Sequel to the 2014 film about one of Disney’s greatest villainesses finds Aurora (Elle Fanning) getting engaged to handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) and her godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) having none of it. Unknown to both Aurora and Maleficent, it’s all a ruse by Phillip’s mother, the scheming Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), to not only be rid of Maleficent, but all the creatures of fairy. Framed for bewitching the king and wounded, Maleficent is found by others of her kind and taken to their secret island hideaway. As she heals her wounds and gets to know her people, she plans to stop Ingrith and save the creatures of fae with her new army at her side.
Sequel is directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Linda Woolverton and Noah Harpster. It’s unremarkable story-wise and fairly by-the-numbers in execution, but does at least have a lot of fantasy images and creatures to keep one’s attention. There is also a fair share of action and an epic battle at it’s climax, with both Jolie and Pfeiffer chewing up the scenery appropriately. Maleficent is never actually evil at any point in the film…pissed off, yes, but evil, no…so the title is a bit misleading, unless it actually refers to Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith, who is the far more sinister of the two. Maybe Maleficent: The Pissed Off Anti-Hero was too awkward a title for the Disney promotional department. The film is competently made and colorful enough to be an amusing night on the couch, especially for it’s target audience, but a forgettable fantasy, overall. Strengths and weaknesses aside, the biggest disappointment here is in not letting Jolie really cut loose in a role she was born to play.
I didn’t get to see every Summer release. Some, like the latest Transformers And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are not flicks that interest me so, they will be curiosity rentals at some point. But here is a rundown of what I did see and thus what were favorites, surprises and, in turn, the disappointments for the Summer of 2014. Click on the poster for the full review!
GUARDIAN’S OF THE GALAXY– Not at all familiar with the comic but, the movie was a lot of fun with a devious sense of humor and a lot of action to go along with the eccentric but, endearing characters. I had a blast! ***1/2
THE EXPENDABLES 3– I don’t care what the box office results were, I had a rip roaring good time with this third installment and loved seeing the cast in action especially the return of Snipes. ***1/2
GODZILLA– I really enjoyed the true King Of The Monsters’ return to the big screen but, will admit I didn’t absolutely love it like I wanted to. I didn’t mind it taking over an hour for him to finally appear but, once he did, the annoying cut-aways got frustrating fast. At least the last act smack-down in San Francisco made up for a lot of that. ***1/2
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – The second installment of this really good reboot series is an action packed epic from Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves and it is not only a very entertaining film but, takes the plot of the worst of the original Apes films, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, and puts it to much better use. *** 1/2
MALEFICENT – Angelina Jolie stars in one of the Summers biggest hits and for me a very pleasant surprise and a very entertaining fantasy adventure with lots of eye candy. Jolie gives an enchanting performance as the classic villainess with a new twist and knows when to go over the top and when to be subtle. Sure she should have been evil for a bit longer but, Jolie chews up the scenery masterfully and we are right there with her! ***1/2
LUCY – Sure Lucy was a dumb movie with some very skewed science but, it was an audaciously fun popcorn flick with loads of over the top action and another good performance by Johansson and it pairs her with the ever endearing Morgan Freeman. Silly… yes… fun… hell, yea! ***
DELIVER US FROM EVIL – Not a great movie but, an effective mix of cop thriller and supernatural horror, supposedly based on the true case files of NY detective Ralph Sarchie, that delivers some action and chills and manages to give us one of the more effective exorcism scenes in the very overplayed exorcism film sub-genre. ***
THE FLOPS (and NEAR MISSES)
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 – Avoids Spider-Man 3 territory but, still makes many of it’s same mistakes and even drags in a few from Batman And Robin. Thankfully saved from being a complete mess by some really fun action scenes and the great chemistry between Garfield and Stone that lights up the screen whenever they are together. I have lightened up on it a bit since revisiting it on Blu-Ray but, it’s still the second weakest of the combined Raimi/Webb films. **1/2
X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – Not a mess or anything, just not very involving and none of the action scenes really stayed with me or overly impressed me. It was never boring but, was far from the delightfully hip and entertaining First Class. The 70s nostalgia fell flat and that really irked me as First Class was so 60s! **1/2
I’ll start out by saying that I enjoyed Maleficent very much. It was very entertaining with Angelina Jolie knocking it out of the park in a role she seems born to play. Be warned it’s not the Maleficent we know from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, but one portrayed more as a woman scorned and wronged, who must learn to let the warmth back into her heart after it’s turned cold by betrayal…not the traditional character we know, but very Disney nonetheless…and did I mention Jolie owns in the part?
