"Maleficent" (2014) movie review

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Greydanus, Maleficent
Hollywood’s latest revisionist fairy tale is a warmed-over Frozen, with less interesting characters and a startlingly dark subtext.
Practically every character in Frozen is more interesting than anyone in Maleficent, though the latter has one great asset towering above its defects: Angelina Jolie as the title character. What Johnny Depp couldn’t do in Alice in Wonderland, Charlize Theron couldn’t do in Snow White and the Huntsman and nobody in Oz the Great and Powerful could do, Jolie does here: Through sheer charisma, she makes the film watchable when nothing else does.
You see, the good fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville, all wasted) are irrelevant, impotent and ridiculous. That’s because they’re complicit tools of the patriarchy, which robs women of their power.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider the opening act, in which Maleficent is left maimed and traumatized when her childhood sweetheart lulls her to sleep before hacking off her powerful wings — a metaphorical rape, or perhaps genital mutilation (against which Jolie has been a public campaigner). Either way, a pretty dark subtext for a PG movie.
Why did Stefan’s father make war against the denizens of the Moors? Well, because that’s what ignorant, hate-filled patriarchal brutes do, of course: attack whatever is different from them, whatever they don’t understand. Also, greed, since we’re told the Moors have great treasures. Bottom line: Humans are rotten, especially men, while magical earth creatures are good and live in harmony with one another.
As royal villains go, Stefan is far less interesting and compelling than Frozen’s Hans, who was handsome, brave, charismatic and could carry a tune. Hans was probably originally written as a hero, and could have been Disney’s most compelling heroic male character ever — certainly since the original Prince Philip in Sleeping Beauty — had it not been necessary to turn him at the last minute into a villain to compensate for the decision to make Elsa a heroine rather than a complex villainess.
And so the story grinds on to the bitter end, in which the power of evil patriarchy is broken, sisterhood lives happily ever after, and Prince Philip grins stupidly, because he has no reason to be here, really.
Strangely, despite the film’s feminist leanings, Aurora herself is a passive princess of the old-school type, whose most subversive act is loving the title character.
Is it too much to hope that someday Hollywood will make fairy tales with strong, admirable heroines and strong, admirable heroes? Maybe, too, just to mix things up, the traditional villains can be evil again, someday.