Who knew this would be the best movie I've seen so far this summer? I was wary of Disney's attempt to reboot Sleeping Beauty fairly tale from the perspective of the film's titular villianess after how they botched up Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland, but neither retelling had emotional depth to match the stunning visuals put on-screen. Maleficent has both, largely thanks to Angelina Jolie, in her best performance in years, as the title character, a fairy who transforms the magical woods where she calls home, into a thorny no-man's land - literally. She wants revenge for Stefan (Sharlto Copley) drugging her and hacking off her wings to please a dying king and take his place at the throne. On the surface, it's Jolie howling over her loss, but it's a much deeper betrayal - her closest friend, whom she trusted and loved, robbed her of her innocence and her identity. In a moment of extreme vulnerability, her darker nature takes shape, and the woman with a stone heart is born. The rest of the story follows the animated cartoon narrative: Maleficent crashes the celebration of the king's first born daughter, Aurora, who she places a curse on that on her 16th birthday, she will fall into a deep sleep like death and can only be awoken by true love's kiss. What is surprising is how we are allowed to see the relationship between the princess (Elle Fanning) and Maleficent herself, as she takes on a maternal role, in addition to three bumbling fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) watching over her, and in the process, begins to develop love for the innocent Aurora and regret for the curse she has placed upon her out of rage.
I should point this out right now: yes, this movie has a feminist edge to it. So did last year's critical darling, Frozen. As did Brave in 2012. The reviews to this movie, while some of them bring out points I agree with, miss the overall triumph of this movie: Disney's dismantling of the male figure saving the helpless princess trope. It's refreshing to not only see female characters in film have more to do than just be rescue bait, but challenge the 'happily ever after' mantra when the handsome prince sweeps the beautiful princess off her feet and ride off into the sunset, and it should be celebrated when filmmakers decide to go against formula and show these female characters as more than just their stereotypes. Yes, many of the supporting characters aren't given enough to do, including the trio of Manville, Staunton and Temple as the film's comic relief, and the handsome prince (Brenton Thwaites) barely even registers beyond his good looks; and I do agree somewhat that the movie places the production design over the action (though I do understand it's overall purpose once Aurora begins to come of age living in the enchanted forest); but I feel that it is far from incompetent and characterizing the film as such misses the film's real magic: the relationship between Jolie and Fanning. Please, if you're on the fence on seeing Maleficent because of the lack of stellar reviews: watch it anyway, regardless of what the critics say.
*** 1/2 stars out of ****