[NOT] MALEFICENT (2014) – ROBERT STROMBERG

MaleficenTaylor

ALSO KNOWN AS: Angelina Jolie: The Movie
GENRE: 
Revisionist backstory fairy tale that has nothing to do with said fairy tale.
RATING:  ½

disneys-maleficent-trailer-title

Only an “apostrophe S” away from an accurate self-description

Maleficent is the closest thing to a Dementor the human race has had the joy to experience. But while such magical non-beings are tasked with sucking a human being dry out of any happy memories lying inside their brains, this movie targets a very specific memory: that of our childhood’s first viewing of Sleeping Beauty. And the movie is not content with just feeding on it, as it also aims to destroy it before our very eyes and replace it with a dark void of bitter nothingness. This feeling of emptiness then multiplies exponentially when you remember you actually paid for this “service”.

It’s almost impossible to not to fall for Maleficent’s trap. The very nature of its premise – the retelling of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view – forces us to bring any and all memories of that very tale front and center in our hearts and in our brains. This, in turn, only makes it far too easy for the filmmakers to take these memories away from every audience member and substitute them with trite clichés the most reviled hack would feel ashamed of using in their work. If you cherish any moment whatsoever of the original film, know that you will see them being kicked repeatedly in their metaphorical crotch until they stop making sense  – unless the only moment you treasure is that of princess Aurora pricking her finger on a spindle, since this is the one and only piece of the story that is preserved.

Everything else, including the ballet-inspired music, Maleficent’s wickedness or those weird pig-like minions, is nowhere to be found. This is not the Maleficent story we needed, nor the one we deserved. This is but Angelina Jolie´s “I’m out of retirement” acting demo reel and nothing else.

I will be the first to admit Disney’s Sleeping Beauty had absolutely no significant impact on my life. It did not mark a turning point in my existence, nor did it blow my mind and give me a new pair of glasses from which I could see the world in a new light. Instead, I will forever remember it as what it truly was: the third Betamax tape on the second shelf of the living room. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the crap out of it. So much so, that we had to buy a second copy to replace the worn-out original. And yet, I find myself unable to remember most of it. There is nothing but an amalgam of disjointed bits and pieces floating inside my memory. Blissful bits and pieces, but incoherent nonetheless. On the other hand, at least it managed to be more memorable that whatever that The Black Cauldron business was (I know I watched it more than once, but I’m not really sure what I watched).

Is this the actual cover? I can't remember a thing about this!

Is this the actual cover? I can’t remember a thing about this!

My childhood was spent surrounded by people who had had more or less the same experience with Sleeping Beauty. Whenever we started discussing Disney movies as the licensed film scholars we were between ages nine and twelve, Sleeping Beauty never reared its animated head except to be acknowledged as “a film I watched once that was made by Disney and that I think I enjoyed watching.” Our attention spans were better grasped by Aladdin, Hercules, 101 Dalmatians, The Rescueres and every other Disney film (except The Black Cauldron). Never did I encounter a living, breathing human being, be it male or female, that highlighted Sleeping Beauty as their favorite Disney film. And I have yet to find such a specimen.

Which is why I was surprised to see everyone and their mothers – especially their mothers – melting out of sheer excitement when Maleficent was publicly announced. Where, exactly, did this hype abuse come from? Granted, yes, she is indeed one of the best villains this side of the Hans Gruber, but why the sudden urge to know her backstory? I always thought “she is an evil fairy dressed in black” was everything we needed to know to understand her motivations. But, despite what my students and their snoring demeanors have taught me during film analysis class, audiences demand three-dimensional characters with clear motivations and personality traits or else they’ll stop shelling out cash on merchandise with their trademarked names on it.

After weeks and weeks of hearing a constant rumble of muffled wails of contained anticipation from beneath bridges and pavement alike, premiere day dawned upon us with a massive screech. My city’s whole atmosphere was barred with the squeals of 20-year-olds waiting in line to watch a live action representation of their “favorite” Disney character. Any time I dared to breathe in, my lungs filled with the excitement of people who had last seen Sleeping Beauty when they were five and knew not of the existence of DVD. Every social media post was brimming with Maleficent-related stuff. There was even a weird guy walking around the streets cosplayed as Maleficent (who may or may not have been merely a hobo wearing a black plastic bag over his body).

