Maleficent - Online Review

'Jolie clearly enjoys herself in the role of Maleficent, at her best when she's occasionally allowed to inject a wry sense of humour into the character'.

Whilst Kevin Feige has been working his Spider-Man-themed socks off to construct and expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past seven years, his is arguably not the most important franchise-traversing setting that we have seen unfolding. That honour goes to a film universe perhaps not officially recognised (...yet), but that has clearly been built up before our very eyes over the past decade. I'm talking about the "Disney Cinematic Universe": a painfully generic, seemingly endless landscape of family-friendly CGI fantasy, with the power to swallow up great works of literature and their locales - Narnia and Oz immediately spring to mind - and drain them of any charm or originality that isn't approved by the House Of Mouse.

Worryingly for superhero fans, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is technically (and legally) a part of the Disney Cinematic Universe, although this thankfully seems to have had only limited impact on Marvel's output so far. Perhaps more worrying, however, is that Disney are now aggressively expanding their Universe into the territory of their back catalogue of classic animated films through live-action remakes and reimaginings. 2010's Alice In Wonderland was perhaps the first example of this, although Tim Burton's reboot-cum-sequel bore little resemblance to Disney's 1951 animated feature.

Maleficent is the latest entry, taking 1959's Sleeping Beauty as its source whilst also reworking and retelling the story from the point of view of the titular sorceress. As arguably one of Disney's most effective animated villains, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) feels like a smart choice for a central character, the film at times adding a pleasing amount of extra detail to the original portrayal which gave little reason for Maleficent's evil ways. Jolie clearly enjoys herself in the role, at her best when she's occasionally allowed to inject a wry sense of humour into the character.

These moments are too few and far between however, with much of Maleficent taking itself far too seriously for what must primarily be considered a children's film. The fantasy realm in which the film takes place feels devoid of warmth or authentic magic, a landscape that never rings true populated by computer-generated critters and human figures we largely never get to know. Just as we've seen before in Disney's versions of Narnia, Oz and Wonderland, an epic battle between two great armies has to take place whether we want it to or not - only this time it happens at the start of the story rather than during the finale, so we have even less reason to care about which side triumphs.

There are isolated parts of Maleficent which feel somewhat worthwhile, mostly thanks to Jolie's performance, but Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple as a trio of fairies are very hard not to like despite receiving far too little screen time to ever become more than one-dimensional whimsies. Less successful is Sharlto Copley, seriously miscast as detestable King Stefan (who admittedly would be an absolute curse of a character for any actor) and delivering a Scottish twang about as convincing as I imagine Sean Connery's South African accent would be. Some serious pacing issues and an awful script, alongside the vacuous nature of the fantasy setting, mean that Maleficent's problems are too prominent and copious for the film to ever overcome.

Maleficent is currently playing on Sky Movies.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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