May 29, 2014


In our current age of blockbusters suffused with CGI, I imagine we’ll keep coming back to this line from a recent editorial by Drew McWeeny at Hitfix: “We are living in an age of casual magic.”  Maleficent doesn’t just exemplify this sentiment; it’s a movie where the main character literally does magic in a casual fashion.  Director Robert Stromberg has created an animated movie that happens to have flesh-and-blood humans in it.  And yet for all his efforts in creating a lush, colorful world, the movie is a hollow, cursory adaptation of Sleeping Beauty where the only life comes from star Angelina Jolie, whose performance is more vibrant than all the digital creations surrounding her.

The new adaptation takes Disney’s classic 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty, and focuses on its villain, Maleficent (Jolie).  A long prologue explains how Maleficent was the winged fairy queen of the magical moors, and while her kingdom was on bad terms with the neighboring humans, she befriended and eventually fell in love with the human Stefan.  When Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is offered a chance to become king if he can kill Maleficent, he betrays her and although he can’t bring himself to murder his old love, he takes her wings in order to prove that the fairy queen is dead.  Stefan becomes king, Maleficent becomes evil, curses the baby Aurora, etc.  Where the story twists is when Maleficent begins to feel sympathy for the child, and becomes her unlikely protector since her official fairy guardians Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple) are incompetent.


Stromberg has won Oscars for his production design work on Alice in Wonderland and AvatarMaleficent is his directorial debut, and his resume shows.  He knows how to fill every frame with the same bright, flashy environments of his Oscar-winning movies to the point where the moors could be adjacent to Wonderland and Pandora.  The forests are filled with the same moonlit backdrops, shimmering pools, and floating, pretty things.  Stromberg either ran out of ideas, or he believed he was hired on the basis of repeating what worked before (if you ever thought it worked in the first place).  Either way, the setting is pleasing to the eye, but ultimately meaningless.

The movie is more concerned with where its characters physically are rather than what they’re doing.  Maleficent has a character arc but not much of a story.  The script has bones, but nothing in the way of connective tissue except for lazy narration.  Although the narration could be viewed as providing the film with a fairytale quality, it doesn’t change the fact that when you tell rather than show, it almost always removes any emotional impact.  We don’t have to see why Aurora (Elle Fanning) grew into a happy teenager.  She just is, and Fanning, despite being a talented actress, was apparently hired on the basis of her bright smile and upbeat demeanor.  But Aurora is as shallow as the CGI characters living in the moors.


Admittedly, this is really Jolie’s show, and she’s clearly having a blast when the movie lets her act instead of devouring her with the scenery.  Jolie, when given the opportunity, can give great performances, but that seems secondary to what Stromberg is trying to accomplish.  She’s a vehicle for set pieces and moving to new locales.  Maleficent is a perfect fit for this movie not because she’s a good character for a redemption story, but because she can conjure CGI animation.  The best scene in the film (and the one that’s in almost all of the trailers) is the recreation of the christening scene from Sleeping Beauty.  It’s on a practical set with very few visual effects, and it’s mainly an interaction between Maleficent and Stefan.  The scene with the greatest impact isn’t the one filled with CGI wizardly; it’s the one that relies on human performances.

I’m not against movies with plenty of CGI because most blockbusters are these days.  Green screen is the present-day matte painting.  But those paintings and effects are meant to service the story, not vice-versa.  The movie has a worthwhile take on a famous character because villains can be more interesting when they’re misunderstood rather than bad for the sake of being bad.  Maleficent is one of Disney’s best villains, and this film had the opportunity to give her new life.   But Maleficent isn’t really an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty.  It’s an adaptation of a screen saver.

Rating: C-


Around The Web
  • eternalozzie

    I wasn’t planning on seeing this anyways

  • the king of comedy

    everyone says Angelina Jolie`s performance is amazing, but it`s a shame the movie didn`t live up to it, that`s a shame this was a great oportunity to bring something new and different to the table.

  • opinionated asshole

    Was expecting it to be bad, considering how much they showed in the trailers, its hard to think they can have a good story and character development in a 97 min PG movie. I think Disney realized they have a stinker on their hands, so they cut it to as short of a running time as they could for more showings a day.