He looked something like this.

He looked something like this.

While 97% of the city’s population was sitting inside a crappy low-quality movie theater, their barely covered asses feeling all sorts of sticky and crusty things moving around on their chairs, I spent the night alone in my house watching the trailer. I aimed to inspect every photogram in order to find where the awesomeness lied. After two minutes of hardly any work at all, I found nothing but broken promises. The only interesting thing I ran into was a terrific marketing campaign that pretty much amounted to: “Angelina Jolie is Maleficent. You don’t need to know anything else. Give us your money now.” Nothing that would get me up my feet and running towards the nearest cinema, though, but apparently it worked with the majority of the world’s population. It worked good enough to make even my mother want to see it. And if and ad campaign manages to get to my mother’s anti-social media self, It means the campaign is as omnipresent as peer pressurizing. And thus, I obliged and went with her under the condition that we paid the extra bucks required to rent 3D glasses. If I was going to suffer an over-hyped prequel, I was going to suffer it in the prettiest way possible. Worst decision I made that day. Second worst was to say “yes” when the concession stand lady asked “Is Coke alright?”

The movie theater was (obviously) crammed with people, most of which were little kids who felt the need to scream and laugh all the way through. Popcorns and squishy substances of unknown precedence and indescribable colors were flying through the air when the movie started, and its airborne existence never did wane. It is unbelievable how much mucus can be stored inside a single nose. Behind the barrage of fluid projectiles, it was possible to discern the Walt Disney logo. A modified version of it. Instead of the world wide recognized castle taken from a Disney animated film whose title I am unable to recall at the moment, they used a generic medieval fanfic-y “I don’t know how real medieval castles work” castle. What was the point? Re-branding? Or a subdued admittance of shame?

But, nitpicking aside, the actual movie – which begins right after the logo becomes a “real” castle – looks appalling. I hope you orgasmed during the whole Star Wars prequel trilogy and its abuse of CGI backgrounds, because green screens have never been more abused on a movie than on Maleficent. It’s almost as if Disney knew they had a terrible script on their hands and decided to focus solely on covering their crap with as much CGI as money could buy. It is well rendered; I’ll give them that, but still fake as all hell. You could literally put human characters in front of kindergarten-levels of crayon-based backgrounds on notebook paper and it will look exponentially more believable than the computer “wizardry” they added everywhere. Instead of an actual environment we have frog-troll things right out of a bad 70’s LSD trip designed by a graphic designer with no talent, and the worst designed 3D fairies to be ever put on film. Whoever approved those things needs to reconsider all his/her life decisions as soon as possible. Being a leader is not one of their best assets. It shows.

This is one of the creepiest images of the whole movie.

This is one of the creepiest images of the whole movie.

Of course, there’s a reason behind this cacophony of visual terribleness. The Disney Corporation, in its almighty knowledge, decided to throw a $180 million behemoth of a film upon the shoulders of a first time director. Seems like a winning idea that could not backfire in the slightest! It gets even better when you know they hired this guy as a director based solely on the fact he won an Oscar for his art direction on Alice In Wonderland. Let that feeling sink in. Let your eyes remember the torture and proceed to connect the dots.

This doesn’t explain, however, how they bended the laws of physics in order to make the 3D version look even more flat and fake than its 2D counterpart. It should be scientifically impossible, but they manage to do it. Disney does make miracles happen, I guess.

It’s among this seven foot green screen where we meet our main character. It’s none other than a small child with devilish horns and fallen angel wings with the ability to use very specific magic whose limits are never explained. She is, of course, Maleficent, who is introduced as a playful fairy full of goodness, kindness, graciousness and benignity… whose ACTUAL name is Maleficent.

