Movie Review: Maleficent

This is the first movie I’ve ever seen where, when I was trying to figure out why I just didn’t like it, the word solipsistic flashed to mind.

Bear in mind that I probably wouldn’t even know that word if it hadn’t been for a GURPS game supplement describing a particularly nasty species of cannibalistic xenomorph shapeshifter whose innate outlook was that other sentients weren’t really real. (Therefore, chow down, other minds don’t matter.)

And that, unfortunately, is the mindset the movie reminds me of. The special effects are beautiful, the scenery is grand, the dragon – well, dragons! But special effects are not a story. And in the story, no one but Maleficent seems real.

(The guy playing Diavel tries. He’s the best part of the movie, that cranky crow.)

Why does the first evil king attack the Moors? Because Maleficent. Why does the second? Ditto. Why do the three fairy godmothers come to bless Aurora, when the last two human kings have been attacking and killing fairies? Movie apparently doesn’t know, and doesn’t care. I swear, those three got more characterization in the Kingdom Hearts games than in this movie.

Which in a roundabout way brings me to the other game supplement this movie reminded me of; a bit from White Wolf’s Changeling: the Lost, Equinox Road. That book details the game setting’s most creepy and inhuman antagonists, the True Fae. And it points out they actually need humans – or at least changelings – to play parts in their stories. Otherwise they’re playing all of the roles themselves, and it’s about as life-sustaining as breathing your own breath. Without other characters taking independent actions, there is no element of risk – and without that, there’s no story.

And that’s the real problem with Maleficent. No one else in the story has an existence that doesn’t revolve around her. No one has a problem that doesn’t loop back to her. (Including Maleficent, curse and all.) She’s “the hero and the villain”. And in the end the only one who opposes her is – well, her.

Real life doesn’t work that way. So despite all the shiny, the movie falls flat.

I can’t help but think an anime could have told the same story in 60 minutes or less, and given everyone more characterization. Ouch.

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10 thoughts on “Movie Review: Maleficent

  1. I was so disappointed with this movie. The original Disney movie had more character depth. Considering that was 1959 you think film makers would have learned something by now.

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    1. Part of the problem, as far as I can tell, is that for the past few decades Hollywood has made a concerted effort to chase out anyone with a conservative viewpoint on life. And frankly, the best stories, the ones that really sink their teeth into “what if”, tend to come from a very conservative viewpoint: There is Good, there is Evil, and it’s the duty of good people to stand against evil. People may disagree on what is good and evil, but you can’t build character depth without that foundation.

      The biggest problem with this movie, IMHO, is that Maleficent herself is the only one who determines what’s right and wrong. No one tells her cursing Aurora is the wrong thing to do. No one even hints at it. Argh.

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  2. I never saw this movie, mostly because they changed the curse Malificent gives Aurora from “will die when you turn 15, no ifs ands or buts about it” to “will die and will come back to life again”. And they also got rid of the most Genre Savvy villain in a Disney movie. Seriously, most villains don’t plan ahead to even get to “I’ll keep you in prison until you’re an old man and then let you go so you can save the girl but have no future with her”. The original Malificent loved being evil; take that away and everything about her falls flat.

    Totally agree about how getting rid of the basic plot of “good vs evil” has really caused the creative content of movies to suffer (and literature too, but there’s a lot more publishing hoses then movie companies). There’s a big difference between making evil characters have rounded motives and giving them excuses for what they do and so far, Hollywood seems to give their evil characters a break by giving them excuses. Or they take the route that simply trying to do good and being wrong about some things isn’t enough; the good guys have to be a certain type of perfect to be considered the good guys nowadays. So you’ve now got evil characters that are excused for being evil and the good guys trying to stop them aren’t portrayed positively either…

    Yeah, there are times that I’ll just go read manga/anime ’cause they’ve got more good vs. evil being done well.

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    1. I just have to say I’m incredibly glad for CreateSpace and other e-publishing companies, because the major publishing houses have a lot of the same problems as Hollywood. Check out Sarah Hoyt’s blog, “According to Hoyt”
      https://accordingtohoyt.com/
      if you want some insider info on how it’s been trying to get published if you don’t want to toe the NY progressive party line. Heck, check out Nick Cole’s blog – the author of Ctrl-Alt-Revolt! – for his tangles with his editor over a contracted book that meant he ended up self-publishing. Ouch.

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  3. I had several difficulties with Maleficent the movie, pretty as it was. Firstly, I loved the cartoon original. She so wonderful and scary. Like a brutal force of nature. She didn’t need any petty excuses. Secondly, I never understood the king-to-be cutting off Maleficent’s wings. It came out of nowhere for me. Is it just understood that all men are by nature evil betrayers? Or soullessly ambitious? Huh? The movie lost me right there.

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    1. Agreed on both. Re the wings – if you squint, it might be “here’s a way to get what I want while not killing her”. Except that by any logical way the world could work, a double amputation like that ought to have killed anything from pure blood loss. Does Not Compute. Argh.

      …Yes, the emotional and moral fail was bad enough. When I run up against logic fail, though, my bunnies start frothing at the mouth because why. Why. Did Not Do the Research, oi.

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  4. I have mixed feelings on this. I mean, I truly enjoy books where the characters all have differing motivations and the conflict is between them(I’m thinking Komarr, for example). But I think the main problem is that they chose to have the movie focused on “redeeming” the villain, without understand redemption or the villain. While Maleficent isn’t the oddest choice for that kind of story, she’s pretty far down my personal list. And you’d have to actually do a lot of heavy lifting to make it work, that they just didn’t do.

    …admittedly, now my brain is trying to make a story about how it’s not that she’s evil, it’s just fae and the actual lack of invitation is actually a mortal insult, and going there from the original story to working around these strange alien customs to get a happy ending.

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    1. Komarr was awesome! I was quite bemused by the bonsai’d skellytum. Because of course people would do that with alien vegetation, why not?

      I ran across a fic – think it’s on AO3 – where it actually was the lack of invitation that set everything off, so the King and Queen quite wisely hired a warrior princess… to get to Maleficent in one piece and hand-deliver the invitation. Heh!

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  5. I’ve seen it somewhere before too(I almost want to say Tanith Lee, but I think it was in a book with her Cinderella story, brr.) But it’s still a rather interesting flip, unlike the movie. I’ve been trying to come up with a Disney villain that would actually work with that, and it’s surprisingly hard. Maybe Ursula, there is clearly a lot of backstory there between her and Triton. Not that I haven’t seen people try with others, but usually it’s not well done.

    Komarr is awesome, it was the first example I could think of that is still a conflict with high stakes, that isn’t really good and evil. Tien, for all he isn’t the villain of the book, is on my list of “People you’re glad the writer killed off horribly.”

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