Despite the fact that the release of Maleficent came with it a whole lot of hype and high expectations, the film itself sort of falls short on delivering the promise of a genuinely inspired fantasy action film. It’s not that the film is terrible as such, it’s just that it isn’t the special movie that it looked like it could have been, making it a film you might want to rent, just to see what all of the fuss was about, but not necessarily add to your DVD collection unless you really like dark(ish) fantasy fiction with a Disney spin on it.
It hit the big screen back in May 2014, before going to be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download on the 20th October 2014 in the run up to Halloween on the back of a very successful stint at the box office. While it’s taking have been very impressive, the critical reception has been a little more mixed for the film, which is a product of solid performances, from Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) in particular, a very cool visual style and some deep thematic investigation combined with a slightly flawed plot, dated visual effects and a finale that lacked the snap that it needed.
The storyline is a live-action reboot of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, where the focus of the plot is on Maleficent’s side of the story and how she comes to be seen by many to be seen as the villain of the piece. It makes for a very thoughtful slant on an old classic, and a brave move for Disney considering the inclusion of more adult themes of betrayal, abandonment, abuse and revenge, as well as a well crafted critique of greed, atrocity, power and humanity’s history of pollution.
However, all that said, the delivery of the story doesn’t really build up enough of a head of steam as it moves towards the climax of the film. It also misses a trick in not making enough out of the importance of Maleficent’s wings, which could have created a bit more drive and purpose to the latter scenes.
In general, there are some strong performances from the cast, especially from Angelina Jolie, who makes for the perfect misunderstood fairy queen. She’s dark, brooding and powerful in her delivery and emotional control, making the character come to life and building a great deal of empathy for a name that we’ve previously associated more with Vader and the Dark Side than the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Sam Riley (On The Road, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies) also puts in a good performance as Maleficent’s right hand man and animagus raven, Diaval, acting as much as her latter day conscience as her servant. Equally, Sharlto Copley (The A-Team Movie) portrays the deceitful, paranoid and power-crazed King Stefan well enough, although the story doesn’t really do enough to elaborate on why he turns on Maleficent. However, Elle Fanning (Super 8) doesn’t quite work as well for us as she comes across as a little too sweet to fit into the context of a darkly ambitious fantasy movie.
The visual style for the film is a mix of perfect triumphs and wrong turns, with some impressive costume and special effects, backing up next to some clunky delivery. The costume for Maleficent looks very impressive, leading to a lot of the iconic shots that helped to build the hype for the movie, but then the SFX for when she’s airborne isn’t as precisely executed, looking a bit too computer generated and undoing the belief factor of the film.
It’s a similar story for a lot of the film with Diaval’s transformation into a crow working well, but some of the creatures from The Moors looking a bit too much like odd CGI cartoon hybrids. The tree guards are pretty cool and the gnarled and thorny giant thicket barrier that Maleficent conjures up around The Moors looks solid and imposing, but the weird floating blue snuffle-nosed creature just looks a bit daft and the excess of will-o’-the-wisps does more to detract from the atmosphere of magic than it does to add to it.
The worst effects though have got to be the rendering of the three good fairies, Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle, which again looks a little too cartoon-like to create any semblance of enchantment. It also contributes to the impression that Imelda Staunton (Another Year), Juno Temple (Greenberg) and Lesley Manville (also in Another Year) put in weak performances as the little flying meringues, but in all fairness, they didn’t really stand much chance with the poor, wire-heavy CGI and meh characterisation.
Overall, director Robert Stromberg has done a decent enough job on Maleficent, but it’s slightly undone by limitations in some of the delivery, Linda Woolverton’s script and a portion of the visual effects. It could have been epic, but instead it’s just interesting, enjoyable and visually appealing in parts.
In terms of the DVD, there will definitely be a few people out there that will love the concept, forgive the limitations and add it to their home entertainment collection, but for the majority, this might make a better rental than a purchase.
Maleficent DVD review: 3/5