Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maleficent Review

If you were to ask me what the best Disney villain of all time was, I would undeniably point to Maleficent, the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty as the worst of the worst, and I'm sure many others would agree to that. She's evil for the sake of evil and doomed an innocent child to an eternal rest just because she didn't get invited to a party. That's pretty evil. So when I heard about Maleficent, a movie based on her, was being made, I was hyped. Granted it wasn't an astronomical level of hype, but it was solid expectation that we would get a fascinating look into the mindset of one of film's greatest villains. So when the movie came out and I sat in my chair, I was expecting a movie that would redefine and strengthen my respect for Maleficent and her actions, and I did get a movie that painted her into a much more understandable and justified character, but simultaneously ruining the character of Maleficent herself. Yeah this is going to be a complicated one. 
Maleficent is about, well, the fairy Maleficent, who starts off as a fairy with large wings who befriends a human boy named Stefan. They become great friends, but as they grow up they become more and more seperated because of the nature of their species. Humans are violent are want to invade the marshes where the fairies live, and the fairies try to protect their land from the invading humans with the fairies being led by Maleficent. However, where Stefan reappears to spark up their old relationship in the midst of war, he takes a knife, cuts off her wings, and leaves her a hollow shell of what she once was, now hell bent of delivering sweet vengeance upon Stefan, who has now become the king of the humans invading the marshes. Maleficent becomes evil, and the events of Sleeping Beauty follows. 

Now here is where the movie succeeds, and I will say outright now that THIS REVIEW WILL COMPLETELY SPOIL THE MOVIE, SO PLEASE LEAVE IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET AND STILL WANT TO. Okay? Good.

Now, I really do like this back story given to Maleficent. It makes sense given her character and the actions that she takes. Essentially, and I kid you not, her back story is the equivalent to something along the lines of Kill Bill, where she wants sweet revenge on the people who did her wrong. That leads into the fascinating, yet very uncomfortable idea that her back story alludes to the idea that she was raped in this particular scenario. Not sexual of course, but she was taken advantage of by a friend, drugged, then stole her wings, which causes her extreme pain and not even being classified as a fairy. She doesn't see herself as that because she feels she is less than that because she has lost a defining aspect to herself. It's not that hard to see and most people are indeed making the connection that this is a very rape inspired back story. 

God Maleficent is so good at being evil...
That's a great back story for her character because it's something that is definable and justifies her dedication to ruining Aurora's life as an indirect way of enacting glorious vengeance upon him. But then... the biggest problem of the movie happens. Maleficent cares for Aurora and becomes a mother to her. She even comes to regret her actions and feels remorse for cursing Aurora. Ummmm.................................... no. I'm sorry but............. no. How it's built up is that Maleficent watches over Aurora while she is growing up, making sure that she doesn't die until her 16th birthday so that Stefan can see exactly what happened to her and know that Maleficent was behind this all along. The idea that Maleficent took away the most important thing in his life as a means of karmic justice. And Maleficent watches over her and makes sure that she doesn't die while growing up because the three fairies that watch over her are so inept they can't even begin to take care of her. 

But Maleficent in turn develops feelings for Aurora as a "mother" and grows to regret placing the curse of eternal slumber on her. That's just wrong on so many different levels. It's wrong on a character level. It's wrong on a logical level. It's wrong on an ethical level. It's wrong on a story level. It's just wrong! First an foremost, you have the queen of evil, the most despicable Disney villain, a woman who was worried she wasn't evil enough, now developing positive traits like remorse and guilt. That implies that she regrets her actions, which Maleficent would never do. She's evil through and through.

