[ Director: Robert Stromberg; Screenwriter: Linda Woolverton; Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Sam Riley; Running time: 97 minutes; Certification: PG ]
Forgetting, for a moment, the film itself, it must be pointed out that Angelina Jolie was pretty much born for this titular role. Having been relatively quiet on the big screen in recent years (The Tourist and Salt are her only two live action films in the last four, and both were fairly poor), we’ve forgotten about her a little bit. While I can hardly claim to have ever been the biggest fan, it’s kind of nice to see her back doing something so impressively. Whether the film works for you or not, there’s no denying she’s quite brilliant, and effortlessly holds everything – that which is often precarious – together.
For the most part, the remainder of the principle cast do their respective thing perfectly well. Elle Fanning, who doesn’t appear to have grown at all in the last eight-odd years, continues to impress as Aurora, whom most will recognise as a certain sleeping beauty from a certain Sleeping Beauty (I can’t imagine it has to be stated which story is being told). And being an enormous fan of Sharlto Copley, it’s hard not to like everything he does – yet while decent enough as the traitorous King Stefan, he really struggles to contain the South African over his attempt at Scottish. Several lines genuinely border on painful.
3D aside, the film is invigorated by exciting visuals; every frame bursts with colour and flair while the background is never once empty. There’s simply so much going on that we’re always entertained – at least superficially – from beginning to end, which is important because tonally the whole thing is unbalanced. The humour, on its own, works rather well, but it fails to properly gel with the overall darker tone of the narrative. Likewise, the whole thing is structurally a little weak and sloppy. Too often plot developments leave us feeling short-changed due to their lack of resolve; every time the story changes, moves into a new area, we don’t really get much of a pay-off before it moves on again, leaving the whole thing to feel strangely rushed. Personally I could have done with at least an extra half hour to flesh everything out – though that being said, a two and a bit hour running time could jade a younger audience.
Yet, what Maleficent gets absolutely right is the sense of fun. It’s quite happy to just revel in the fantasy and roll along at whatever pace suits it best. Jolie is clearly having plenty of fun herself, and I think the film benefits greatly from that. Technical issues aside, it will entertain the young and satisfy the old. Just don’t expect much maleficence.