are shaped not
only affect Maleficent, but the other characters as well. Stefan could have
been a fascinating, deep, damaged, mournful role tinged with darkness and
guilt. Unfortunately, he’s a one not villain, and crazy to boot. Worse, the
loving parent from the animated film has inexplicably vanished, and his
relationship with Maleficent and the rich mine of drama that could have been
tapped there is never satisfactorily explored. Likewise Aurora’s development is
short changed, and again key moments that could have been rich and satisfying
emotional moments are skirted over. Then there are the good fairies, or the
three fairy stooges, as they seem to be in this film. They are not funny,
they’re rather pathetic and annoying, and one has to wonder why anyone would
ever let them play the key role that they do in this story.

So all we really get to sink our teeth into is the story of
Maleficent, but fortunately that’s a veritable feast in and of itself. It’s
also one fraught with some disturbing implications. As I mentioned, there’s
already the subversive idea of making good evil and evil good (something warned
about in Isaiah 5:20). Now, don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with
giving bad guys a sympathetic backstory; it’s one of the reasons Mr. Freeze is
such a fascinating character. The difference, however, is while Mr. Freeze may
indeed have a tragic background and “justified” motivation for his actions, his
actions are never skewed as being considered ok. He’s always a criminal. With
this story, however, it’s not just that we learn what made Maleficent the way
she is, but that because we’ve learned more, and because her actions are “justified”,
we should therefore consider whether or not they’re actually evil. There’s more
to it than, that, however. One of the reasons Sleeping Beauty is one of my all-time favorite films is because it
has so much Biblical imagery. The shield of faith, the sword of Truth, used to
defeat a dragon. That’s practically right of the Bible. This story, however,
removes all of that, not only does it remove it all, it suggests that
simplistic fairy tale of good vs. evil was a deception; it wasn’t the true
story of what took place. There’s so much suggestive sub-text there that I don’t
even know where to begin. Am I reading too much into all of this? Perhaps, but
I don’t think so. There’s definitely more going on beneath the surface here
than we realize, and it’s an effort to put forth the idea that there’s really
no such thing as evil, and what we’ve been taught about it was probably a
simplistic fairy tale. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that a bit troubling.

I also find it troubling that Maleficent could have been a really great movie, but as it too
often the case, it miss too many opportunities and therefore falls short. While
Angelina Jolie is without a doubt the heart and soul of this movie, she’s
unfortunately the only part worth seeing. The rest is poorly developed, or
worse, just ignored. Nevertheless, the sheer spectacle of what Jolie pulls off
here is well worth the price of admission, and there are even some intriguing
story bits worth contemplating. Had some of the other parts gelled better to make
a comprehensive whole, this could have been something truly special; much like
it’s animated predecessor. As it is, it’s an amazing vehicle for the talents of
just one actor, while the rest is merely a mildly interesting diversion.

Score: 5 of 7 –
Although Maleficent is rated PG, it’s
a pretty dark move by PG standards. Indeed, I’d play it cautious and treat more
like a typical PG-13 fantasy adventure fare. There are some intense battles,
and some pretty dark emotional themes. It may be a mild PG-13, but it’s hard to
think of it as just a PG movie.