Directed By Joachim Ronning
Starring – Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer
The Plot – Maleficent (Jolie) and her goddaughter Aurora (Fanning) begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and dark new forces at play.
Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images
– Durable veterans. Make no mistakes about it, this is definitely Jolie and Pfeiffer’s film for the taking. Emoting through two characters who come from completely different worlds, yet are remarkably similar with regards to the way they see their enemies, this duo of leading ladies constantly steal the attention of the movie, and make it that much better each time they are front-and-center. For Jolie, it’s another chance to play the role she was born to play. As Maleficent, she channels a wide range of emotional resonance, choosing to supplant dark humor when necessary, but never straying far from the intimidating presence that unsettles those around her. It also helps to have an equal, and that’s where Pfeiffer’s queen comes in. From start to finish, the evolution of this character is one that takes Michelle through a transition of her own, from good to evil, bringing forth the single best performance for the actress in easily over a decade. It makes for quite an intriguing confrontation whenever they lock horns, all the while giving us a chance to indulge in two of Hollywood’s best to ever immerse themselves in character acting.
– Meaningful color. Easily my favorite aspect of the film is the absorbing color pallets that contrast variety in feelings and atmosphere within every setting, and giving us no shortage of visual beauty to reflect upon the film. For the castle, there’s a lot of protruding sunlight that hangs over the queen like a permanent fog, giving us stark contrast from the dark and dreadful that follows Maleficent on her road to redemption. In addition to this, it’s nice to see the green magic of Maleficent back, elaborating to her evil streak or jealousy, that prove her intentions each time it passes up. The depth of color schemes inserted into the film stands as a character on their own merits, giving us a consistency without repeating that proves the kind of wide range of storytelling that the film has going for it. As to where most narratives are told audibly, “Mistress of Evil” takes it one step further by visually seducing us with imagery so meaningful and full of personality that they could easily be hung on the walls of any museum or apartment.
– Costume designs. Disney always simulates past era’s of history seamlessly, and a lot of that has to do with the gorgeous threads of wardrobe that mentally place us in a particular age far from our own. For this film, the free-flowing vibrant gowns of the rich collide with the weathered cloths of Maleficent’s species of people, and it cements an articulate capture of the rival worlds creatively in a way that further elaborates their differences. Likewise, Maleficent’s own costume has evolved, trading in a leather bodysuit This is an aspect to the production that never relents, putting the money anywhere but where the mouth is to prove its big budget influence, in turn allowing us another chance to lose ourselves in this fantastical world. This is one consistency that I’m glad carried over from the previous film, as the textures and colors of the wardrobe choices tell a story of the worlds that the characters who wear them come from, giving us exposition in the most obvious sense of what we the audience are seeing constantly.
– 3D Effects. While I had more than a few problems overall with recommending this movie, its three-dimensional presentation offers that complex juxtaposition for moviegoers that ironically encourages me to tell my readers to spend a few more bucks if you’re going to see this in theaters. The reason for this is a collection of scenes that get the cameras involved with what is transpiring in the heat of the moment. The war sequences offer an immersive quality with no shortage of pebbles and red smoke to dominate the screen, and an opening sequence taking place in Maleficent’s forest whisks by with the camera in a way that we the audience can almost feel the brushing of plants flying by. It leads to one of the best 3D presentations that I have seen in quite some time, and actually justifies its transfer in a way that other films only do so to reap more monetary benefits.
– Thunderous musical score. Composer Geoff Zanelli amplifies the intensity and urgency with a collection of orchestral-influenced numbers that weigh heavily on the progression of the scenes they accompany. It’s important that a score this prominent in volume doesn’t repeat or meander itself in a way that undermines its capabilities, and thanks to the beats within the story capturing a variety of human emotions, it gives Zanelli an opportunity to flex his diversity of audible storytelling. For my money, the war scenes are easily his bread and butter, engaging us with a barrage of horns and 808 drums that replicate the abundance of ammunition being flung between the rival armies in the sequence. Likewise, the scenes of chill-out exposition conjure a sentimental quality of somber that establishes nuance to the bond that Maleficent and Aurora share with their family dynamic. Geoff constantly has his pulse on the prominence of the scene, producing what is arguably Disney’s most resonant musical score of any property they’ve adapted in 2019.
– Computer generated saturation. Are the artificial properties and characters in the movie beautiful in their renderings? Absolutely. The textures and color coordination dazzle brilliantly in their execution. My problem lies in calling this a live action film, because most of the time our actors seem like the only real thing in any particular frame that you pick out. It loses a lot of the inspiration and technique of the filmmaking first and foremost, settling for the easy way out on establishing its world-building or artistic integrity meant to capture it in a realistic approach. Computer generation does often create something beautiful, but it’s never anything that floors you with its creativity or technical achievement because it takes the easy way out.
– Cluttered screenplay. Easily the biggest problem this movie has is its approach to attack far too many subplots from too many unimportant characters, giving us a convoluted finished product that makes it evident how this film reached nearly two hours in length. I mentioned earlier that the heart of this movie is when Jolie and Pfeiffer share the stage, and I mention that here because the rest of the film around them screeches to a grinding halt, working overtime for pacing that often times feels longer than its actual length. In my opinion, the film could’ve easily tossed or combined some of these subplots together, based on the way their narratives run together. Leaving it this way not only tests the patience of its audience, but also offers very little solidification for why Maleficent is a title character in a movie that frequently moves away from her.
– Irresponsible. War is perhaps the most surface level definition for what’s transpiring here, but genocide is the perfect one. Yes, a Disney movie that evolved from “Sleeping Beauty” has an uncomfortable scene involving a wiping out of an entire race because of prejudice, and this direction writes itself into a corner for where the third act transpires towards. For one, the resolution itself isn’t even remotely as satisfying as the many who suffered and even lost their lives in the war that emerged from such a selfish person. One could argue that this person answers for their sins in a way that is humiliating, but anything short of death is really a disappointment for something as prejudicial as this. Secondly, a PG rated film can never truly explore the disgusting depths that genocide entails, therefore it renders the gimmick unfulfilling of getting its honesty across to its audience.
– Weak love angle. Besides the fact that Fanning’s character is a distant third in on-screen importance to her two female co-stars, the time and energy deposited to the film’s central plot formation is one that is every bit as cold as it is compromising to the characters. The prince himself (Played by Harris Dickinson) is completely void of personality, bravado, or any semblance of weight to the dynamic of the developments. In fact, he even goes missing for a lengthy amount of time, during the events when an appearance from him would truly ratchet up the tension of a family coming apart at the seams. It makes this love angle as unrealized as a Pixar cartoon with no color, and does no favors to Fanning’s character when asking us to see what she sees in this six foot tall piece of paper. Bland as vanilla, and not even half as satisfying.
– Tonal imbalance. Too many tonal transitions doom this film’s direction from ever feeling cohesive, and leaves the finished project feeling like disjointed bi-polar cinema that is still searching for an identity. The first act feels fun and cheesy in the good way that knows what it rightfully is. The second act removes all of the cheese in favor of a mundane evolution that is riddled by boredom. The final act reaches for the action, and wants so terribly to be a kids version of “Game of Thrones”, albeit without the colorful characters, high stakes, or compelling drama of the popular TV show. Classifying this film into just one particular drama is an uphill climb that never gets easier the longer it goes, and due to a collection of sharp tonal shifts, it alludes to this trying to throw anything to a wall to see what sticks. As it stands, very little actually does, leading to a minimum of momentum that it builds for itself long-term.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+