The new Disney movie, "Maleficent" is something of a mixed-bag. It features some truly impressive visual images and the film gives its leading lady, Angelina Jolie, plenty of room to shine.
At the same time, it suffers through a lackluster story and a fairly bland supporting cast. This is one of those odd movie experiences where I was thoroughly impressed with the craftsmanship on display yet only half-interested in what was happening up on the screen.
The film delves into the story behind the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale. It's told from the villain's perspective, asking what would make a powerful fairy want to curse a newborn baby girl. We get the answer in the form of this tale of love and betrayal.
We find out that when Maleficent was a teenage fairy living on the moors, she fell in love with a young orphan boy. They grew apart as the boy became a politically ambitious young man and Maleficent became the magical protector of the wilderness.
The two collide when the boy drugs Maleficent and chops off her wings in order to win the king's favor. Having been betrayed and maimed, Maleficent has a pretty good reason to want revenge against the boy who is now the king (Sharlto Copley), and she has the magical ability to make good on her threats.
The story has enough emotional heft to power a full-on-melodrama, but the filmmakers play it safe, seldom opting for camp and generally keeping the full-blooded emotions in check in order to ensure the film's PG rating. The result is a film full of adult issues but also emotionally dumbed down enough to appeal to the young kids who will inevitably make up the majority of the film's audience.
Those kids (and their parents) will certainly enjoy the film's special effects and action sequences. Director Robert Stromberg is a former art director, so the visual spectacle is to be expected. This is definitely one of those films that is worth seeing up on the biggest screen possible.
The film's most impressive spectacle comes in the form of Angelina Jolie, who completely owns every single frame of this movie. With augmented cheekbones and those iconic horns, Jolie is the perfect physical embodiment of the original Disney villain.
Yet her performance is so much more than just a physical transformation. If you ever doubted that Jolie is one of Hollywood's most impressive leading ladies, just try to take your eyes off of her during this movie. She is simply captivating.
Jolie and the special effects make "Maleficent" worth the ticket price, but this revisionist story that tries to turn a legendary witch into a scorned woman revenge flick never really resonates. That's bad news for all of those other Disney villains hoping to get their own movie someday soon.
** 1/2 stars