    • Matt Goldberg

      Maybe, but it’s also PG, so that means it’s for kids, and kids have short attention spans.

      • MJ

        As evidenced by all kids really hating the 3-hour Avatar movie.


      • Matt Goldberg

        Avatar isn’t rated PG.

    • Stefan Bonomo

      Yeah, how come this film is only a little over an hour and a half yet something like Lone Ranger is 2 and a half hours? This should’ve been around 2 hours, then maybe there could be more time for character development.

  • peter

    is anyone shocked? this looked bad since the first trailer

  • Sal

    I guess anything that isn’t a marvel movie or Star Wars, fails to impress collider.

    • Matt Goldberg

      You must not be familiar with our site. Thank you for your uninformed opinion. We value it.

    • milo

      That would make sense if they panned every movie that wasn’t one of those two. But they don’t.

      And it’s harder to call shenanigans on a review when a majority of critics are saying the same thing. Currently 45% on rotten tomatoes.

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  • Grayden

    Granted, it’s Disney, who might as well change their name to “For Kids Only”, but, it makes you wonder why a studio wouldn’t take that leap and let the film go into the more mature territory. Shame. There’s always an opportunity when you give the audience a deeper glimpse of the villain.

    • DEADP00L

      Kids today are being screwed over. We got amazing movies when we were kids, but today kids literally are being force fed crap that we as kids would NEVER have ingested. It’s all recycled diluted crap from actually great movies or lousy fanfiction writing about great movies. Which is what this movie was – it’s fanfiction.

      Maleficent is the fanfiction story a deluded teenager would write after watching the classic and not liking that Maleficent was evil or dies in the end. And possibly suffers from Stockholm syndrome over a fictional being.

  • MJ

    From your review here, this certainly sounds better than your A Million Ways to Die in the West review, yet you gave that a B-?

    Am I missing something??? Huh??

    • Matt Goldberg

      Yes. Please stop focusing on the dumb letter grade. It’s not a mathematical formula. My “B-” and “C-” don’t represent a carefully calculated formula. It’s a general appraisal, and I feel they’re “justified” by my argument to the best I can make it without giving away anything major in the film.

      The letter grades are a sop to people who prefer not to read reviews, and the only reason I include it is because–and let’s be honest–people wouldn’t click on the review at all if there wasn’t a letter grade.

      • Stefan Bonomo

        I think a letter rating like that is how you view the film in and of itself, not compared to other films. How you rate A Million Ways shouldn’t be compared to Maleficent, as they are both completely different films from completely different genres.

  • couchkik

    Your review is right but almost too kind. The story changes don’t make any sense : Maleficent can be anywhere near Aurora so what’s the point of the fairies protecting her? And the king relation to his daughter is a complete joke. The CGI is dreadful as it looks like an alien world rather than FairyTale. And the humor is embarrassing. I feel very bad for the fairies actresses actually.

    • tarek

      Let’s be honest: 99.% of fairy tales are dumb and don’t follow any logical pattern.. Especially Anderson’s tales.
      But they work well for kids. So Why complaining.

      • MJ

        Saw it today, and I can categorically say that, dumb fairy tale or not, it was much better than ASM2….MUCH BETTER!!!

      • tarek

        I hear ya.

      • DEADP00L

        Stop comparing a superhero genre to a FANTASY one!!!!!!!!

  • Diego Fernando Salazar Proaño

    I guess it had to happen if you keep hiring the same screenwriter for the bland and boring Alice in Wonderland (don’t know how did it made 1 billion at the BO… I mean, it’s really boring): if character development is what’s lacking you have the writer to blame, not necessarily the director. Not surprised that Jolie’s performance is the best: that woman could be wearing a cardboard box and reading the freaking phone directory and still own the screen. Feeling bad for Elle Fanning though. I guess that’s why she said she hopes to do some darker characters and stop playing princeses

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  • MJ

    “Moviegoers awarded Maleficent a strong “A” CinemaScore, which is in contrast to its middling reviews (around 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).”

