Maleficent Review

4 Overall Score
Visuals : 4/10
Writing : 3/10
Performances : 5/10

Jolie's Performance, Jolie's Makeup, Jolie's Costume

Poor Side Characters, Questionable Themes, CGI Overload

Ever since the success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in July of 2003, the majority of Disney’s live-action projects have been produced from a similar blueprint. The House of Mouse has developed a reliance on adapting previously existing properties, whether it was straight-forward translations of popular franchises or “reimaginings” of classic stories. I was fine with this trend in its early stages (my personal favorites are the first two Pirates movies and 2007’s Enchanted), but as the years have progressed, my opinion has soured. What once was a winning formula had become a crutch to their creative spark, as the films seemed to become more interested in capturing fantastical visuals than in finding a legitimate excuse to return to these universes (looking at you, Alice in Wonderland).

Maleficent is the latest film to be cranked out from the assembly line, although it appeared this one had a distinct advantage. The film is being heralded as the return of Angelina Jolie to the big screen, almost a full four years since her last onscreen performance. Jolie is one of the last sure bets at the box office, and her bankability is well-deserved, too, as she consistently elevates the quality of her projects. Mrs. Jolie reaffirms her movie star status in Maleficent; in fact, she may have been the only thing to keep the film from being a complete disaster.

  Maleficent is a new spin on the timeless fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. We meet Maleficent as a young and graceful fairy, one with huge, sprawling wings and a love for the mystical creatures that surround her in the enchanted forest. She meets a young human boy named Stefan (played as an adult by Sharlto Copley), and the two develop a romance. As time goes by, however, their circumstances divide them, which leads to a devastating betrayal from Stefan. In bitter rage, Maleficent uses her magic to place a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (played as a teenager by Elle Fanning), which of course dictates that she will fall into a deep sleep on her 16th birthday. However, Maleficent immediately regrets this decision, slowly but surely warping into a maternal figure and protector for the whimsical and curious Aurora.


Maleficent plays with the Sleeping Beauty story in a simple bit of role reversal, as Maleficent is positioned as a sympathetic and misunderstood protagonist as opposed to the purely evil and wickedly iconic villainess we all know and admire. I don’t have a problem with this idea in principle, but the attempts to flesh out Maleficent as a character comes at the expense of every other character. The writing plays with our expectations of who these characters are by changing their known identities, as many members of the ensemble are downgraded from their fairytale personas to either two-dimensional villains, underdeveloped plot devices, or unnecessary comedy relief. This is a much less interesting approach and frequently renders Maleficent lifeless and uninspired.

The film is directed by Robert Stromberg, who previously had been a visual effects designer on several high-profile projects (such as the Pirates franchise). It’s bold of Disney to put an unexperienced director in charge of a 180 million dollar event picture, but after seeing the final film, the decision makes total sense. Stromberg’s visual style here apes off the CG bombast of Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great and Powerful, with the use of elaborately designed settings and creatures heavily factoring into Maleficent’s world. Whereas those qualities were strengths in the previously mentioned films, it’s a detriment to Maleficent. The film is shaded with darker tones, making the action onscreen consistently murky and incomprehensible. The creature designs feel like rejects from other fantasy films, and the use of CGI is consistently overwhelming and distracting. Overall, Stromberg’s work here feels executively driven, almost as if the film is directed by focus groups attempting to benefit off of popular trends.

As expected, Jolie is absolutely fantastic. She truly is the perfect Maleficent, both visually and expressively. Her evil cackle and delicious smile is infectious, and she nails every emotional beat (no matter how contrived they are). The costuming and makeup work also does an impressive job of making Jolie look straight out of the animated world. It’s a shame that the rest of the cast around her is extremely inconsistent. Copley overacts as the mad king, Fanning struggles to make Aurora even remotely interesting, and Imelda Staunton is forced to embarrass herself as one of the imbecilic fairies tasked with watching over the princess. Meanwhile, Sam Riley is a nice surprise as Maleficent’s crow companion Diaval, adding charm to a character that ultimately proves useless.

Jolie and her efforts consistently rescue Maleficent from being a complete mess, but even she can’t overcome some unforgivable writing missteps and some dangerous themes that allude to date rape and spiteful revenge. In the original Sleeping Beauty tale, Maleficent is wicked and cruel, but also strong and independent. She’s evil just for the sake of being evil, which worked especially well for that film. Here, her malicious actions are only motivated by her wronging at the hands of a man, and her inconsistent behavior throughout the film is concerning. Maleficent’s attempts to realize the potential of this iconic character are misguided at best and highly questionable at worst. Withstanding Jolie, the film feels as lethargic and drowsy as the famously cursed princess.

maleficent 2


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Author: Andrew Auger View all posts by
Andrew Auger is a student at Marist College and is majoring in Journalism. He is a huge fan of movies, and considers the late film critic Roger Ebert his idol. He hopes to one day be a prestigious film critic just like Mr. Ebert.

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