I’ll admit before we start that I don’t really ‘get’ Angelina Jolie. I don’t really understand how she is still as bankable and as liked as she is, when she so rarely makes an actually good film. Sure, taste is subjective, but I think it’s fair to say that she’s never been ‘great’ in anything.
Maybe I’m being harsh on Ms Jolie, and there’s a whole host of great performances of hers out there that I’m just not aware of; in her defence she’s never been embarrassingly awful, but she’s never really ignited my intrigue either.
One role of hers that is fondly remembered by most circles, however, is Maleficent, the classic Disney villain who she returns to portray here, complete with cheek bones that could cut glass and a killer stare Medusa would be jealous of.
Will this film be another high in a year of staggering achievement for Disney?
Five years on from the events of the first film, and Maleficent is once again feared by all humans. When her goddaughter gets engaged to a local Prince, it presents an opportunity for peace to be made amongst all creatures, but certain elements are conspiring against this.
Full disclosure here, I don’t really remember much of the first Maleficent film. It’s not that I didn’t like it, more that I was apathetic towards it; it was typical fantasy Disney fare really, with nothing particularly standing out in my mind, and it’s pretty much the same case here.
I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with this film, it’s just that it’s safe, it’s standard, it’s – dare I say – generic?
It also isn’t helped by an over-long run time and a certain slowness of pace towards the start, sure you want to establish your story, but it didn’t really feel like much was happening for the first half-an-hour. The characters were introduced, and their motives established, and that’s it, the film just kind of plods along waiting for something to happen.
When it does get going, it tries to deal with complex issues, fairly admirably I’d say, but it never quite achieves it. There’s a lot of underlying themes of ‘not judging a book by its cover’ all the usual Disney stuff, but there are darker elements, there’s hints of murder justification bordering on the genocidal, it fumbles with its good vs evil allegory by making the villain of the piece, and her intent, obvious from her first scene, therefore leaving us with no suspense over her eventual unmasking as the villain.
I mentioned the ‘darker elements’ in the previous paragraph, and the filmmakers must have taken this literally, as some of the film is so poorly lit that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s going on, I mean there’s creating an aesthetic, and then there’s impacting on an audiences ability to enjoy a film.
There were things I liked about Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (incidentally, that’s a very clunky title) however, I like the visual effects, and I know how I usually say that the visual effects are only really worth noting when they’re particularly bad, but there’s some really interesting creature design going on here. The creatures of The Wolds are distinguishable from each other to not be repetitive, but never over-reach. Some even look very charming.
I also enjoyed Jolie, for all I said about her in my opening spiel. It really seems like it’s a part she relished playing and couldn’t wait to do, and her character is fairly consistent, could have done with being a touch less forcefully comedic though.
In the rest of the cast, the acting is a real mixed bag. Elle Fanning is serviceable but nothing to write home about, Michelle Pfeiffer is gloriously hammy, and Chiwetel Ejiofor puts some colour back into the films cheeks with some much needed complexity. The low point of the cast is Harris Dickinson, who plays Prince Phillip a man who would make a plank of wood with a face drawn on it seem more lively and engaging.
So, that’s Maleficent then; a real case of peaks and troughs. While there were parts I enjoyed, I wouldn’t say there was enough to recommend, it’s a rather frustrating film, in that it feels like it borders on the edge of making a compelling point about how people are judged, but just manages to mishandle it at the last second. I’d call it a wasted opportunity, but I fear that might be a bit harsh. It just leaves me feeling indifferent towards it, all the parts work, but it struggles to engage much past that.