Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Neighboring kingdoms have been at war for generations as the kingdom of man has always been envious of the beauty and magic of the kingdom of the Moors. In spite of their warring nations, a poor, young man named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and a young female Faerie, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) have formed a deep friendship with romantic undertones. Unfortunately, Stefan’s ambition leads him to betray Maleficent when an opportunity to become the heir to the throne presents itself, and he steals her wings. Slowly the pain of her loss grows into a rage for vengeance and Maleficent curses Stefan’s newborn daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning). Before Aurora’s 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a death-like sleep forever, unless she can be awoken by true loves kiss.
This movie is a radical retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Not only is the focus of the film the villain, but there are also a lot of interesting, if slightly odd, story changes. The tone of the marketing campaign was all about Angelina Jolie baring her teeth and reveling in the chance to play a truly wicked and ruthless baddie, however from the moment she embraces the darkness, the film races to soften her edges and humanize her before the audience has a chance to turn on her. I would have preferred it if Maleficent spent more time indulging in its wickedness, but almost all of the darkness in the film belongs to the horribly miscast Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan. Every time he was on screen I couldn’t wait for Copley’s scenes to end. He plays Stefan with a brittle desperation and the utter lack of warmth between him and Jolie early in the movie makes it hard to believe that Maleficent could have ever fallen for him. Aside from Sam Riley as Maleficent’s sidekick Diaval, there is not one good male performance in this movie.
Conversely, Jolie is brilliant in every facet of her role. She vacillates smoothly from radiating kindness early to regal hatred later to genuine tenderness and love near the end. When paired with the almost ethereal beauty of Elle Fanning, the screen practically glows. Fanning could have been given a bit more to do than spin around in wide-eyed wonder, but this film belongs to Jolie. I often have a hard time understanding her appeal, but there is no doubt about it in Maleficent. Not all of the changes are for the better in this very “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves” version of story, and most of the attempts at humor fall short of their mark, but there is plenty of beauty on the screen and that counts for something. B-