Boil Maleficent down to one newt's nose-size piece of advice and you'd get this: Don't dump Angelina Jolie. As seen through director Robert Stromberg’s lens, the antlered arch-villain of Sleeping Beauty is a sympathetic scorned woman, equal parts Gloria Gaynor, Princess Diana, and Lorena Bobbitt, with a dash of Euripedes's Medea thrown in for class.
The cad is an ambitious thief named Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who romances Maleficent for several decades until he betrays her for the chance to become king. And so she does what any wounded woman would: curse his baby daughter to an inescapable coma. Like Oz the Great and Powerful, Maleficent considers itself a revisionist fairy tale that spins a demonized witch into a feminist icon. Hardly. Both movies hinge on the idea that being rejected by one dude is enough to make any girl nuts. At least in Wicked, the witch turned evil because of her politics.
Still, Jolie carries her embittered witch with the dignity of Nefertiti. She rarely speaks, preferring to sulk and scream. The effects team has enhanced the actress's otherworldly beauty: the cheekbones jut out like cliffs; the green eyes glow. For a children's movie, Maleficent makes one hell of a Vogue pictorial, eschewing the breakneck pacing expected of a PG Disney flick for the art-house rhythms of Jean Cocteau.
Yet Maleficent suffers from the same problem that's sandbagged Jolie's career: Her directors shoot her like a goddess, but set her in a world that treats her like an urchin. Jolie's films never hurdle that key contradiction -- the filmmakers' joy at photographing such beauty versus her need to prove that she's more than a pretty face.