Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

A re-imagining of one of fairytales most iconic villains. (Spoiler alert by the way.) That’s right up my alley and the larger than life and fantastically unreal, layered on rich, Maleficent on screen was just superbly performed. She’s the archetypal nemesis rolling out the devil may care card – complex and multi-faceted and single minded in her seemingly black and white approach to life, with few exceptions dotted on the lines of life – for example – her love for her human god-daughter yet delightfully wicked and sardonic disdain for the rest of humankind, and not unwarranted. I say single minded – and love this aspect of her because it sets the stage for her journey. It’s what makes her so endearing in her villainy and her love.

One of my favourite lines was her response to her god-daughter being human, “… and I don’t hold it against you”. Jolie delivers this with just the right amount of tone that it’s perceived as Maleficent having the right of it and how could it possibly be any other way? Once something is categorised, it’s difficult to re-categorise it. But re-categorisation is the process that breathes new life out of old and stilted paradigms. Maleficent herself is a re-categorisation – a re-weaving and a re-perceiving of an old story and paradigm – that of the ‘wicked witch’ and the ‘innocent maiden’. She’s a shadow archetype coming into the light – in the process of rage and fury and the acceptance of otherness, in the metaphorical sense here, without speaking to the most obvious aspect of race.

Though I do feel that the film touches on race, that all anger has its source – not unwarranted, even if the re-perpetuation of war and violence is only an answer to a wounded ego, stemming from the fracturing of a deeper sense of identity – in this case – that is linked to the land. In the context of this film, land is symbolic of heritage and power, literally. The advantage that the human queen gains over the fae, comes from the sourcing of the flowers that grow on the graves where the fae bury their dead and Maleficent implies, it is a place to respect the dead. The act of disenfranchising one group – in the context of this film – the dark fae – is and was the seed that sows repercussions, though you could also surmise that the human queen was inviting war – in her own personal quest for revenge.

I also feel that the film speaks to this; no one is responsible for the wrongdoings of their ancestors but the power to shift and heal the dynamic does lie in the present – Prince Charming throws down arms and declares no more fae blood will be spilled on his watch. That’s a powerful moment for the leader that rallied the dark fae to battle – does he continue down his present path? At what point does justice morph into personal revenge? Which he would have every right to… but he would also lose far more. Given the way his character was presented in the earlier sections of the film, this moment was his climax point.

There were also moments, during the death scenes in the Church, where I absolutely admired the way the writers didn’t shy away from death but brought its ‘naturalness’ into the fore in a way that made this scene beautiful and of course, very dramatic, despite the gruesome and cruel aspect of the storyline portrayed here. In essence… death, in this scene, was less about ‘death’ in the sense of returning to the earth via decay… and more so, a ‘death’ of magic and the voices and characters that populate the imaginations of a magical world. It occurred to me, that making this scene without fake blood was necessary given that a large percentage of the audience would’ve been children. But the way this sequence was approached, was absolutely to its merit. The blue fairy’s moment was moving, emotionally powerful and sadly beautiful. Tastefully, very tastefully done.

Before I finish with another round of praise for this film… I’m going to kick up a tiny tirade about the original fairytale from Brothers Grimm that this modern day version is spun off, and I would bet, the ‘original’, was probably spun off even older folktales that became distorted.

Snow White is presented as the epitome of virtue – kind, innocent, pure, to a fault – because she falls victim to a sorceress, who’s presented as vain and jealous – to a fault because sadly the whole unfolding of this fairy tale depends on this aspect, but, in the characterisation and plot development, the Grimm brothers simultaneously lumped powerful and evil together in the sorceress, and good and hapless together in Snow White. Unwittingly or not, without justifying that it’s a product of its time, the message this fairytale gives to young girls is an uninspiring and polarised either/or. None of the characters in this story empower any kind of growth – not even for the hero who comes rushing in, assuming his role is to save the day. De-throning the two most important female characters of their sovereignty and what should’ve been a connection between women, so that the hero can look like a hero… is poor plot development. Enough said.

This re-telling of Maleficent absolutely grabbed it and teared it to shreds – refreshingly. Re-invention is splattered all over this film. Maleficent literally rises from the ashes as a phoenix. She saves the day, because she is the most powerful character in the story, she’s evil because she has no qualms about who she is, no need to justify her horns and her magic and her fury, there’s no nice-complex going on. She owns her badass. She’s sardonic and possesses integrity made of steel and love for her god-daughter Aurora. And that, was the best part of the first film. Interchangeably she’s been both the villainess and the heroine. You could even argue, if she hadn’t played the villainess or experienced the betrayal that created the Maleficent whose journey we followed in the first film, she wouldn’t have been deepened enough, to present not only as an enigmatic character, but a strong one given the challenges put in the way of her character arc. This film sequel does its prequel justice and the premise, plot and characterisation has everything the original Brothers Grimm fairytale was missing and far more.

Sand