Friday, June 13, 2014

OVP: Maleficent (2014)

Film: Maleficent (2014)
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Janet McTeer (yep, she's the voice you were trying to place as the narrator)
Director: Robert Stromberg
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Costume Design)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

You can feel it in the water.  What once was popular is now lost, and only those that lived four years ago can remember it.  At least this is what I was thinking as I was leaving Maleficent, the latest in the many, many reimaginings of classic fairy tale/fantasy stories.  After the inexplicable (that box office was psychotic) success of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, the studios would have been fools to not have cashed in on this previously untapped market (see also comic books and…the studios are not good at focusing on multiple things at a time).  Yet after Snow White and the Huntsman, Oz the Great and Powerful, and now Maleficent it appears the trend may soon be fading.  Pray for next year’s Cinderella remake.

(Spoilers Ahead) The reason for this is partially because no one seems to like any of these movies.  Honestly-with the comic book movies you have The Avengers and Iron Man and The Dark Knight propping up the mediocre entries like The Green Lantern and most of the X-Men franchise.  There has yet to be a fairy tale story to really stick the landing, and that’s partially because the franchises try to stay surface level.

In theory fantasy films should work marvelously, and from a bankroll perspective they do (this, like the others before it, is a gigantic hit).  Yet it’s the fact that it’s all surface-level that causes it harm.  I’m not one for the continued “let’s-make-a-sequel” aspect of the movies, but what sets Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings apart is that they’re building a mythology based on these great book series.  There’s plenty of source material in these films, and there’s a lot of great emotional drama, but for some reason they skirt behind it.

Take for example the scene where Maleficent (Jolie) loses her wings in this film.  It’s one of the most devastating scenes I’ve witnessed in a youth-oriented film in years (it rivals that wildly creepy scene with a dying Alan Rickman in Harry Potter).  The anguish in Jolie’s voice as she lies, betrayed by the man she loved-it’s heartbreaking, and you get a sense for the remainder of the film that there’s an unspoken evil lurking here that you want avenged.

And yet, the film doesn’t give us much in the way of a human character for Sharlto Copley, who is a black-hearted king with no redeeming qualities to make him seem remotely well-rounded.  His daughter Aurora (Fanning) is the exact opposite-all goodness and sweetness, but nothing minutely human about her.  They might as well be cartoons (in fact, they once were in a different Disney kingdom far, far away), and there’s nothing to latch on to of substance here.

Jolie’s performance is the only thing worth noting in this silly, paint-by-numbers film.  Jolie has always worked best as a movie star in theory than in practice-her films, especially her later films, have all suffered from her being the most famous person on earth.  It’s hard to imagine such an exquisite creature existing in real life (I remember reading somewhere that Jolie was far too beautiful to be anything other than a movie star, and it’s true), and even in a fairy world she stands out.  This is ideal casting (who else to play a goddess?), but in the scenes where Jolie is shifting her opinion of Aurora, I cannot help but feel I’m being sold something not worth buying; Jolie’s Maleficent is far too cunning and world-weary to be undone by such a princess.

The film has the sort of pedigree (look at that crew list) and box office position to be a threat at this year’s Oscars in at least a handful of tech categories.  I will slightly withhold judgement in this regard, but can we all agree the fake cheekbones were redundant on Jolie and that the small-headed Imelda Staunton looked stupid?  If you disagree, there’s the comments section.  In fact, share any thoughts you had about this movie (judging by the box office I’m guessing you have seen it)!

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