Maleficent is all sizzle. Disney's live-action reimagining of the classic tale originally told in The Sleeping Beauty has plenty of appeal. Angelina Jolie stars as the title character who is also the heretofore unredeemable villain in the version of the story with which we all grew up. In this version, Maleficent is at least some version of a hero, a powerful fairy wronged by a human to whom she thought she was close. Superficially at least, she has complex reasons for cursing Aurora (Elle Fanning) to everlasting sleep, and she is remorseful when the consequences of her curse come home to roost.
This all sounds interesting. You've got a huge star vamping it up as an iconic villain -- pale skin, crimson lips, black horns and all -- only it turns out she's not really a villain at all. It is certainly easy to understand how this movie got greenlit. What's not so clear is what happened after that. All that potential doesn't amount to much in the end.
Maleficent is unremarkably bad. It isn't poorly acted, though there are no performances that stand out either. It doesn't exactly drag or have major pacing problems. The script is fine, I guess. It has a degree of visual polish not easily matched in this bizarre little live-action fairy tale subgenre that has emerged over the past few years. Only Snow White and the Hunstman can really compare in that regard. On the other hand, that visual polish lends an uncomfortable sterility to a film that seems so lacking in shreds of humanity in so many other capacities.
It’s biggest noteworthy flaw is probably its infantilization of the main character, who creates the central tension in the film (the curse of Aurora) when she is betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley). Her motivations in this sequence play akin to those of a spurned teenage girl, and it’s all wildly out of step with her behavior, both before and after. Even this misstep seems mostly worthy of a “meh” and a yawn.
I don’t really know what to do with Maleficent other than to move on, and to steel myself for a host of similarly unwelcome reimaginings in the near future. Its intrigue is memorable, but the film itself leaves a fantastically insignificant mark.