Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Maleficent (Part 1)

Original Vs. Remake Part 2: Disney's Sleeping Beauty vs. Maleficent / WTF Happened To Fairy Tales?!”

Click here for the first half of Original Vs. Remake: Sleeping Beauty!

Of all the things to come out of the 1990s, I think BY FAR the worst was the “Grim 'n Gritty” trend: the making of everything into dark and stylistically bleak because it's KEWL. It spread across all forms of entertainment, most prominently comics where EVERY one became a badass anti-hero more vicious than any villain of decades before. In movies, the Matrix was the genesis for most movies copying the formula of disaffected and monotone heroes clad in black blasting the shit out of everything indiscriminately.

The success of Christopher Nolan's Batman films only served to crank this to eleven, as damn near every superhero movie since has tried to copy that formula. This brings us to the latest feature on A Ghoul Versus..., something I'm going to simply call “WTF Happened To Fairy Tales?!”. One of the many trends happening in today's Hollywood has been giving classic fairy tales this same treatment, which I'll concede isn't totally unwarranted given most fairy tales originated with stories that were FAR from happy, but now that ALL OF THEM are aping this concept, it's gotten very annoying.

It's something that bothers me a lot because it's yet another form of entertainment being closed off to kids, unless you want your child growing up to be a bitter cynic with no belief in outdated concepts like hope and optimism. They've already lost things like Superman and the Transformers, now let's take away fairy tales too! Pretty soon their only avenue will be Disney movies- OH WAIT Disney is one of the prime offenders of this movement. I'm getting tired of saying this, but what the hell Disney?! I know when I think of something like the Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, I think of epic battle scenes involving huge armies meeting on a battlefield. But you know, we have to get as many demographics as possible forking over fistfuls of money to see these things so that means HYPERVIOLENCE!

Robert Stromberg is one of the forerunners of this trend, having served as the art and production designer for the aforementioned Disney films. They figured he was doing such a good job darkening up fairy tales, why not let him direct one? Maleficent serves as his debut behind the camera and he proved to be the right pick, as the movie became the third highest grossing film of 2014 with a healthy take of over $750 million dollars. However, as we've learned time and time this year, that doesn't necessarily mean that it was any good. Time to see if this earned its box office success by being a great movie or having the benefit of a HUGE built in audience courtesy of its source material, so get ready for A Ghoul Versus Maleficent!

We open with narration telling us about two warring kingdoms, one populated by regular people and the other supernatural creatures. The cool one, called the Moors, is home to a young fairy named Maleficent who is the Friend To All Things character. She has huge horns on her head which I guess solves the debate over if Maleficent had horns or was just wearing the most kickass headdress ever. She spends her days in happiness and sunshine, greeting all of her CGI pals as she flies around happily on her beloved wings.

The story kicks off one day with the discovery of a human thief in their realm, Maleficent going to visit him out of curiosity. The thief turns out to be a young boy, introducing himself as Stefan. He hands her the item he stole: a small gem. Since he returned the stolen rock, Maleficent talks the guards into letting him go and walks him back to the border separating their two lands. Stefan tells Maleficent that one day he'll live in the castle instead of the barn he currently does, as we learn through their conversation both children are orphans because this is a Disney movie and FUCK PARENTS.

Which begs the question: why the hell is Maleficent the ONLY human looking fairy in the entire land? I suppose you can assume her parents died in the war with the humans, but did all the other human looking fairies as well? Anyway, the two hit it off quite well, the two making plans to meet again later on. They shake hands but Maleficent pulls away, burned by Stefan's iron ring which she says is the only thing that can hurt fairies. Way to tell your future enemy your only weakness there, Mal! Stefan takes off his ring and throws it away, Maleficent moved by his gesture. This kid knows what's up, I'll give him that.

The power of montage takes us through their growing relationship all the way to Maleficent's sixteenth birthday, where Stefan gives her the kiss of true love. But this very sweet tale can't continue, as Stefan's dreams to one day become king eventually separates them as he spends all his time scheming on the crown. Joke's on him though, because Maleficent grows up to be Angelina Freaking Jolie! You sure missed that once in several lifetimes opportunity, kid. This also makes the first appearance of Angelina Jolie on this blog, which is baffling considering she's one of my favourite actors of all time. This is despite years and years of picking some TRULY awful movies to star in, she really needed this movie and bad.

The current king of the human land, Henry, decides he's sick and tired of the Moors, so gathers his army to take out the Moors once and for all. Maleficent, now the protector of her realm because the previous one... uh... no idea, swoops down and tells them to GTFO. Henry laughs this off and orders his men to take her head, so she responds by summoning some of the most terrifying CGI creatures a computer can render. Damn, ball's in your court now Henry! Usually these movies END with the massive battle, what the hell is going on here? One deleted scene from Lord of the Rings later, and Maleficent sends all the humans running home to their mamas.

