“Maleficent,” a revised take on “Sleeping Beauty,” follows a ’90s and thereafter Hollywood habit of recasting a familiar story from a new perspective.
Be they based on fairytales or history, these projects make a point of illustrating that the standard versions of events aren’t necessarily the real story. Last year this subgenre produced the awful “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.” The better revisionist stories include 1998’s “Ever After: A Cinderella Story,” which features an alternately sweet and swashbuckling Drew Barrymore.
“Maleficent,” starring Angelina Jolie, isn’t the best or worst of revisionist movies. The striking Jolie, appearing in her first live-action film since 2010’s “The Tourist,” is the movie’s strongest asset.
So right in the role of Maleficent, a regal Jolie plays the most powerful fairy in a lush, forest and mountain utopia called The Moors. Silicone- and gel-filled prosthetics exaggerate Jolie’s already prominent cheekbones to sharp points for the part.
The script half-heartedly sets up tensions between The Moors and a bordering human kingdom. The Moors equals a nature reserve. The greedy humans are obsessed with invading and destroying it through exploitation of the area’s natural resources.
The casting of Elle Fanning as Aurora, the movie’s take on Sleeping Beauty, is something else that “Maleficent” does right. The 16-year-old actress, age appropriate and sweetly innocent and loving on the screen, fits all of the role’s requirements.
“Maleficent” provides Jolie’s character with a back story explaining how Maleficent evolves into a villainess. But the script contains many loose ends, including how the young Maleficent became an orphan. Also not explained is how she came to be so much more powerful than the only other fairies, a silly trio of tiny winged creatures.
In addition to a sketchy storyline, the movie contains nothing close to clever dialogue. That’s a deep flaw, especially with such a commanding figure as Jolie’s Maleficent at the center of it all.
Apparently, the filmmakers’ priorities were elsewhere. Director Robert Stromberg is a two-time Oscar-winning production designer. “Maleficent,” his directorial debut, has some great-looking sequences. For instance, Maleficent, employing her immensely strong wings, soars over the landscape at incredible speeds. She’s a fairytale superhero.
Later, following Maleficent’s tragic transformation into the evil queen of The Moors, green and black are the dominant colors when Jolie revels in Maleficent’s revenge upon the human who betrayed her. It’s a depiction of evil poised to become a classic movie image. Other scenes and images don’t live up to the story’s and principal character’s potential. There’s a battle scene featuring the human king’s vast army versus Maleficent’s tree creatures, lifted straight from “The Lord of Rings” trilogy. And the three fairies who take the infant Aurora into the woods to protect the child from Maleficent are nothing more than a bad Three Stooges imitation.
Lacking wit and originality, “Maleficent” wins the battles it does because of its Oscar-winning leading lady’s strength and focus. With a stronger script, the movie might have been great.