    Matt, most moviegoers disagree significantly with your opinion. I saw it myself yesterday, and I would certainly give it a B+, and can confirm that it was much better than ASM2 and Thor Dark World.

    • Matt Goldberg

      I couldn’t care less about what most moviegoers think. Opinions on art aren’t dictated by a majority.

      Additionally, CinemaScore is an awful metric of audience evaluation. It’s basically asking people A) how the film compared to expectations created by the marketing; and B) how much they regret paying to see the moving on opening day.

      I encourage you to look at some of the movies you love and find out their CinemaScores.

      • MJ

        I will agree that CinemaScore in general has overly positive scoring for movies.

        But word of mouth on this film has been kind of the polar opposite to what you and many reviewers online are saying about it. There are some movies that a vast majority of the moviegoing public just completely disagrees with the vast majority of reviewers.

        Thanks for responding, Matt. Your reviews are interesting to read, even though they get me worked up sometimes.

    • DEADP00L

      You’re comparing the superhero genre with a fantasy movie making your opinion flat out moot. Compare this movie to The Hobbit or LOTR or Avatar then your opinion can be taken seriously – even though it is not only ill informed it’s also wrong. What you just said is like comparing Jaws with Star Wars – completely missing your mark.

      And I disagree with you wholeheartedly. This movie was GARBAGE. Comparing this garbage to ASM only proves you have no taste in movies. ASM is a bloated mess but at the very least nobody laughed when the main character screams.

  • DEADP00L

    Matts being easy on this movie in my opinion, even Jolies ‘performance’ actually had people laughing at times I thought were not meant to be funny. It was just her standing in place all ‘look at me and my vapid expressions’ or close ups of her face – we get it she’s pretty! Now can we get a story please?!

    No story happened. Just a lot of nothing CGI meant to distract you from the godsawful dialog and hallow storyline.

    I would give this crapfest movie a flat F. I have never seen such a bad movie since Battlefeild Earth. The reaction of the King to his daughters return literally had people laughing. And Jolies screaming and crying was so forced and effortful that people laughed at that too. It was just horrible.

    Those of you who have a problem with Matts review should thank the Gods he was so merciful. I swear this entire movie was a farce and the pussification of evil – yeah 90min of this crap was too long. I find the perspective of the villain to be a great concept – which this wasn’t. This was not about anyone’s perspective at all. This was the total bastardization of a great evil character.

    I couldn’t stop cringing. I had watched the classic with my niece just hours before because I wanted her to see both sides and make up her mind – not TELL her what side was the ‘truth’. Even my neice whose 8 years old asked me to take her to see Godzilla right after this movie as soon as we got out of the theater room, in her words ‘ to deletes this from my head’. We ended up seeing Edge of Tomorrow since we had just missed Godzilla; which after this rash of a movie was quite good and indeed made up for those 90min of both our lives that we will never get back.

    Poor girl I’m just glad she has the classic because this crap is the bastardization of a really great concept. And I just can’t stand what it represents.

    Seriously kids today are being screwed over. And people that liked this movie, if you ask them why, it’s got nothing to do with the movie; they don’t even remember most of it. It’s all visual with ZERO substance.

    Oh and Jolie looking ‘amazing’. Yeah had this been played by say Hallie Berry I doubt people would be saying anything flattering about this crapfest.

    Matt was going easy on this movie.

  • milo

    He didn’t have a disagreeing opinion, he said the site is biased. I don’t see any problem with responding to a comment like that.

  • MJ

    I think he and others at Collider would be hesitant to be too hard on super-fanboy Seth MacFaralane.

    Whether it’s being done consciously or unconsciously, I think sucking up a bit to MacFarlane is in play here.

  • Matt Goldberg

    When you come up with a scientific formula for opinions on art, let me know. It will be a good way to waste your time instead of wasting everyone else’s.

  • Matt Goldberg

    Steve and Adam both disliked Million Ways to Die in the West. Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no group-think conspiracy here.

  • MJ


  • tarek

    Which makes me dare to ask: What is Art ?