Henry sustains mortal wounds in the battle, saying he'll only appoint a successor that can kill Maleficent. We see one of the king's servants is a grown up Stefan, played by Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame. Overhearing the king's proclamation, Stefan sneaks into the Moors to find and warn his forgotten love. They spend the night together making up for lost time, but this very sweet scene can't continue either because we see Stefan has secretly drugged her and plans to kill her so he can become king. Fucking. Asshole. This is just another depressing trend going on in today's PC world: every villain has to be sympathetic to the point where everyone is an ambiguous shade of gray. Now I'm not saying I want all my villains to be one dimensional cardboard cutouts like Megatron from Bayformers, but maybe not every story has to have an antagonist that you would have no problem siding with.

This has been all the rage since Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked set the world on fire, giving us the Wizard of Oz through the Wicked Witch of the East's eyes. Again, there's nothing wrong with this CONCEPT because giving a legendary villain more insight is a GOOD THING. BUUUUUT, like I was ranting about earlier, when every movie does this it becomes a not so good thing. I mean seriously, did we NEED to see the origin of Hannibal Lecter? Giving us too much insight into a villain's past can actually ruin the iconic character, if you haven't seen the abysmal Hannibal Rising might I refer you to a little film series called Star Wars?

Some of the greatest villains earned their hall of fame status by the belief that they AREN'T the Big Bad in the story. In their mind, every action they take is right and justified, and they're working to make the world a better place. Making them too sympathetic ruins that, because do you now have any desire to care about the humans anymore? I want to see Maleficent go Full Dragon and raze these sons of bitches off the face of the Earth! And I know Maleficent likely won't be a villain in this movie since it's named after her and not Aurora, but they're going WAY overboard with this.

To his credit, Stefan finds he can't go through with it and throws his knife away. Thank God he came to his senses and- oh, instead he decides to CUT HER FUCKING WINGS OFF WITH A CHAIN GAROTTE and pretend he killed her. What's the matter, he didn't have time to rape her while she was unconscious too? The next morning Maleficent wakes up in pain, completely breaking down over the loss of her wings as she howls sorrowfully. This is just horrible and SO WRONG. She forges her trademark staff out of a tree branch on the ground to serve as her walking stick, as she's still suffering badly from her amputation. Later she comes across a human torturing a crow, casting a spell that turns the crow into a man who scares the human away. She asks the ex-crow his name, learning it's Diaval because I guess Diablo is just too devil sounding or maybe they wanted to avoid a lawsuit from Blizzard. Diaval pledges his service to her in exchange for saving his life.

Meanwhile Stefan is crowned king, Diaval spying on the ceremony and informing his mistress. She responds by casting a spell that turns the Moors into Tim Burton Fantasyland, all of her former bubbly CGI friends now looking violently out of place. The sad looks on their faces as they watch her goth the place up REALLY sum up my feelings about this film so far. The years pass as Stefan takes a queen and has a child, which leads to the christening scene that finally puts us at the beginning of Sleeping Beauty. This means my wish of wanting to know why Maleficent hated the crown so much has been answered, and exactly like I predicted I'm sorry I ever asked.

The backstory has already screwed up this remake though, because the three good fairies are in attendance. Okay, so we've just spend the past half hour humans HATE all forms of magical creatures and want to kill them all, but they're okay with some just waltzing right into the middle of their castle? Also, since Stefan has committed an unspeakable crime against Maleficent, wouldn't he maybe be a TAD bit mistrustful of the fairies serving under her? The film tries to gloss over this by saying they're ambassadors of “peace and goodwill”, but whatever, this is all stupid. Who wrote this anyway? Linda Woolverton, the acclaimed writer of Beauty and the Beast and the Lion King?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Linda, what happened? Although she did write the Alice in Wonderland remake I've been bitching about this entire review, so maybe she's just not trying as hard as she used to.

Oh, and get this: the fairies have different names from their original versions. They're now Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit, so at least Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are spared the shame of having to be portrayed in this nightmare. Knotgrass is played by Imelda Staunton, best known as the wickedly evil Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter films, which is a FAR better example of what a villain should be. Flittle and Thistlewit are played by Lesley Manville and Juno Temple respectively, actresses with fairly length but mostly under the radar filmographies.

The three okay fairies give baby Aurora the gifts of beauty, happiness, and- ah, cut off by Maleficent yet again. Making a far less impressive entrance than the original movie, the no longer a sorceress but a fairy strolls into the throne room, clad in her more familiar Back to Black attire. I will say this: she does look FANTASTIC in the black robes, wardrobe can definitely pat themselves on the back for this one. Jolie, now in full on scenery chewing evil mode, yuks it up as everyone cowers in fear around her. If I was them, I'd be all “Wait, she's still alive? Stefan lied about killing her? GET HIM!”, but they don't share my thoughts unfortunately. The scene and dialogue play out fairly similar to what happened before, only this time when Maleficent casts her curse it sentences Aurora to a never ending sleep instead of death. Wow, who would have guessed a movie made fifty-five years ago would have more bite than this one?

