FROM THE DEN AT WOLF THEATRES — Angelina Jolie shines like a diamond in a coalfield in Director Robert Stromberg’s uneven and unnecessary “Maleficent,” a live-action retelling of Walt Disney’s venerable animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” (1959).
“Maleficent” suffers from a number of flaws that leave it without a distinct identity and thereby without a well-defined target audience. For one, Stromberg’s film is too slow and prodding, its script too uneven to consistently hold the attention of adults, adolescents or children, and much of its imagery and themes are too grownup for younger audiences.
To be sure, “Maleficent” isn’t bereft of appeal, the first and most obvious of which is Jolie herself, who endows the film’s eponymous wicked fairy godmother with charisma, charm and even likability.
“Maleficent” marks Stromberg’s directorial debut, and his day job as a visual-effects guru (his IMDB page lists 95 visual effects credits) makes “Maleficent’s” second major strength – its visuals – no surprise. Stromberg is like a kid in a candy store in this big-budget, magical, mainstream Disney extravaganza, giving his film a look that pops off the screen and that is, at times, truly breathtaking.
Neither of those strengths is sufficient, though, to make “Maleficent” worthy of a big-screen admission. In fact, Jolie’s strong, charismatic presence amounts to something of a dual-edge sword and is a big reason why “Maleficent” seems pointless.
Working from Screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s script and Stromberg’s directorial queues, Jolie transforms the 1959 Maleficent from a mysterious, evil presence of unclear origin into a sympathetic, jilted lover who’s betrayed for power by her girlhood true love – the “noble” King Stefan.
In effect, “Maleficent” takes the familiar story of Disney’s original, with its well-defined shades of good and evil, and turns it inside out, adding pointless complexity. Maleficent is not only sympathetic here, but, in essence, becomes the story’s protagonist, with Stefan and his all-consuming ambitions for the throne serving as antagonist.