I usually don’t ponder fairy tales. In and of themselves they are lesser vehicles that don’t elicit much technical examination or soul searching. They are good-versus-evil or right-versus-wrong or even fair-over-unjust and they are either good or they are not. Sometimes they trumpet the valor of true love and its ability to heal all and while this is the crux of your way too familiar story, its what the filmmaker does to get there that truly counts in your case!
Everyone is familiar with the sleeping princess and true love’s powerful kiss. Yeah yeah yeah, its been done to death! Every human in the Western world knows its proceedings by heart, so how can you tell a compelling version of the worlds most overwrought story and bring something unique and special to it?
Ask Robert Stromberg, because that’s exactly what he did! He took the familiar and knowing all its constraints and trite tropes spun something new – and may I even say – somewhat magical! Instead of following the innocent princess, you take me through the story via the POV of the easily vilified Maleficent. Portrayed with scene-stealing verve and behind the eyes rage over an ultimate betrayal, she becomes the wingless avenging angel of hate. As the trite yarn spins out and the little baby is cursed for everlasting sleep on her 16th birthday, Angelina Jolie holds this side story-turned-full-length-visual extravaganza together. She is a marvel to behold and rivets my attention throughout. Even during the slow reflective moments of the film. Many will fault this subdued portion of the visual feast as a fault of the film but it is rife with nuance on her transformation and integral to the whole tale.
Sure with all the praise I heap above you would expect few faults but while this film has a share of them to me many are overlooked in getting to know this unparalleled arch-villian via the hectic and the quiescent action and the unspoken and the told. Never for a moment did my abject appreciation waver and never does my wonder at this 2D character fleshed out by Jolie’s riveting on presence subside. She is supported all around by Sharlto Copley as the great mad king Stefan the betrayer and a lovely and bubbly Elle Fanning as the princess Aurora. Even Sam Riley as her shape shifted familiar keeps Jolie rightfully at the center of this tale and that, in the end, is precisely why it works when it so easily may not have.
The end seals the deal and even with its imperfections it is, like all good fairy tales, believable and good. But perhaps I am surprised most of all at how my long held opinion of this universally maligned character is forever changed and my heart is a little less hardened against her and that is the ultimate testament to this fairy tales power.
I must also say Jolie has long been held in my high esteem, but her amazing portrayal has put her in the pantheon of great film villains where she will stand tall.
All hale Maleficent, in her complexity!