Misunderstood Deity: Maleficent

maleficent

Spoilers Ahead.

I know, I know…Maleficient is not a deity, but she’s so epic that she should have been. From what I’ve been hearing (and later saw with my own eyes) about the movie Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, they completely dropped the ball on what made this dragon lady of evil so freaking fantastic. Which of course makes her a prime candidate for this section.

In the movie and book worlds, there is a modern obsession with multi-faceted villains. Villains can no longer be purely evil, which deprives us of our epic good vs. evil fights and everyone lives happily ever after. In many ways, this is a good thing. Since people have patently started taking fairy tales to heart, someone should move forward on corrective brainwashing to fix the results of the previous brainwashing.

Sympathetic or three-dimensional villains make fiction fun and it’s interesting to see a Loki we want to hang with or a Hannibal we don’t immediately hate. Dexter makes us feel safe because he’s only a serial killer for awful people we want to get rid of anyway. Yes, that is what I tell myself to sleep at night. We demand villains that we love to hate like at least three-fourths of Westeros in Game of Thrones. Except Joffrey. I’m hoping I speak for us all when I say that we just wanted him to die a horrible death.

The problem with this movie is that it tries to depict Maleficent as a multi-faceted villain and hero and can’t decide which one it wants to be more.

The first half of the movie is a mash-up between the storyline of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and a mediocre fairy tale that had potential. As usual, it’s about a boy. As a young girl, Maleficent becomes the protector of fairyland. One day, she meets a boy named Stephen who she receives “true love’s kiss” from. I’m not even going to count how much of the voice-overs I cringed at, but I’m digressing. Stephen eventually stops coming to fairyland and grows up (he later becomes the father of Aurora). Upon his return to fairyland, he drugs Maleficent and cuts off her wings. The argument that some are making is that the filmmakers applied the rape of Sleeping Beauty that was in the original Grimm tale to Maleficent and I’m inclined to see the parallel. Maleficent’s wings make her feel free, and they are her most powerful asset. Her wings are a large part of her identity as protector of fairy land.

Major detractions from the original movie include the three good fairies being complete idiots, King Stephen as a psychopath, Ent-like guardians for the fairy forest, the crow, Maleficent becoming maternal towards Aurora, and a major twist on the dragon finale, and a Frozen-like twist toward the end.

My head was spinning. The first movie had a simple formula. Maleficent wasn’t invited to a party. She crashed said party like a diva and put a curse on a baby because she was ticked at not being invited. And it was awesome. She was pure evil. And maybe it was simpler that way. Maybe some villains don’t need to have a backstory or to be tamed and explained for the audience to understand them. When people are dating, they like a little intrigue and I’d say the same goes for our villains. Instead of being spoon-fed a sugar-coated villain, we should be allowed to chew them to figure out their motivations. They don’t have to be grand, but they do have to be an adequate foil for the hero. There was no real hero except Maleficent and she failed as a foil to herself. The real villain might have been Stephen, but I don’t think anyone actually took him seriously because even without her wings, Maleficent was still more powerful.

Additionally, Maleficent’s motivations for putting the curse on Aurora look a lot sillier than in the Disney movie. If Stephan was so cruel, why wouldn’t she just punish him instead of his helpless daughter, especially when he didn’t seem to really care about his daughter in the first place? The Disney version made sense because we can buy Maleficent as an extremely narcissistic fairy who just wants to have fun and strew mayhem around. However, because the new version tries to be serious, the new reason doesn’t quite add up.

Angelina Jolie definitely enjoyed her role with a lot of hand waving and prosthetic cheek gesturing. If it wasn’t a movie attached to Sleeping Beauty, I’d say it was a pretty decent fairy tale. The CGI wasn’t completely hopeless, but I did feel like I was in Avatar a few times. And Oz the Great and Powerful. Everyone’s else’s acting besides Jolie’s was off. King Stephen was Scottish, which was a little out of place. Dakota Fanning just didn’t cut it as Aurora, and I’m not saying it’s entirely her fault. The script moves like it’s a vehicle for Maleficent, so there’s really no room for Aurora, it’s like she’s an afterthought.  The movie went in many different directions. Again, if it wasn’t attached to Sleeping Beauty, I could appreciate the redemption arc, the road to maturity and self-awareness, the very interesting portrayal of survival and moving on after a sexual assault which I appreciated, the forgiveness, and the theme of community.

But it was attached to Sleeping Beauty.

And like so many other rebooted tales gone before, another one bites the fairy dust.

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