The movie is really really pretty, and Angelina Jolie is fucking fantastic in the title role. Everything else is up for debate.
If you cherish Eleanor Audley’s undeniably badass rendition of the character from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (she is after all the only Disney villain to go all the way and invoke the powers of Hell) then there’s plenty to enjoy in Jolie’s performance, but it’s likely to be an unsatisfactory whole – simply put, for a villain as impressive and commanding as the original Maleficent, Maleficent’s origins as presented here are somewhat lacklustre.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy perspective flip stories, then you may be in luck with this alternate take on her history – there’s reason and weight behind her cursing Aurora here, more so than simply being snubbed from a christening.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that it is, after all, a movie made for families and younger audiences, and that perhaps a descent into the twisted mind of one of the Disney canon’s most formidable villains is a little darker than their intended viewers are capable of, so those expecting a cynical world of despair that adequately fits our star character should maybe readjust their expectations.
Jolie is divine as Maleficent, embodying the role and clearly having a ball hamming it up as much as she can. Elle Fanning is serviceable as Aurora, but isn’t really tasked with much more than smiling in insipid wonderment at the magical realm Maleficent inhabits. Sharlto Copley makes a slimy villain out of Stefan (though what’s with the accent?) and Sam Riley makes a good snarky foil as Maleficent’s raven-cum-manservant.
It’s fun as a different take on the Maleficent character, and I really appreciated that they didn’t put the origins of her villainy down to “heartbroken by a man” – that it was an act of actual betrayal that deserved revenge was much appreciated, even if the scene itself did seem just a little date-rapey.
The greatest misgiving I have about the film is that here, Maleficent is a purely reactionary character, acting on impulse to the world around her and its slings and arrows, whereas the original character was cold, calculating and gloriously evil. Maleficent’s Maleficent is a presence to behold, but in the same way that a tornado causes a lot of damage and then blows itself out, so to does this modern incarnation; not so much a force of Hell as she is a magical tantrum.
I recognise I’m in no target demographic of the movie, and I admit I saw it in obligation to my Angelina Jolie fanboy duties. It could have been much worse, and for what it’s worth, it’s a good fun film, it’s just that it feels it could have been more.
As a showcase of Jolie’s ability to embody any role, it’s fantastic, and even if you’re still questioning whether you should see it or not, you should definitely see it if only for her alone.