Disney, I understand this is the official name of the character you created many, many years ago, but why do you have to be THIS stupid? Have you not ever heard of the word ‘pseudonym’? You know, a name you give yourself that is not your actual birth name? Do you not realize that your character is literally called Evil? Darth Vader is not called Darth Vader. Voldemort is not called Voldemort. Those are just pseudonyms they gave themselves to reflect their evil skills. Also, the writers of both these stories are not morons (unlike yours), but I digress.

Let me transport you to a parallel situation in the form of a dialogue as ludicrous as possible to illustrate my point:

–       Have you met the new kid on the school, Clara?

–       Oh, no, I didn’t even know we had a new kid!

–       He’s right there, on the corner, working on a puppet show. I talked to him earlier, he is inventive, and kind hearted, and brimming with imagination. He’s as friendly and good as you can get! He’s even super handsome!

–       Sounds like someone I should meet! What’s his name?

–       Women-Rapist McMurderer.

–       What a lovely name! Sounds like someone I could trust with my whole life!

–       I know! I can tell you right now we’re all going to be best friends forever!

*And, as time proved, he was indeed the best person that lived on planet Earth and everyone loved him very much until his death many years from that day.*

Do you see the problem now?! DO YOU, DISNEY?! Because it is hard to consider someone whose name is Evil as a hero that is loved by everyone she gets in contact with. They’re calling her Evil every time they address her! You’re overdramatic and pompous excuse for a soundtrack is not helping matters, either!

These words are now synonyms, kids.

These words are now synonyms, kids.

But, worry not, confused members of the audience, because Uncle Disney has the perfect solution for this conundrum. Instead of doing the sensible thing and just changing the character’s name and using the story to explain how and why she changed it to something more menacing, they just made the antagonist a complete and utter excuse of a human being. How, you may ask? Well, by having him break Maleficent’s heart by choosing money instead of her love and then raping her in her home. The powers that be have balanced everything out!

And thus, 2014 marks the point in history in which Disney used rape as a plot point in a movie aimed at kids.

Oh, but fear not, it was not actual rape, you see. It is just the depiction of a man drugging a woman with a potion that makes her lose consciousness, and then taking a part of this unconscious woman’s self by force, a part that can never be recovered nor restored, making said loss to change the woman’s way of looking at herself, destroy her psyche and transform all beings of the opposite sex into terrible monsters that deserve no pity. You know, kids’ stuff. And, just so you know how “terrifying” Maleficent is here, she reacts to the rape by transforming a crow into a full-fledged man. Makes perfect sense if you ask me.

This is how Maleficent loses her wings and transforms into the evil queen of evil we believe we remember from our childhood. We know it is a powerful loss with lots of gravitas behind it because “having wings” was kid Maleficent’s only defining characteristic. Here’s the issue, though. As powerful and well enacted as that scene was, it undermines the whole character and transmutes her into a cartoonishly bland stereotype of indescribable proportions. Instead of being the cold-ass villain that had planned to confine Prince Phillip until he became a hundred year-old wrinkled man, just so his shriveled lips could wake Aurora up with a kiss of true love and receive nothing but disgust and confusion from the never-aging princess, this Maleficent is merely reenacting a bullet point summary of I Spit In Your Grave. She’s been relegated to fill up the shoes of the ever present main character in most fantasy stories from the last three decades: instead of acting in order to move the plot further; she waits for the plot to do something so she can react to it.

Now, excluding the fact that “I got raped” is the most hackneyed (and, unfortunately, overused) way of explaining the “I am evil” part of a character in order for us to sympathize with him/her, excluding the fact that this is lazy writing at its dullest, this is the highest point of the film. Not because it is good, dear word, no, but because it is the minute the purported “message” of the film is telegraphed to the audience in the form of horrible CGI green flames. This is supposed to be a feminist empowering story. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (in fact, we need way more of those kind of movies), this is the worst way to do it. Maleficent tries to tell us this: men are evil, useless and dumb one-dimensional grunts; women are multifaceted creatures with real emotions and real power over their world and their future; which, in turn, explains why this movie seemed to appeal the most to non-penis-having people of the world. This, in spite of the film having no more than five female characters, including background people.

