MALEFICENT is one of those films that in theory doesn't have much purpose. No one prior to its announcement was clamoring for a film starring the antagonist of Sleeping Beauty. Often in life however it's the unexpected things that prove to be the greatest. This film is an example of that. It was a unique and risky concept for Disney. Instead of simply going the easy way and simply making a modern adaption of the classic story, they decided to throw the villain in the spotlight. Not only was this a daring move, but it also opened up some very interesting possibilities. It was marketed as a prequel to the classic story originally, but later we soon realized it was going to be a full on adaption, just with Maleficent as the lead. How exactly can a villain hold up a film? Director Robert Stromberg answers this question. This answer is a truly very good story. Do not think of it as the original film with the antagonist as the focus. Think of it as a new adaption of the material with a twist on the "villain."
The film begins as a prequel, when Maleficent was a little girl. (Or rather fairy) She meets a young man by the name of Stefan. The two over the years become and closer, until Stefan leaves to become king. What follows is a tragic tale of betrayal of love, as Maleficent takes her revenge on Stefan by cursing his baby, a girl named Aurora. However, Maleficent soon begins to grow fond of the young princess and wishes to remove the spell. The problem is that she can't! Only true love's kiss could...
If it's one thing the trailers did well, it's that they showed just how great of a portrayal this Maleficent is. Angelina Jolie does such an amazing job; I haven't seen such a great acting performance where it feels like the actor/actress is the character in a long time. It would be a crime if she wasn't nominated for her amazing portrayal. She portrays evil quite well, as you would expect from the character. However, in this version we learn the reason why she cursed Aurora. The viewer actually feels greatly sorry for Maleficent throughout the story. It's hard not to feel sad when she realizes cursing Aurora was a mistake, and that she couldn't do anything to reverse the spell. Jolie commands a great presence every time she's on screen. If the story is right, it would be great to see her character brought back for a sequel.
Of course, it can be a bit jarring for longtime fans to accept a Maleficent with compassion. That's the problem with putting the antagonist as the focus in this type of story. Unless he/she is somehow made into the hero, it won't work. Again, it's important to think of this as a new adaption of the original story, not a remake of the 1959 classic. With that in mind, you can go forward and watch the story of a fairy who goes from broken, to revengeful, to regretful, and finally having humility. The writing is great, but there a few things done pretty wrong. A minor one is that Maleficent turns more toward the evil side quickly. The scene where she has the woodland creatures bow to her seemed kinda fast and should have been put in just a little later. This is a minor problem, the bigger ones are a couple of the characters.
Besides Maleficent and Aurora, the character the movie focuses on is King Stefan. The opening established this guy very well, with a genuine friendship and then romance blossoming between him and Maleficent. It's in the present day when he turns king and things take a turn for the worst. The actual story part is great but the problem is the actor. Sharlto Copley just couldn't play this part well, and all his "angry" scenes felt very forced. Unlike Jolie who actually felt like she was the character, Copley was just an actor reading the lines and giving forced emotion when the script called for it. Another problem is Philip. (Brenton Thwaites.) The problem is not the character or the actor, it's how he's used. He comes in over halfway through the film, and does nothing. Unlike the original movie and story, his true love's kiss amounted to nothing. This character could have easily been written out since he contributes nothing.
With this technically being the Sleeping Beauty story, much of the focus would of course be on Aurora. Elle Fanning's portrayal is solid. It doesn't quite match Jolie's portrayal, but it's good enough. She's sweet, but beyond that there's not much else to say. It would be a problem if she was the main character, but she's not. A surprise character was Diaval, a crow Maleficent transforms into a human (and later many different creatures) to be her personal assistant. In the long-run he doesn't serve much purpose other than for a little comedy and providing the exciting climax as a dragon, but unlike Philip and Stefan, he's actually fun to have around. He also provides Maleficent with a voice of reason in some scenes, which was a nice touch and adds a little more purpose to the character.
One more character that had mild potential is Leila, King Stefan's wife. She actually dies off screen, and has very little lines. Like the King, the acting just wasn't very good. It's also the writing's fault for not doing much with her. The Three Fairies are there for obvious comic relief, which they serve greatly in. Amidst almost all blockbusters now clocking in at over 2 hours, it's almost refreshing to see a film that's just a little over an hour and half. Because of the shorter length, the story doesn't waste time or drag on in any scene. The CGI is abundant, as you would expect from this type of movie. It definitely brings to life the fantastical Disney world. The tree beings and the snake monster were true wonders to behold. The climax was exciting; who would have thought 55 years after the original movie you would be rooting for the antagonist? The soundtrack is very solid, featuring music worthy of a modern Disney classic.
MALEFICENT is a very enjoyable film. Angelina Jolie turns in an Oscar worthy performance, having such a powerful presence every time she's on screen. It might be a bit hard to accept how the classic antagonist is portrayed, but the film, and Jolie herself, make it possible to see a Maleficent with humility. There's quite a number scenes with incredible emotion, where you might actually feel like shedding a tear or two. One major factor holding the film back is King Stefan, who was horribly miscast. The story part is fine, and in fact quite engaging. It's just the portrayal that ruins the concept of Maleficent's former love turning on her. Despite that, Maleficent is a modern Disney classic. It is far better than recent films like it, such as OZ: The Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. I dare even say it's in league with FROZEN. If you're a fan of the Disney classics, this film is highly recommended.