Let me start this review confessing that, when Disney announced they were going to make a live action movie about the true story of their most iconic villain ever, Maleficent, I was skeptical. The dark fairy has always been one of my favorite characters precisely because she was pure evil, and I wasn't sure I wanted to see her turned into a misunderstood anti-hero.
That being said, I enjoyed Maleficent, I thought it was ok, some elements worked really well, others... not so much.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE MOVIE.
Summary: Maleficent is a good fairy that lives in the magic kingdome of the Moors. One day she meets a human boy named Stefan and they become friends and, after they grow up, lovers. Then King Henry from the human kingdom decides to attack the Moors and is defeated by Maleficent, in his deathbed, Henry promises that whoever kills Maleficent will become the next king and Stefan, blinded by his ambition, drugs Maleficent to kill her but when he can't do it, he cuts her wings instead. This betrayal makes Maleficent become evil and curse Aurora, Stefan's daughter, to fall into a death-like slumber after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning-wheel before her 16th birthday. Terrified, Stefan burns all the spinning-wheels, sends his daughter away to be raised by the good fairies not knowing who she really is and tries to find a way to kill Maleficent, but Maleficent manages to find Aurora and watches her grow until one day they start talking. Maleficent starts caring about Aurora and tries to remove the curse, but fails. On the day of her sixteenth birthday Aurora learns the truth and the curse takes place, but is broken by Maleficent. While Maleficent is in the castle she gets her wings back and fights Stefan, until he falls and dies. At the end, Maleficent becomes a good fairy again and Aurora becomes the new queen of the Moors, uniting both the human and the magic realms.
Ok, first the good things:
The casting of the film is very good, all the actors are convincing in their roles, but the one who shines the most is Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, she manages to show her transition from good fairy to the cold-hearted villain we all know and love without a problem, and captures the fun Maleficent has being evil like no one else can. She was a perfect choice for the role, and that is good, because she carries all the weight of the film, without her, the movie would crumble.
Maleficent’s character arc works well: her motives for becoming evil are solid and her vendetta against king Stefan is completely justified, the changes she suffers during the movie happen at a nice pace and her redemption is well-built.
King Stefan is an interesting villain, a man who betrays his friend and lover for power and in exchange, has to live sixteen years in fear, thinking that his actions may cost his daughter’s live. His ambition becomes his own downfall, he assumes that, because he cared more about power than the people he loved, true love doesn’t exist, and that the only thing he can do is kill Maleficent, when actually caring for Aurora is what will break the curse.
The scenery is gorgeous: the Moors kingdom is a feast for the eyes that changes along with the main character, from a paradise full of light and kindness to an elegant world that remains beautiful and magical despite its darkness.
The human kingdom also has a lot of charm, and the contrast between Stefan’s cold castle and the idyllic cottage Aurora lives in is a very effective way to show the effect Maleficent’s curse had on the king and why Aurora was lucky to grew up away from there: it allowed her to remain innocent and to have faith in people, which is what will save her life at the end.
But the movie has some problems that made it less enjoyable, at least for me.
The good fairies were extremely annoying and as the movie went on I started hating every second they were on screen. Their motivations are not clear at all and sometimes they don’t make any sense: when Maleficent is a little girl we see them freaking out because there is a human in the Moors kingdom, even though is just a child, it’s clear they don’t want humans in their territory, years later a human king tries to invade the Moors and Maleficent is the one who defends their kingdom, but when Steffan, who took advantage of Maleficent’s trust and cut her wings to become king has a daughter, they go because they want to create good will between the kingdoms. They want to get along with the man who betrayed the main protector of the Moors and turned Maleficent into an evil fairy. And their personalities don’t help, they are extremely annoying and there are several moments in the movie where one can question their intelligence, like when they are unable to feed Aurora because apparently they don’t know babies can’t eat normal food, or when Maleficent has to save Aurora from jumping off a cliff because they are so naive and childish the most silly thing makes them behave like they are 5 years old, or like when Knotgrass is unable to keep quite when they are just a few hours away from avoiding Maleficent’s curse, and then somehow can’t make Aurora stay at home one more afternoon even though they are fairies and have magic. I understand they are the film’s comic relief, but the movie tries so hard to make them fun to watch they end up being just irritating.
The other big problem is Prince Philip, he has no real purpose in the movie, he is just there because I guess we can’t have a princess without a prince. He runs into Aurora while he is lost, they share a moment, he gets lost in the forest for a while, Maleficent drags him to Stefan’s castle and he doesn’t wake up Aurora because you can’t feel true love towards someone you just met. I respect the fact that they were trying to subvert the whole “love at first sight” trope by making Maleficent the one who breaks the curse, but the truth is that doing so made Philip’s presence in the film unnecessary. You can cut him completely from the movie and nothing would change.
Princess Aurora is ok in the movie but she doesn't really have much personality. She is more of a plot device than anything else: she is there to be the object of Maleficent's revenge and redemption, a kind and innocent girl who shows Maleficent there is still good in the world and makes her realize she is still able of loving someone, attoning for her father's sins (by literally giving Maleficent back her wings). Elle Fanning does a good job, but as I said, the character is mainly there to move the plot forward.
The same happens with Diaval, he is there to help Maleficent, give her someone to talk to and he tries to be her conscience during her darkest moments, but she doesn't listen to him most of the time and he never goes against her wishes even when he disagress.
Final veredict: the story is interesting and the visuals are spectacular, but it lacks character depth (except for Maleficent), which makes difficult to care for anyone other than the main character, and the comic realief is just annoying. Also it loses points for changing Maleficent's curse from a death sentence to a sleeping curse, she is the mistress of all evil, damn it.