Disney’s Maleficent is a wickedly dark, sometimes sinister and often comical tale that reignites Angelina Jolie’s reputation as the fiercest of all Hollywood’s leading ladies, says Robert O’Connor.
We all say things we later regret, and Maleficent, the eponymous anti-heroine at the centre of Disney’s live-action reimagining of the 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty, finds out that sometimes you can’t undo the damage done by hasty words. As in the cartoon version, the wicked fairy announces at the christening of Princess Aurora, her voice booming forth from the screen: “Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will fall into a sleep-like death”. It seems a spell with no possible reversal, except, Maleficent adds, with a wicked hint of humour, that it can be broken “by true loves’ kiss”.
A sort of split personality, this Maleficent is a villain for sure, but beneath her steely exterior lurks a broken heart and a very troubled soul. Jolie’s depiction of the most chilling of all Walt Disney’s villains is at once hilarious and terrifying – she goes from a menacing chuckle to a roar that would make you jump out of your seat in a split second, and proves with her magical superpowers that no-one should mess with her. At one point she announces to Aurora’s father, King Stefan: “It’s over.” And with just two words, you know she means business.
King Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley) betrays Maleficent in his ruthless ambition to rule the kingdom, and that’s when the madness starts to unfold. Left off the invitation list to Aurora’s christening, she turns up anyway, sporting a hot black leather costume and less than impressed that she has not been made welcome. As the three good fairies – Flora, Fauna and Merryweather – cast their spells for the beautiful baby girl’s future, Maleficent gets her own back.
But she casts her spell, not realising that Aurora (Elle Fanning) might be the only one who can restore peace to the kingdom and in turn, reinstate her own happiness. As the innocent princess grows up, Maleficent is ever-present, lurking unseen around the house of the good fairies, who give “the best years of their life” to raising the cursed girl. In a comic twist, Aurora meets Maleficent and mistakes her for her Fairy Godmother. It’s only when she tries to tell her guardians about this that she discovers the real identity of the bad fairy, who has actually befriended her in the hopes of protecting her from the spell she cast almost 16 years ago.
Whilst it must have been an unnerving experience for 16 year-old, relative newcomer, Elle Fanning to play opposite Jolie, she delivers a performance that manages to be both confident and understated, complimenting Jolie’s overwhelming character. This film is Stromberg’s directorial debut, but he has already acted as a designer and special effects artist on blockbusters including Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, the latter of which it bares more than a passing resemblance to in its visual beauty.
There really should be a health and safety announcement before Stromberg’s visual extravaganza begins, because there’s barely a break in the frenzied pace of this 97-minute marathon. Only when the final scene concludes and the closing song begins do you realise what an actually sensual treat you’ve experienced. Lana Del Rey was picked by Jolie herself for her take on ‘Once Upon A Dream’, the love song from the original feature. Del Rey’s sinister, spaced-out delivery is a perfect fit.
In stark contrast, Jolie’s foghorn voice would wake the dead at times, and the battle scenes she conjures up are on the overwhelming end of the scale, but it is in the film’s few quiet moments that Jolie shows that she was born to play this role. She is full of expression and wit, mannerisms and ticks, revealing a character as much at war with herself as she is with the world that shuns her.
The original Maleficent may have been wicked to her cartoon core, but when Jolie unleashes her rage, she amplifies the fierce fairy to a stratospheric level that is demanded by modern kids in their 3D glasses. No one should be in any doubt – she’s inherited the mantle of the best villain in Disney history.
Maleficent hits Irish cinemas on Wednesday, June 28.
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