Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning

Has Hollywood exhausted the traditional antagonist? Stories where the villain is undeniably bad, without argument or need for explanation? A whole world of potential has opened up across the world of storytelling that paints classic villains as someone simply misunderstood (Wicked, Frozen) or suggests the other side of the story is worth telling (Hannibal, Bates Motel). We’re looking at the bad guy differently now.

Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, tells the story of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the villainess. Much like last year’s animated film Frozen, there’s a much larger backstory of how the perceived villain got to where she is, providing an outlook not conceived before by most of us. Using this, there’s a whole other world of stories to be told.

In this one, Jolie plays Maleficent, a powerful fairy who lives in the Moors, a magical land unexplored by humans, uninhabited by human corruption. As a young girl (played by both Ella Purnell and Isobelle Molloy) Maleficent meets a human boy Stefan (Michael Higgins) and falls in love. However, as they both age (he is now played by Sharlto Copley), his desire to be king overshadows his love for Maleficent and he deceives her by cutting off her wings. It is with his daughter, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) that Maleficent casts her infamous spell.

The backstory is presented as a “once upon a time” narrative, and while it is essential for the rest, it sounds introductory and choppy, and the film doesn’t begin to feel settled until nearly halfway in.

Up until this point, the camera has been commanded by Angelina Jolie, who takes on a narcissistic presence as the titular role with only the perfect angles and lighting providing the film’s best strengths and biggest weaknesses.

It’s difficult to separate the celebrity from the character, making it seem like she’s the central part of the film, not Maleficent. So while this new take on the classic story is well written and allows us to feel empathy for her character, it’s challenging to feel beyond that and hope she’s the one who truly triumphs.

But can we really imagine anyone other than Jolie to play this character, who is conflicted by revenge and remorse? She’s devious and frightening but also has a gentle, caring side to her. Jolie handles the contrast very well as she lurks in the background, looking sinister, waiting to make her next move.

Maleficent is a beautiful film that isn’t without its weaknesses. It’s a pleasant story that, at the very least, shows another side to a well-known tale and therefore allows the mind to wander on the saying “there are two sides to every story.” Some sides are just more convincing than others.
Three stars

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