Friday, May 30, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent

I don’t think kids are stupid. Nobody really thinks kids are stupid. Nobody, until money is involved, that is. At that point, if you’re wrong you have the potential to lose a lot of it. One could be offended by that thought, but then realize they do the exact same thing for adults as well. Remember when everyone got worried that no one could follow Inception, and it turned out that what they were talking about was a movie where half the characters are there to exposit or be exposited to in order to make sure that the audience understood the situation? Maleficent, for all the goodwill of the cast, crew, and the corporation that created it, doesn’t trust that its audience will be able to follow along with anything but its already simple story. A movie for kids shouldn't be a political thriller, but for one that wants to tell a new side of the story it holds off on saying much that's different. What it does say is in order to rewrite the story from the original (a la Wicked) but doesn't go far enough to actually create a new story, instead meandering in a version of the original with confused circumstances and little in the way of actual characters. There's nothing offered other than a sharp performance by Angelina Jolie in the title role. Very mild spoilers to follow.

Maleficent is a new telling of the character’s history. It offers the dark fairy a more sympathetic backstory to the one she previously had; which was that she’s evil. Anyway, Maleficent is a fairy born seemingly (they never truly say) to protect the Moors, her magical homeland, from the Kingdom of… I dunno, Kingdomia (because humans there are jerks who see a magically pure realm of peaceful creatures as a threat/easily plundered treasure chest). However, a betrayal leaves her wounded and mutilated of her wings with only the desire for vengeance. Then, Sleeping Beauty happens.

Everything about this movie feels watered down, up to and including how it retells the important parts from its progenitor. It doesn’t serve to make the film more palatable, and if anything it actually makes the movie more confusing. Taken as a standalone film, without calling on Sleeping Beauty for reference, this film doesn’t seem to actually do anything. The backstory that’s added only serves to muddle what everyone’s motivations are. Rather than create sympathy, it actually causes a greater sense of apathy for the characters. Especially when one thinks of how much time has passed since the original film was made. Aurora is a princess, given the gifts of beauty, happiness, and popularity (paraphrasing). What is there to care about in a person that was evidently designed to be a perfect? (Not including intelligence of course because of course that would be unsightly on a pretty girl) Especially when that is what paradoxically would also seem to be what draws Maleficent to her in the first place?

I suppose that’s what happens when you add a dash of (attempted) emotional complexity to what was previously an assuredly one note character. Maleficent is evil. If she wants something she takes it, and will unpityingly push aside or remove any who stand in her way. This movie, by adding and even attempting to justify her actions, dilutes her character. Since the story is Sleeping Beauty, and the focus is on Maleficent, it doesn’t add anything to watch her just kind of meander around instead of adding anything more than the tragedy that befalls her in the beginning. And it takes away from her more than just emotionally. Following that she’s the main character, being the most powerful person would likely remove some tension. Here, she’s given a weakness to iron that offers humans a fighting edge over her. It doesn’t make any sense that such an inconvenient allergy would actually have any effect, what with her already being the General of a magic army in the defense of an entire nation. Then, on top of that, she’s offered an inconsistent array of magical powers which she elects to use on and off when either wings or fists stop working.  

Movies have to stop acting like a certain trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien books which were adapted into movies, now more than ten years ago, are the go to source for creating a fantasy epic. Even Game of Thrones only has one big battle despite being in its fourth season already. Stacking needless and violent action on top of what should be a children’s movie only serves to waste time and confuses the purpose of certain characters. After all, you can’t make an audience root for one character by simply making the other character a jerk. In that moment, the audience will root for whoever’s closest that can punch them in the face. After that, there has to be some level of character building. For being an untold story, there doesn’t seem to be any story to be told.  

In an era of films where there’s no footing in between grim-seriousness and goofy-ham (without self-awareness; i.e. The Dark Knight vs. Batman Forever), Angeline Jolie skirts both sides well in a reminiscent take on the classic villainess that blends her over the top theatrics well with the supposedly new tragedy of her character. If the film tried to carry some of its heavier undertones any further, it could have actually played as an interesting tale of the emergence of industry, what will all the iron working and a central character whose inevitable fate is to martyr herself on an old technology that the civilization is forcibly pulled away from for the danger is represents. Unfortunately the film doesn’t offer anything beyond an obvious casting and pretty colors for all the kiddies that go to see it.

But it looks nice and that’s what counts, right?

Note: There are some other important bits concerning this movie that other critics have already mentioned, but to talk about it would require some serious spoiler warnings. Not only that, but it’s definitely a touchy subject that I’m not 100% sure that I’d want to dive into in what is now barely a week old blog. If it does come up it will be in its own separate post clearly marked off to prevent any unnecessary spoiling. 

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