By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Maleficent is nowhere near beneficent and occasionally downright magnificent.
But she sure is malevolent, and this sure is a new spin, one with both style and charm.
Maleficent offers a fresh take on Sleeping Beauty, a live-action-embellished-with-sparkling-special-effects reimagining of the fairytale that provided the basis for the 1959 animated film that made the iconic story a household fable.
But the evil witch who was the antagonist of that ‘toon has come front and center in this rendering. She may still be the villainess, and cruelty may remain her middle name, but this time we get to know why she resides so resolutely on the dark side.
She hasn’t exactly been romanticized, but the Mistress of All Evil has in fact been humanized.
Angelina Jolie plays the yellow-eyed, ruby-red-lipped, two-horned title character, her face properly altered prosthetically — the evil fairy who presides over and protects The Moors, the magic kingdom that’s adjacent to the human realm.
Although she’s no girl scout, to say the least, we come to know reasons why she’s the way she is. Yep, this is her side of the story.
When, feeling not only slighted but betrayed (and she certainly is), she puts an irrevocable curse on the king’s newborn, it places Aurora (played as a five-year-old by Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter, Vivienne, and as a young woman by Elle Fanning) right in the middle of the ongoing conflict between the forest kingdom she loves and the human kingdom.
In the talented supporting cast, Sharlto Copley plays the king, Sam Riley Maleficent’s shape-shifting confidant, and Brendon Thwaites the prince who falls in love with Aurora, while Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple provide comic relief by portraying the bumbling fairy aunties charged with raising Aurora in secret until her sixteenth birthday.
When Maleficent loses her ability to fly, she immediately begins plotting revenge. Which is certainly bad news for the young princess, whom Maleficent knows holds the key to the achievement of peace in the land.
First-time director Robert Stromberg is a visual effects wizard who won Oscars for art direction for Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the film looks great.
And its action scenes crackle. But the pleasant surprise is that the film’s blend of intimate and epic storytelling is a smooth one, its psychology fascinatingly rich.
Linda Woolverton’s screenplay for this dark revisionist fairytale provides the satisfying, as-yet-untold back story that explains not only what Maleficent does, which we’ve long since been familiar with, but why.
As the embittered anti-heroine, Jolie -– who also served as one of the film’s many producers –- makes her first on-screen appearance in four years. And it’s a commanding, three-dimensional one, in which she gets to show lots of colors. And her director shoots her with obvious and rewarded confidence in her heady level of magnetism.
As for the remarkable Fanning, she once again gives the kind of nuanced performance that belies her age.
So we’ll put a curse on 3 stars out of 4 for the absorbing and visually dazzling fantasy adventure, Maleficent. This star turn from Jolie is something to see.