Live action version tells of powerful but benevolent winged faerie, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who protects the fantasy realm of The Moors from the human kingdom and it’s ruler King Henry. As a little girl, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy, Ella Purnell as a teen) has met a young peasant boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) and as they grow up as friends, they fall in love. Stefan though, has his eyes on the castle and his ambitions gain him a favorable position with the king and thus he abandons Maleficent. Henry forces a confrontation with Maleficent and the faerie folk and when she defeats him, he declares any who shall bring him her head, shall be his heir. In an ultimate act of betrayal and to gain the heirless Monarch’s appointment as his successor, Stefan (now Sharlto Copley) drugs the forgiving faerie and after finding he doesn’t have the heart to kill her, cuts off her wings to fool Henry into thinking she is slain. Of course, this leads to the vengeful Maleficent returning to curse the first born daughter of now King Stefan that on her 16th birthday Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) will prick her finger and fall into a death-like sleep to only be awaked by true love’s kiss…something the hard-hearted Maleficent believes does not exist. As the powerful sorceress watches the angelic little girl grow up toward her cruel fate and receives love from a child that sees her as a faerie god mother, something starts to change in Maleficent making her wonder if perhaps this sweet child doesn’t deserve her wrath…but as Maleficent deals with her conflicting emotions, a vengeful Stefan plots to finish what he started all those years ago.
Linda Woolverton’s screenplay obviously not only presents the timeless classic of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view, but adds some twists as well, as we are shown a woman who is forced into her role as a villain by betrayal and is not beyond redemption. It makes Stefan the true villain of the piece as an ambitious and then vengeful man, who forces the powerful faerie’s hand. It makes Maleficent more of a tale of love, betrayal and redemption and depending on how much you are endeared to the evil Maleficent from Disney’s classic animated film, will determine how far you will go in enjoying this. Personally, I would like to have seen Jolie as the evil Maleficent for a bit longer then allotted here, but I overall enjoyed this new take and the new twists the story gives to a classic tale. The film is very well directed by SPFX man Robert Stromberg (who did FX work on Avatar and Oz The Great And Powerful) though I did feel he could have added a little more intensity here and there. For a first film and one with epic scope, he does well enough and delivers an entertaining family film that keeps the adults perhaps a bit more involved than the kids. The film is visually spectacular and the CGI creatures are beautifully designed and rendered, including the classic dragon that we don’t see enough of. There is also a nice score by James Newton Howard who, ironically, also did the score for Snow White And The Huntsman. Despite all the talent involved, the film belongs to star and producer Angelina Jolie who is simply perfect as the classic Disney character come to life, even with the modern changes.
Angelina Jolie is a performer sadly the subject of continual gossip more then recognized for the skilled actress that she is. No more proof then her performance here that perfectly walks the line of over-the-top scenery chewing, yet fills it with powerful emotional depth and never once slides into camp. She guides us from her majestic beginnings as a strong yet compassionate faerie to her slide into heartless villainy at the hands of Stefan’s betrayal and then her redemption back to someone the audience will be cheering for when all is said and done. My only gripe is her moments of true villainy are far too short and the scenes which we get to enjoy Jolie at her Joan Crawford best are sadly too few. I enjoyed every phase of the character’s progression, but when Jolie is bad, she is so damn good and there wasn’t enough of it. The supporting cast are fine. I actually though Copley was a little weak as Stefan, but not enough to do the film harm and he was dislikable which was the character’s job. Fanning is pretty and sweet and portrays the innocence of youth just fine. Sam Riley is lively as Diaval, Maleficent’s crow turned human assistant. He has a good rapport with Jolie though, he is upstaged by his CGI bird incarnation. There is also Brenton Thwaites as Phillip, who represents the possible true love’s kiss and he is perfectly suitable as the handsome boy that catches Aurora’s eye, but his role is small as he enters the film late. There are also numerous CGI fantasy supporting characters that are given some nice realism in the rendering. The young actors listed above that portray Maleficent and Stefan as children all do very well, as do Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and Eleanor Worthington Cox as young Aurora. The scene between Jolie and her daughter is magical and the obvious casting worked like a charm.
So, Maleficent gives a new spin on a classic character and as long as you’re open minded to the “real” story of Disney’s greatest villainess, you are in for an entertaining movie. Jolie owns the role and commands your attention whenever she is onscreen, which is most of the time, and she need only glare to portray the emotions going on inside her legendary character. Yes Jolie is that good and while there is some spectacular visuals, a lot of exciting action and a relatively fast pace at under 100 minutes to go along with her performance, it’s her show. While she already has an Oscar on her shelf, now she can claim to have out-acted Captain America, Spider-Man, The X-Men and Godzilla all in the same summer. Now THAT is an accomplishment!