I generally make it a point to stay away from movies that I suspect might feel as if they stole two hours of my life from me, and I guess I made a critical error when I decided to finally catch up with Maleficent. This movie felt like it stole five hours out of my life, which is an impressive accomplishment (the only one the movie pulls off), considering it only runs about 90 minutes.
I knew I was in trouble with this movie no less than sixty seconds in, when we're introduced to the fairy world, which Maleficent inhabits as a young girl, and she's played by Ella Purnell in a phonetically flat performance, sounding as if she's reading off a teleprompter. The fairy world is poorly animated and all the sets look as if you could stick your hand right through them, which is unfortunate because this film was "directed" as such by a guy named Robert Stromberg, making his feature directorial debut, stepping over from a career as what else, an art director. That seems to be his only interest in this movie as well, because every scene is poorly directed and set up, exhibiting no vision or style whatsoever, which leads to lifeless performances from everyone (we'll get to Angelina in a second) and a deathly boring, slowly laborious mess of a movie.
The screenplay tries to spit out a poorly written "re-imagining" of the Sleeping Beauty story, but the entire premise is completely ridiculous and laughable in its execution. The iconic villain from the 1959 Disney classic is here shown as a young fairy with horns who falls in love with Prince Stefan, who decides to drug Maleficent one night and cut her wings off so he can prove he's got what it takes to be king. So Maleficent is now turned into a victim who becomes a vengeance minded demon as a result of this betrayal (is that a great message to impart to little girls? Scorned women turn evil because of a guy?) and curses the Princess Aurora when she's a baby to get back at Stefan. But soon after that, Maleficent spends the next 16 years stalking Aurora in the woods and decides she'd rather be more of a mother figure to the girl instead. Yes, it does come across as stupid as it sounds. Even worse is that it makes the whole story completely pointless. It certainly has nothing to do with Sleeping Beauty, so in that sense it truly stands apart, but if that's the only compliment I can give it, we've got serious problems.
Which brings me to the starring role. Sigh. Angelina Jolie has made nothing but poor movies for pretty much her entire career, and she once again exhibits terrible taste in projects, I suppose for the sake of being able to place her name above the poster. So does this movie work on the level of a simple showcase for one of the most famous women in the world, making her return to the big screen after four years? It's certainly not directed to be anything else, but the answer is still an emphatic no. Because the fact is she does nothing but stand around in the artificial horns and cheekbones, glowering and occasionally screaming her lines. There's no joy to the performance, only empty mechanics, and frankly this is nothing we haven't seen her do in every other movie she's been in (including bringing back that pathetic faux-British accent she's employed since the Tomb Raider movies). If you like watching her strut around in horns then I guess you'll have that to look forward to, but she's given no good character to play, no interesting characters to interact with, no clever dialogue and her shrill screaming amounts to nothing but mockable gif-moments during scenes that are seemingly intended to be serious.
It's been a long time since I've seen such a lifeless, lackluster, hollow shell of a movie wrapped under a big tent of special effects. There's no sense of magic or wonder for a movie that's based on a fairy tale, and those special effects are so cheap and ugly that they don't even provide background work with which to satisfy a fan of set design. The three good fairies are the most hideously ugly CG creations I've ever seen, rivaling only the new Ninja Turtles for the role of primary source of children's nightmares. The screenplay slogs through one pointless scene after another, giving no one anything interesting to do or say, and I can't even begin to tell you all of things that happen that don't make logical sense (it's never explained why Maleficent can't revoke her own curse or why her all consuming magic powers conveniently come and go whenever she needs to be placed in jeopardy) because by that point you care even less about anything that happens in this movie than the script does. Of the recent big budget family films in this vein that have come out in the last few years (Oz The Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Hunstman), this is hands down the worst of them, and certainly the worst movie I've seen since last year's Man of Steel. What a completely worthless waste of time.