In “Maleficent,” the iconic Disney sorceress finally gets to tell her side of the “Sleeping Beauty” story — while being played by Angelina Jolie, no less. So how does she fare?
While critics are giving mixed reviews to the film and first-time director Robert Stromberg (an Oscar-winning production designer), most agree that Jolie casts a compelling spell.
The Los Angeles Times’ Betsy Sharkey says Jolie is “wickedly good,” adding: “In her hands, [Maleficent] is endlessly fascinating and worlds away from the fairy tale staple that so many generations have been introduced to.” On the other hand, “Everyone else, even Aurora [Elle Fanning], fades in her presence.”
And although “Maleficent” is “Disney’s most adventurous female empowerment parable yet” and “never plays like a polemic,” Sharkey says, “the film has so much it wants to say, the emotional power that might have made it a classic is undercut.”
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis agrees that “Jolie makes a fabulous monster” and declares “Maleficent” a “divertingly different rethink of an awfully old story.” Dargis also commends the film for having a female protagonist “who doesn’t fit the fairy tale template.” She writes: “Consciously or not, coherently or not, ‘Maleficent’ tells a new kind of story about how we live now, not once upon another time.”
L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson is more critical of “Maleficent’s” attempts at feminism. For all of Maleficent’s fearsome power, Nicholson notes, the movie still hinges on her being scorned by a man, “as though the sheer power of being rejected by one dude is enough to make any girl nuts.”
She adds: “With more actual grrrl power, ‘Maleficent’ would be a bold redo. Instead, it’s a beautiful snooze, a story that hints at the darkness underneath our fairy tales and tarnishes the idea of true love without quite daring to say what’s really on its mind.”
Tom Russo of the Boston Globe writes: “While this is Jolie’s show, obviously — and she’s terrifically arch — the surprising dearth of other compelling characters doesn’t offer much distraction when things get off track.”
Though Jolie shines, “the other reinvented elements pale in comparison,” including some “sub-Tolkien” battle sequences, a performance by Sharlto Copley as crazed king that’s “just too much” and a telegraphed resolution.
USA Today’s Claudia Puig says the film “fails to live up to its early promise, mostly because of an uneven tone and murky character development.” She adds that “Jolie pulls off the thinly written part by adopting a commanding presence,” but ultimately, “Disney missed a golden opportunity to tell a bewitching story and instead gives audiences a muddled revisionist tale with stunning visuals.”
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post calls the film “a relatively subdued, even dour affair.” But, she says, “for all its limitations, ‘Maleficent’ manages to be improbably entertaining to watch, due solely to its title character. As befits a star of her regal standing and superb self-awareness, Angelina Jolie has managed to bend even the Brothers Grimm to her indomitable will.”