Angelina Jolie makes a magnificent ‘Maleficent’
A three-star movie review of “Maleficent,” which stars a magnetic Angelina Jolie as the not-so-wicked witch in a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Maleficent,’ with Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Reilly, Brenton Thwaites. Directed by Robert Stromberg, from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton. 97 minutes. Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images. Several theaters.
There’s really only one special effect in “Maleficent” worth mentioning, and that is Angelina Jolie. As the title character, a wicked fairy who casts an evil spell on young Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), Jolie seems 10 feet tall, and not just because of the pair of horns ominously snaking out of her head. It’s hard to think of another performer whose side-eye seems as if it could fell trees, whose cheekbones (aided here by razor-like prosthetics) could slice a feather, who makes it seem perfectly natural that, when she walks, stone walls crumble in her wake — and who, for that matter, makes those horns look like haute couture. And as for her ruby-lipped cackle ... well, let’s just say that somewhere, the Wicked Witch of the West is pouting.
With all of this irresistible evilness on display, it’s a bit of a shame that, in this retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” Maleficent really isn’t much of a villain at all; she’s just misunderstood and kind of cranky. “This story is not quite the one you were told,” a soothing voice-over tells us, and indeed it isn’t: We meet Maleficent as a child fairy, flying happily through her beloved fairyland, and watch as she falls in love — and gets her heart broken. An act of betrayal unleashes her fury, which is soon aimed at Aurora and her unfortunate christening. But it’s clear from the start that Maleficent doesn’t hate the baby, or the young woman Aurora grows up to be. This fallen fairy, we’re reminded, is more heroine than villain; she’s like a Christopher Nolan version of Batwoman, all dramatic music, brooding backstory and odd voice. (Jolie’s gone rather British here, sounding like Julie Andrews on a bad day. Which is not at all a bad thing, really.)
The storytelling gets a little muddy by the movie’s hectic third act, which involves a lot of creatures who look like they wandered over from Middle-earth, and the 3D effects, though occasionally pretty, are nothing special. Humans fare better: Fanning is her usual enchanting self, all smiles and sunshine, and a trio of not-very-competent fairies (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) squabble amusingly. The love story’s kind of a bust, but unsurprisingly so — what mere actor could stand up to a horned Jolie?
Ultimately “Maleficent” is a showcase, flawed but serviceable, for one of the most charismatic actors currently on screen. Watch her as she creates green smoke by waggling her fingers at people, thus putting them immediately to sleep (a useful skill); as she affectionately strokes her sidekick crow; as she makes wicked mincemeat of the line “A grand celebration for a baby — how wonderful!” Then again, I don’t have to tell you to watch her; just try to look away.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org