But let's say for the sake of argument that this is a reinterpretation of the character and that they could take liberties with the film. After all, the very beginning of the movie states that this is "the real story". So artistic liberties aside, why would she try to remove the curse? The point of it was to get revenge on Stefan for taking her wings and her ability to fly, so now what would she do? Call off her entire bloody holy war just because she's nice to someone now? Aurora isn't her biological daughter, so there's no real revenge on Stefan now. Her entire plan is gone, and Stefan is now driven crazy by the prospect of Maleficent coming back to show a comatose Aurora to him, so he's going all King Jeoffrey preparing for her. Congratulations Maleficent, your entire plan has gone down the drain and all you're left with is a mad king who wants nothing more than seeing you dead with his new super army. Bravo. Oh an did I mention that he's so crazy he talks to your severed wings and thinks that they're you watching him? Yeah he might be a bit obsessed at wanting to see you dead...

"I would kill you, but I love you too much."
Third, ethically I just disagree with the idea of Maleficent having remorse for her curse. When Maleficent has her wing torn off, and quite violently from how it was shown, we felt for her and saw an entire sequence dedicated to her anguish and pain. That was meant to connect us with her and bring us on board with her wanting to destroy everything that Stefan loves. He could sympathize with her because we know just how traumatic it was to her, again akin to rape. Hell, take the play Extremities, where it's essentially a woman getting revenge on the man who raped her and seeing how far we could stretch ourselves to justify her actions. Here, Maleficent goes back on her actions. She tries to retract the plan and even cries because of what she has done. She sees herself as a monster and feels awful and terrible that she did that to Aurora. Sub-textually, her backing down on her plan and admitting how terrible she is means that she regrets ever wanting to take revenge on the man who raped her. She no longer wishes to punish the man who stole her wings, her freedom, her identity, betrayed her trust, broke her heart, and left her less than a woman, less than a fairy, less than a person. In turn, now the audience is supposed to agree that "Yes! I can see clearly that Maleficent was in the wrong and she does feel guilt and remorse!", except that now the previous scenes are now colored under the uncomfortable shadow of, she'll eventually feel bad for wanting revenge. I just... I can't even properly describe how screwed up this is ethically. I feel wrong for just even writing this whole paragraph, but Maleficent is now complacent with the fact that she was demeaned and made less than what she normally is supposed to be. It's just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. 

And don't even get me started on how the curse is lifted. It's true love's kiss that awakens Aurora, but instead of it being the kiss from Prince Phillip, who was purely a plot device in the original story, here it's from Maleficent and the kiss is akin to the true love a mother feels for her daughter... except they aren't related... and she wanted to kill Aurora in the beginning... and it completely contradicts her character... and doesn't make any sense especially because the love was more felt on Aurora's side than Maleficent's... GROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNN.

Green magic won't save you now.
Everything else in the movie was fine. The action was fine, the music was good, the scenes were well shot, and Angelina Jolie still did a great job as actually being Maleficent, but really, all of that is kind of inconsequential to be honest. Yes the film may be technically good, the story ranges from being illogical to down right wrong about the character of Maleficent, and that's not even getting to the ethically disturbing subtext the movies brings with it. Add that in with a clunky as all hell script that explains everything with painfully obvious dialogue and no interpretation left to the audience, and you get a film that had all the right in the world to be good, but isn't.

This isn't the review I wanted to do. I wanted to give this movie a good review. I even went into writing this about an hour or so ago thinking that I may be a bit fairer to the movie, because it does do a few things right. Stefan is a horrid villain we want to see defeated, Angelina Jolie IS Maleficent, and the colors in this movie are vibrant and alive. But at the end of the day, this is a character piece about the queen of all villains, Maleficent. This is supposed to be a movie where Maleficent is shown as being justified for her actions, though we still identify her as being evil. She she what justified her actions, but she goes back on being evil, enacting revenge, and being a villain by movie's end. It's a disrespect towards the character and outright does not understand how to make a villain. A villain should see themselves as the hero, therefore they justify their actions and think they are in the right when they're committing horrible acts. When Maleficent concedes that she is a villain and feels terrible that she is a villain, then the movie is done. 

I really didn't want to do this and I hate the fact that I'm doing this, but I see no other option. Maleficent, and I can't believe that I'm saying this, gets a 2 out of 5 and is hard to stomach upon further analysis. It might be a bit harsh and hard to comprehend, but that's my reasons for it. 


Talk about disappointing........... 

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