The more you know about the early lives of Tom Riddle or Anakin Skywalker, the more you understand how they became the people of notoriety they did. Still, do terrible childhoods and broken hearts necessarily make someone more captivating, powerful or magical?
In the case of “Maleficent,” not really.
If you go
“Maleficent,” rated PG
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 97 minutes
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley and Sharlto Copley.
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
As a protector of The Moors, a sanctuary for unique forest creatures, the fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has the loyalty of her people beside her and a pair of strong wings to help her prevent the invasion of the war-waging kingdom that rests on their borders. Her two weaknesses: iron and a lingering infatuation with a man named Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who was her best friend during her younger days.
When Stefan seeks her out again, Maleficent thinks their love is mean to be, only to find betrayal and pain as he mutilates her body for his own gain, leaving her to discover dark new powers that manifest in her sorrow and take over The Moors.
Maleficent’s longstanding desire for revenge is finally within her grasp when she learns of Stefan’s newborn daughter, on whom she casts a potent spell that will take effect on her 16th birthday.
As the kingdom scrambles to prevent the inevitable curse and the baby is hidden away for most of her life, Maleficent’s curiosity at seeing the girl grow into a young woman (Elle Fanning) leaves her unsure if vengeance is really worth the outcome.
Donning the horns, staff and spooky black robes though stopping short of changing her skin tone, Jolie certainly has the wicked appearance of one of Disney’s most memorable villains, looking drastically different when she’s also got an avian quality about her.
Yet it’s more than just being able to grin and make it seem creepy.
Although this part seems to be tailor-made for the actress, she doesn’t wear it well. She’s got the cold disposition down, no question, but when it’s time for her to release some rage, the fires sadly just aren’t there as the story attempts to give Maleficent the benefit of the doubt at all times and flesh out the reasons for her actions.
Copley’s Stefan, an egocentric king always looking over his shoulder, functions as the antagonist here — but not a very good one. A character whose only defining qualities are lust for power and fear of losing that power gets old quickly.
Fanning is endearing as ever as the daughter Stefan never gets to know, Aurora, raised in secrecy as a precaution that she never fulfill her date with the spindle of a spinning wheel. Unaware of her destiny to become Sleeping Beauty, the girl continually encounters the same sorceress who’s got an unpleasant surprise in store for her, soon seeing her as her fairy godmother.
Whoops, wrong fairy tale!
There are changes and some strict adherences to the details of the technically magnificent though dated 1959 version of the well-worn yarn, most notably that the princess at its center — who, in animated form, ties with Snow White as the dullest Disney gal in the eyes of modern viewers — actually gets to do something besides get hidden, get hypnotized and lie on a canopy bed for a while as everything happens around her.
Rather than the matronly Flora, Fauna and Merryweather raising her, it’s pixies Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville), who don’t take long to show themselves to be complete idiots in child-rearing.
Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites)? Yeah, he shows up at one point, if for no other reason than they needed a male presence who isn’t a brutal traitor or a raven (Sam Riley) who unwillingly keeps being switched between species by his new mistress.
It’s hard to tell what Disney is trying to accomplish here in this revisionist-style fantasy that effectively leaves its title character with an unsatisfying history as we “learn what really happened.”
The reason Maleficent has fans in the first place is that all we used to know about her was that she was unfathomably evil, a world-class party crasher and one of the coolest dragons in all of cartoons. By trying to deconstruct her and rebranding her as a tragic heroine, not only do you take out the mystery surrounding her, you also take away her bite.
It’s less problematic that she’s suddenly got a soft spot for the “little beastie” she can’t help but spy on throughout the years, but her uses of magic should be awe-inspiring, even terrifying. Instead, we’re left with a shadow of what once was who’s stuck in a country that oscillates between the sweaty, callous world of men and the nauseatingly cute realm of enchanted beings, neither of which look that appealing.
The same goes for Lana Del Ray’s unsettling cover of “Once Upon a Dream.”
“Maleficent” may be suited for those who respond well to the live-action mediocrity Disney continues to churn out with “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but others likely will just be bored. What promise it shows as a quasi-feminist twist on a classic is gone before Aurora even closes her eyes and only continues to weaken.
But at least they didn’t go as dark as some versions of “Sleeping Beauty.” Look it up.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.