UPDATE: Apparently, according to folklore, iron forged over a cold anvil is said to be able to ward off fairies. It doesn’t change the assessment that this particular plot point was explained poorly and applied inconsistently or that the film as a whole shouldn’t have been made, but it’s important to note that there is a basis for this.
Maleficent is about Maleficent, but not “Maleficent” Maleficent. It’s not the character who’s been around since 1959, they just have the same name and wardrobe and parent company.
The film follows its title character (Angelina Jolie, with Ella Purnell and Isobelle Molloy playing younger versions) as she develops a relationship with Stefan (Sharlto Copley, played by Toby Regbo and Michael Higgins in these scenes). Stefan goes to the human kingdom to make his fortune, but runs across Maleficent again when the army he’s joined tries to take the Moors, the fairy kingdom of which Maleficent has become protector. Stefan takes advantage of their relationship and Maleficent’s allergy to iron — Iron? Seriously? — to become king. Suddenly and inexplicably evil, Maleficent curses his daughter to die on her 16th birthday.
Here’s the paradigm on which Maleficent’s character has worked for more than 50 years: Evil is Cool. Why is Darth Vader so much more iconic than Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? Because Evil is Cool. Why did the British Villains Jaguar advertisement completely overshadow the American Bob Dylan Chrysler advertisement at the Super Bowl? Because Evil is Cool.
Maleficent is Evil, and therefore Maleficent is Cool. Pop quiz — Why is Maleficent Cool? It’s because she’s Evil.
Over the decades, first as an iconic villainess and the only cool thing about a classic movie, then with a rise in popularity due to her prominent role in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, Maleficent has remained popular because her character design is awesome and she has absolutely no redeeming qualities.
So, turning her into a rape victim driven by a completely justified need for revenge and then making her even more heroic as the film goes on isn’t exactly doing justice to the character.
She is no longer Evil, and therefore she is no longer Cool.
The film’s advertising campaign, title and basic existence is to draw in older fans of the character looking for a darker, more counter-culture take on the Sleeping Beauty story, but Maleficent is just as much a happy go-lucky, truth-will-out, love-will-prevail affair as the movie it’s piggybacking off of. In some key spots, it’s no where near as dark as that harrowing animated hour-and-a-half, and it feels like characters will soon break out in an up-beat sitcom rendition of “Once Upon a Dream.”
This isn’t a re-imagining. Batman training under Ras al’Ghul, that’s a reimagining. Maleficent is more in line with Batman’s parents surviving and growing old and Bruce Wayne becomes an architect or something.
It would have been really interesting and refreshing to see a genuinely evil, or even a genuinely ambiguous main character, something that hasn’t been explored in the main stream since the end of Breaking Bad.
Taking the contextual problems away, the film is still deeply flawed. It features one of the weakest scripts in recent memory, with stilted dialogue clearly designed to help catch up kids in the audience who were only half paying attention. Maleficent’s motivation is largely unclear from scene to scene. Janet McTeer’s narration is constant, invasive and extremely boring.
The dialogue is a large part of what makes this movie feel like it’s aimed at small children, children around the age they should be watching things like, I don’t know, Sleeping Beauty. Why does this movie exist if it’s going to be tailored to the exact same audience? Why play so heavily on nostalgia for a 51-year-old movie and then make something aimed at the same age group who’s just seeing it for the first time?
And then there’s the iron problem.
It’s supposed to be a metaphor. Iron represents industry and war and human ambition, all of which are against nature and Bad, and fairies are for nature and Good, so they burn when iron touches them. But seriously, iron? Fe? The sixth most common element in the universe and single most common element in the Earth? Iron? A vital component in both plant and animal life, probably quite prevalent in the soil on which Maleficent walks? Can she eat spinach or broccoli? Because that seems like the kind of stuff fairies would eat, but it’d be the last mistake she ever made.
More than being, just, so stupid, the weakness is inconsistently applied. In one early scene, Maleficent is a living wrecking ball in the middle of a field of soldiers clad in plate armor that’s more than likely made of — you guessed it — iron, but then is forced to recoil when she remembers it burns her halfway through the scene. During later sequences, Stefan abuses his men because they aren’t churning out specialty equipment fast enough — and they must have this specialty equipment because it’s made of iron, unlike literally every other piece of equipment they have. And probably a lot of the castle.
Maleficent’s magic is also inconsistently applied. In some sequences she wrecks entire squadrons with her magic, but in others she is completely helpless.
Maleficent is the fourth in a string of movies based on classic kid’s movies and/or childhood fairy tales. Though they all aspire to 2012’s bleak and enchanting Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent is more in line with Jack the Giant Slayer and Oz the Great and Powerful — it’s given a significant shot of darkness and edginess, but immediately sissified just as much. This film comes with an announcement trailer for a Cinderella movie next March.
Supposedly the “truth” behind Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is completely irreconcilable with that film in several ways, most notably in Maleficent’s characterization. It is a completely different story, set in different locations and even having different people dying at the end, and the only reason Disney is tying it in to Sleeping Beauty is so it will make more money. That’s the only reason why the completely different characters didn’t come with completely different iconography and names, and it still doesn’t explain why fairies are allergic to iron instead of some magical made-up metal that isn’t all around them all the time.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Bryan Cranston is playing a cruel trick, Breaking Bad is gone and it is not coming back. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.