Saturday, 21 June 2014

Maleficent - A Not So Jolly Tale

Maleficent has been out for some time in several territories, but I just had the chance to see it, and I have words to write.

When I first heard of Maleficent some years ago I didn't think much of it. We were in the middle of a fairy tale wave of blockbusters. Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Cinderella were all set to get big-budget busters of their own, and Maleficent just fell into the cracks of my attention span. Stuck there till Disney's aggressive marketing plan brought it back into my attention.
     Still it wasn't anything I was overly eager about. The trailers made it seem like most live-action fairy tale films of recent years, and I had never been particularly into Sleeping Beauty as a child - I was more of a Lion King and Aladdin kind of boy - meaning that I didn't really know who Maleficent was. I recognised her from her cartoon form, sure, but I didn't really know who she was apart from "evil, magic queen". I honestly expected it to do fairly poorly in the box office, I never heard anyone really talk about it, or express any interest in watching it.
     People did go and watch it, however. It easily won its premiere weekend with $50 million+ more than its only other real premiering competition that weekend. And $30 million+ over the second place which went to the giant hit X-Men: Days of Future Past which was only on its second weekend at the time. By the end of the week it had earned half its budget back in the US alone, with the foreign market easily securing it a profit. Disney knew what they were doing all along, and a film based on a familiar tale was all people really wanted that weekend. They knew the story, they knew Angelina Jolie, and that was good enough. Critics went out in droves telling the public "eh, it's alright, I guess", and that was good enough.

The film itself, I have to say, was indeed alright. The premise and characters were a lot more interesting than I thought they would be. The way they portray magic is particularly fascinating and actually kind of cool. It's all very casual and matter-of-fact, the way you could expect it to be for people who live with magic all their lives. There's no intense stares, or loud shouting, every time a magical act is performed. It just gets done.
     Maleficent herself starts of feeling kind of distant and two-dimensional, but as the film develops she does too. Making her more relatable and fleshed-out as times goes on. Even during her inevitable time as a rather cold and evil queen you can relate to her. You never question why she feels the way she does, or even really why she does what she does. Even though you won't agree with her on everything she does, it makes sense given what has happened to her. It doesn't really matter whether she's good or evil, she is a person.
     Due to the nature of the story some things feel rather odd, however. The entirety of the story takes course over several decades. Spanning from Maleficent's childhood, all the way until the child of her childhood sweetheart reaches the same age Maleficent was at the beginning. Cramming all those years into just above 90 minutes makes it feel a lot like a really long and oddly cut montage sequence. Times and locations changes frequently, but the characters mostly always look the same, making you question whether or not it is actually a different time. Towards the end they manage to keep it all within a relative short time-span, but it's too late to be saved. It's almost like hitting a wall when a montage suddenly stops after an hour, you start wondering how long ago some events were and how long it is till others events will happen. It becomes a mess, unfortunately.
     Fortunately the acting was strong on Jolie's part. She managed to make the different eras of Maleficent to feel slightly different, though it was far from enough. It didn't feel like I was watching Jolie at all, she felt like Maleficent throughout the film. Which was, honestly, a bit surprising. Angelina Jolie is a solid actress, but I did not expect her to bring any real acting chops to a film of this caliber. I was fully prepared for a decent-enough performance, just enough to make it feel like a film, but she really did put effort into it. Fanning, however, was less good. Which was also surprising to me. She's been rather good in the past, especially in Super 8 and We Bought a Zoo. Being an up and coming young actress I expected her to bring the best she had in one of the bigger films she's been in, but no. I felt like I was watching Fanning being a character. She felt lost and misplaced in the time and place of the film, not really fitting in with the universe at all. And that wasn't because of costume design, make-up, or anything like that. She just didn't act like she belonged. Maybe it was intentional, what do I know, but it didn't work.

All in all the film is an astounding "alright". It's not something worth watching at the cinema, at best it's the type of film you wait for to hit Netflix so you can watch it at no extra cost.
     Perfectly fine entertainment. Some great parts, some good parts, some parts that just doesn't fit.