An exclusive look at the behind the scenes of Maleficent

An exclusive look at the behind the scenes of Maleficent

And, even though the film’s central set piece is this “non-rape” sequence, censors and CEOs all around Disney thought it’d be too unsettling for kids to hear Maleficent’s original curse. So, instead of killing the newborn princess with her curse, she will simply fall to a never-ending comma right of the bat. How noble of them to spare us this disturbing bit of dialogue that is present in every damn copy of the animated version! Explicit rape metaphor? A-Okay. Uttering the word death? NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS!

Speaking of Aurora…

Unfortunately for feminists the world around, since the script is awful as hell, despite being the work of what have been reported as five “thinking persons”, this “message” of empowerment gets thrown out the window the moment Aurora stops being a cute baby and is forced to do something other than stay inside her basket. She is nothing but the token McGuffin of the story – a very eyebrow heavy McGuffin, by the way, which seems to be a common trend in this kind of films as of lately. She appears for no more than 10 minutes of screen time and does nothing but smile and say how pretty everything is. We get to know nothing about her. She is just there because the original story had her in and we can’t deviate that much from our source material. She might as well be a mute PC monitor with Microsoft’s labyrinth screensaver for all she does in the story. We wouldn’t even notice the difference as long as they stapled a blonde wig to the monitor.

For comparison’s sake: the grandmother from Mulan has a more detailed and memorable personality than this girl. Bear in mind the grandmother is a comic relief character who has no importance whatsoever on the story where she participates. A stereotypical comic relief character has more personality than the girl whose original tale is named after! Heck, even the Cave Of Wonders from Aladdin has more character than Aurora, and that thing is made out of sand!

no-personality2

Now, it’s about halfway through when the biggest weakness of Maleficent glares over our consciousness. The film hinges on the fact that the audience has seen the original movie. And, chances are, if you’re alive and in this universe, you have. And, if you have seen it, it is quite probable you remember three of the most important plot points of the movie. Namely:

1)    Aurora falls asleep for a really long time.

2)    The whole castle falls asleep with her as a means of avoiding unnecessary suffering for anyone who knew her.

3)    Maleficent transforms herself into a huge green fire-breathing dragon to stop Prince Phillip from waking Aurora up.

None of those three things happen in the movie. I repeat: NONE OF THOSE THREE THINGS HAPPEN IN THE MOVIE. Instead, we get this:

1)    Aurora falls asleep for no more than two hours – thus neglecting her moniker of “Sleeping Beauty”

2)    No one else falls asleep as part of the curse – thus making the characters of the three fairies utterly pointless.

3)    Maleficent, regardless of having the power to transform a raven into a human being and then into a wolf, lacks the power needed to transform herself into a dragon – but does have the power to cast a black dress out of nothing over her body.

Maleficent does have a few brilliant moments here and there, like the reason why it’s decided only a kiss of true love can overcome the curse – which was originally Merriweather’s idea of a counter curse, but at this point, why even bother with this “being faithful to the source material” hogwash –, or the character reversal of Prince Phillip’s influence over the plot – despite Frozen doing it better and way earlier. I even enjoyed Maleficent’s overall arch and her makeover throughout the whole film but, once again, three of the most important plot points of the story are nowhere to be seen.

So, in closing: Screw this movie! Screw it until it’s erased from existence!

All I wanted to behold were pretty 3D effects, an explanation as to what in God’s name are those pig-like creatures under the command of Maleficent, and to watch an epic live-action battle between a prince and a Godzilla-sized black fire-spouting dragon. Nothing! I got nothing! Because although you need to know the movie to even care to see this sad excuse of a retelling, the filmmakers relegate their duties to instead focus on mocking you for having the slightest emotional attachment to the original film! They can’t even get the freaking names of the three fairies right! HOW HARD CAN IT BE TO CHECK THE FILM’S WIKIPEDIA PAGE AND CHECK THEIR NAMES?! THEY ARE CALLED FLORA, FAUNA, AND MERRYWEATHER!

