‘Maleficent’ Review

Angelina Jolie returns to the big screen

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie in a scene from "Maleficent" / AP

It’s nice to have Angelina Jolie back on the big screen.

Between 1995, when she burst onto the scene as a pixie cut cyberpunk in the classic Hackers, and 2010, when she pulled in $20 million for both The Tourist and Salt, Jolie starred in some capacity in 30 feature films (and a couple of well-received TV movies). She was a nearly ubiquitous presence at the multiplex, anchoring both franchises (Tomb Raider) and artistic fare (Girl, Interrupted, for which she won an Oscar).

All of this work came on top of her tireless international advocacy (she’s had boots on the ground in all manner of desperately impoverished areas and received an honorary Academy Award this year for her humanitarian work), her authoring of op-eds pleading with Americans to resist the urge to cut and run in Iraq, her adoption of multiple children and birthing of twins, her marriage to some guy in France, and, well, this.

Jolie was walking, talking proof that women can have it all: brains and beauty, a successful personal life and a successful professional life, wealth and health and happiness. Who can really blame her for taking some time off?*

Jolie returns to the big screen this weekend in Maleficent, a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty that asks you to consider things from the "evil" witch’s point of view. In this telling, Maleficent (Jolie) was a fairy betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), the human who loved her. In order to garner favor with the king and cement his status as next in line to the throne, Stefan cuts off her angelic wings—and makes a powerful enemy.

In agony over the excision and filled with hate over the betrayal, Maleficent puts a curse on the newly crowned king’s daughter. Before the girl’s 16th birthday, Maleficent says, she will prick her finger on an enchanted spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep, awakened only by true love’s first kiss. Terrified of this curse, Stefan sends his daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) to live in the countryside with a trio of pixies.

Maleficent quickly discovers Aurora’s location and, along with her trusty raven-servant Diaval (Sam Riley), keeps an eye on the girl as she grows. Initially referring to the child as "beastie," Maleficent’s heart begins to melt. She grows affectionate toward, even protective of, the child.

But what of the curse? What of her vengeance? And what of the king cooped up in his castle, poisoned by hate and slowly going mad?

Jolie is perfectly suited for the role. She toggles seamlessly between tricky maliciousness and deep caring, while letting everyone know with her eyes when she’s just funnin’ and when she’s actually angry. One can’t help but see some echoes of her private life in the film: the swell of love for an adopted child, the pain of having a deeply personal part of one’s body removed.

Still, Maleficent occasionally feels a bit off, tonally, as the picture somewhat jarringly shifts between Enchanted-style whimsy and Snow White and the Huntsman-style darkness. But this is a modest complaint about a film that rarely fails to entertain. A much more serious sin is the foisting of 3D upon this picture. You should not see this film in 3D as the effect is minimal and was likely introduced as little more than a cash grab intended to fill Disney’s coffers with some more of your hard-earned money.

*This isn’t an entirely accurate statement, as Jolie did direct a feature film in 2011 and has done some voice work since 2010. And I’m sure gallivanting around the globe and walking down red carpets with that guy can get tiring. I’m just saying, she hasn’t acted in a feature film since 2010 and the world has been poorer for it.