Stefan falls to his knees to beg Maleficent to not go through with this, so she amends her spell that Aurora can be awoken by true love's kiss. I'm shocked the monstrous Stefan would even give a fuck about anyone not named Stefan, so at least there's a spark of redemption for his character. Stefan orders all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed, then tries to hedge his bets by entrusting the care of his daughter to the okay fairies. This makes sense because he's now desperate to protect his daughter, but still doesn't change his initial trust of the magic creatures.

The film adds a third saving throw in Stefan sending his men out to kill Maleficent, since that worked SO WELL last time. To protect the Moors from their invasion AND flip off Sleeping Beauty's spectacular ending, Maleficent summons the thorn forest around her land to barricade it off forever. I like how this film is blowing its wad so early on everything, must mean they have something REALLY big planned for the ending, r-right? The fairies take Aurora to hide out in the cottage in the woods, only this time it's different because Maleficent knows EXACTLY where they are. Hell, she even strolls right up to the cottage and looks at Aurora through the window. So why not just amend your curse then Mal? Why bother dragging this out for another sixteen years? Especially since the okay fairies are now COMPLETE idiots that have no idea how to take care of a baby, though it does lead to a funny scene of Diaval in crow form watching them and shaking his head sadly.

Maleficent begins to hang out around the cottage, watching Aurora grow up and spending her time playing childish pranks on the fairies. To balance this out, we get a scene of Stefan's men trying to burn down the thorn forest and Maleficent brutally slaughtering them with her magic. CONSISTENCY! I don't know what the deal with with tone in these live action Disney remakes but it is a FUCKING MESS. There's nothing I like to see more than after watching a man get impaled through the chest with a thorny vine is watching Maleficent pull on one of the idiot fairy's locks on hair. This leads to the fairies doing their best Three Stooges impersonation as I hope the actors got paid VERY well for these roles, leaving Aurora completely unsupervised to chase a butterfly right off the edge of a cliff. JESUS!

Nevermind, Maleficent conjures a branch to save her from falling to her death. While I'm VERY relived by this, I have to wonder: WHY NOT LET HER DIE? Wouldn't it hurt Stefan so much more than knowing his daughter died in the care of three morons while he was off busy seeking revenge? I don't think I understand Maleficent's character AT ALL, unless... she's beginning to develop feelings for Aurora? Nah, they wouldn't do something that stupid... would they? Cut to later where Maleficent is healing a tree when Aurora walks right up to her and says hi. Umm, idiot fairies? Well, at least we get to see the origins of the “hands off parenting” fad that's been sweeping America for years.

Maleficent tells the child to go away, but instead Aurora hugs her. AWWWW, and there goes the ice around Maleficent's heart. Aurora continues to grow, Diaval now serving as her playmate because he's taken quite the shine to her as well. She eventually grows into Elle Fanning, an incredibly talented young actress that we'll be seeing soon when I review JJ Abrams' film Super 8. She's also the younger sister of Dakota Fanning, and together they represent some of the best young Hollywood has to offer us. These acting machines have nearly 100 roles to their credit already, and neither is 21 years old yet!

One day Maleficent renders Aurora unconscious and takes her to the Moors, formally introducing herself. Aurora thinks she's her fairy godmother, recognizing her as the person that's been watching her as far back as she can remember. Maleficent puts her to sleep again and returns her to the cottage, and what was the point of that scene?! We already know Maleficent has feelings for Aurora, we didn't need to see that confirmed with big flashing letters movie! Next, we catch up with Stefan, who has gone QUITE mad in all the ensuing years. Now looking more shabby than he did as a poor boy, he spends his days and nights conversing with Maleficent's severed wings. One of his servants comes to get him as his wife has taken ill and isn't expected to live through the night, but he brushes her off because NO ONE gives a fuck about the queen in this universe. They still haven't given her a damn name!

Things move along as Maleficent brings Aurora to the Moors for further visits, and what the hell are the idiot fairies doing during all of this? Did they fly off to Vegas and just completely abandon Aurora? Don't they wonder where she's going? Or, why hasn't Aurora mentioned her new BFF to her alleged caretakers? Not that it really matters since Maleficent knowing about Aurora makes their entire existence pointless, but I am still curious. These visits basically restore Maleficent back to her old cheery self, in one scene she even engages in a mud fight with Aurora and the CGI creatures. Not even bothering to hide her feelings about the young princess, Maleficent tries to remove the curse she placed upon her but found she cast it TOO strong and cannot. Hahah, you're not beating the plot that easily Mal!

Click here for Part 2!