Creatures2

“We can’t use those names! They’re too silly! Let’s change them to something more fairy-sounding, like Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Fittle! But remember, we must make time to reference the “hilarious” cake scene from the original movie! Walt loved it, so it´s only fair to reference it!”

SCREW. YOU.

–       But, Taylor, you mustn’t criticize this movie by stating how inferior it is when compared to the original. This is a new version, a story that wants to do something different with the source material, a film that wants to be its own thing. As such, it must be judged by its own merits!

–       Who the hell are you?

–       Your objectivity.

–       I thought I killed you the moment I entered college.

–       How silly! You will never be able to kill me! I’ll always be there, nagging you from inside a far corner of your brain. I’m like a virus whose vaccine will not be invented during your lifetime.

–       Yeah. Ok. About the “judging this on its own merits” thing, though, it’s impossible.

–       How come?

–       Well, the movie doesn’t even have the balls to do its own thing.

–       Didn’t you just say it ignores the past movie’s original plot points in favor of different ones? Wouldn’t that mean it is forging its own path?

–       Yes, it could mean that. But not on this instance. You see, the movie doesn’t even bother to change the structure of the tale in any way; it just tries to expand the story while subduing key moments and making them… well, stupid. It takes every ounce of importance out of them and morphs them into bullet points they were forced to add because fans were expecting them.

–       I don’t get how that hinders this movie from qualifying as its own thing, a separate entity removed from the original animated film.

–       I don’t know how talking to myself inside my head is going to change my mind about this horrible movie.

–       It won’t.

–       So why even bother, objectivity?

–       I just wanted to help you understand it sucks even when you’re not comparing it to the original. Objectively speaking, of course.

This is a horrible movie. It has a terrible script, it has awful acting, and the direction is the most amateur job I have seen since I took a camera in my hands and tried to make a dinosaur short film when I was six. IT IS AWFUL IN EVERY CONCEIVABLE WAY. IT EVEN MANAGES TO SCREW UP WHAT SOUNDS LIKE AN AMAZING PREMISE! It is so bad it literally made children cry during the showing I attended. I’m not kidding. They cried.

There's a metaphor hidden here somewhere...

There’s a metaphor hidden here somewhere…

Don’t you “This is the story as you have never heard it before” me, movie! If that’s your angle, at least try to, I don’t know, TELL A STORY WE HAVE NEVER HEARD BEFORE? Because, indeed, I have never heard the story so horribly told. It’s not like you didn’t have the rights for the source material SINCE IT’S A CENTURIES OLD TALE AND YOU DID THE STUPID MOVIE THIS WAS BASED ON!

On the plus side, Angelina Jolie does a killer job as Maleficent. That is the sole reason why this turd gets a one and a half star instead of the half star it deserved.

I hate this movie. I hate it so much I wanted to acquire Maleficent’s power just so I could transmogriphy it into Robert Stromberg and kick it in the groin so hard he would stop making sense and phase out of reality. I wanted to wish sentiency upon the film reel and rip apart every single photogram of it and burn them on separate bonfires just for the purpose of escalating their suffering as much as possible. I needed to punch something or else I’d explode due to all my contained rage. And I did. I punched the seat in front of me. And the kid occupying that seat fell to the floor. And he cried. And I feel no remorse.

Fortunately, the movie lasts only 98 minutes. But, when it ended, the gleeful face of my mother shined through the darkness of the theater with a clear “I loved it!” expression that could replace the sun if it ever stops shining. When she asked me what I thought about the thing I had just endured for her sake, I lied. “It was great.” Then I fake-smiled as convincingly as I could. I didn’t believe myself, but I couldn’t risk another “All you literature majors are way too bitter! You can’t enjoy a movie! You have to tear it apart and overthink it instead of enjoying it! Be positive for once in your life!” And while I cannot agree more with her description of our kind, I just wanted to get home, lie on the cold floor, and try to fill the newly-found hole in my soul with ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream.

Or pills. Let's not rule out pills.

Or pills. Let’s not rule out pills.

Now, watch the trailer and see all the promise that was laid to waste:

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