Movie Discussion: Maleficent (2014)

Over the weekend, I went to see Maleficent with two of my girlfriends. Maleficent is basically Disney’s Sleeping Beauty repurposed and told from the POV of the villain, Maleficent. In this version, however, we find out WHY Maleficent decides to curse an innocent baby. The story starts with a war between the human world and the fairy world of which Maleficent is the protector (and she has some bad ass wings to do that protecting).

blog 1Seriously, I LOVED all the bits where Maleficent gets to fly. Her wings were awesome.

She’s a strong fighter, but a bit naive. She falls in love with a human man, Stefan, who then exploits her feelings to chop off her wings while she sleeps and thereby claim the human kingdom for himself. Maleficent, in her rage and grief at this betrayal, then shows up years later to curse his newborn daughter. But it all goes wrong when she starts to care about the child Aurora herself.

blog 3“Up, up!” Baby Aurora was so freaking cute, and was played by Jolie’s actual daughter because every other kid they tried was too scared of Jolie in the costume.

So…I liked this movie but didn’t love it. The visuals were amazing, especially in fairyland. I thought Angelina Jolie did pretty well, although I think she was better after Maleficent turned “evil.” In the early parts when she was supposed to be innocent and naive it almost seemed like she didn’t know how to play those scenes. Elle Fanning was pleasing but vacant as Aurora, and that character isn’t a character so much as a MacGuffin to drive the plot. Sharlto Copley wasn’t given much to work with as evil King Stefan but I think he did well in the part. Especially as the king descends into paranoid madness, certain that Maleficent is coming for him at any minute. Maleficent’s charming crow henchman Diaval, played by Sam Riley, was easily my favorite character. He stole every scene he was in. Loved him. (He was also the only character who called Maleficent on her shit, which was great. I love when a stern, no-nonsense character has a friend who’s not afraid to talk back to them.)

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The story itself felt a little thin and seemed to default to montage when I would have liked a bit more meat to scenes. I suspect at least part of this, though, is that they cut significant portions? I don’t know that for sure, but it just felt like a lot more stuff had been shot than was shown on screen.

OK, so obviously this isn’t one of my fangirl squees. Why am I writing this blog then?

Because you should still see this movie. If you’re a woman or even if you just have a daughter, go see this movie. Because, for once, Hollywood has a girl positive movie out where a woman has agency, where even if she makes a mistake she still gets to redeem herself. Women aren’t used as sexual objects, they aren’t vilified, they aren’t fridged for manpain, they aren’t relegated to the background, they aren’t token characters.

One of the most powerful scenes for me and the two girlfriends I was with was when Stefan takes her wings. The scene is not graphic by any means, and yet we all three of us felt that the scene had been shot and depicted as a rape. (Not that he actually rapes her, but that his taking her wings was a “spiritual rape” if that makes sense.) The movie really wanted you as the audience to feel that betrayal, feel that loss, and I totally appreciated that they didn’t shy away from that. Maleficent gets to feel her pain, and Stefan’s betrayal of her is never depicted as anything other than despicable and selfish. Yay for not sacrificing women on the throne of male ambition!!!

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The other thing that really impressed me was the maternal relationship that Maleficent develops with Aurora, which totally pays out at the end in a very emotional scene that seemed to have half the theater crying. (I cried.) We need more positive depictions of female relationships, and we need more complicated female protagonists like Maleficent.

It occurred to me as I was walking out the theater that if I someday have a daughter I would show her Maleficent before I would show her the original Sleeping Beauty. (And the original Sleeping Beauty is my sentimental favorite of all the princess movies!) This is because I know that what we watch as children imprints on our psyches and influences us. I, for one, would much rather have my child take her lead from this Maleficent than from a 1950s POV that says you should marry a man you just met that day.

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This isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it is certainly a good start and I for one am totally ready for more movies like Maleficent.

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3 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Maleficent (2014)

  1. Pingback: It Doesn’t Hurt When I Watch Maleficent: Feminism & Film-Making | Beth Matthews

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