Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Maleficent (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1!

With Aurora's sweet sixteen fast approaching, Maleficent asks her to come live with her in the Moors. Aurora happily consents to this, rushing off to tell her aunties. Oh, I guess they are still in this thing. However Aurora can't quite think of how to break this news to them, so she stops in the forest to rehearse her speech. She runs into a young man who is on his way to Stefan's castle and has managed to get lost in the woods. He'll be instantly recognizable if you've seen the recently reviewed film The Signal since he was the star of it, Mr. Brenton Thwaites. Here he is Prince Philip (now spelled with one “L” because screw those hacks from the 1950s), like that's any surprise in the slightest.

He and Aurora have Insta-Chemistry, achieved even without the magic of a song and dance. Aurora asks him to visit her after his trip to the castle, to which he QUICKLY agrees to. Maleficent and Diaval have been watching this whole thing play out, Diaval excitedly speculating Philip could be the answer to the curse. Maleficent dismisses this, as she says there's no such thing as true love. Diaval counters with it's fine she believes that, but what about Aurora's belief on the matter? You know, with the exception of the idiot fairies, every actor in this film has been good to great. Jolie has been awesome, but that's a given. However, Diaval's actor, Sam Riley, has completely OWNED this movie. This guy has stolen every scene he's in, which is really saying something when all of those scenes were shared with Jolie.

Aurora returns home to the Three Stooges to tell them she's leaving, which leads to them revealing the truth about everything. She runs out to find Maleficent, asking if it's true that she's the one who cursed her. Maleficent tries to explain her change of heart, but Aurora calls her evil and heads towards the castle to meet her father. Their reunion is less than heartwarming, as he pretty much ignores her and orders his men to lock her in a bedroom. He's much more concerned that Maleficent will be coming for him when the curse fails, returning to the head of his armies to solidify whatever he's planning.

We see Maleficent is indeed heading for the castle, an unconscious Philip in tow behind her. She better hurry though, because Aurora has been drawn out of her room by a sinister sounding whispering that leads her into the basement of the castle. I love how she escapes her room too, she knocks on the door and a maid lets her out. SECURITY! Oh, so the curse is just acting on its own then? I wondered how they were going to get around that considering Maleficent is more or less the hero of this thing now. The curse brings her to the broken spindle room, most of which are barely broken despite being burnt and smashed. The curse assembles a brand new one out of scratch, Aurora reaching out and impaling her finger on it.

She falls into the cursed sleep, the sky outside turning blood red as Maleficent realizes she was too late. She presses on anyway, approaching the castle and finding Stefan has lined the entrance with huge iron spikes. Wait, THAT'S his plan? For years we've seen him working with his blacksmiths to construct something out of iron, and it's just a hallway of iron spikes with a clear path through them? I hope he has something else planned, because this is just... lame. Maleficent and Diaval EASILY navigate through the spikes without even a scratch, the fallen fairy surreptitiously leaving Philip for the Three Stooges to find. He brushes off how he has no memory of how he came to the castle, telling them he's a prince sent by King John to see Stefan. The idiots whisk him away to see Aurora, asking him to kiss her.

His response is priceless, asking why he'd want to do that when he's only met her once. HA! They tell him about the enchantment so he finally agrees, but nothing happens. Maleficent sneaks into the room to watch, heartbroken when it doesn't work. I can see where this is going, and it's going to be from the horrible world of fanfiction. The Stooges and Philip leave to go find someone else or something, I don't really know. All that matters is they're gone, leaving Maleficent and Diaval alone with Aurora. Maleficent tearfully apologizes to Aurora and all she's done to her, kissing her on the forehead. AND THERE WE GO, from Sleeping Beauty to Awake Beauty in .09 seconds. Shoot, family love worked so great in Frozen, why not do it again?

They all lived happily ever after, cue the- OH WAIT. Stefan's still in the picture, isn't he? Final boss battle time, I hope Maleficent stocked up on her health potions. As our joyful trio go to return to the Moors, Stefan drops a giant iron net on Maleficent and swarms the room with his guards. The begin savagely beating Maleficent with weapons, but she has just enough strength left to... transform Diaval into a dragon. Aww, come on now! Naturally he's a generic looking CGI dragon that I'm pretty sure is a leftover model from Harry Potter, which is disappointing since I'm sure Disney probably has the Vermithrax Perjorative puppet from their lost classic Dragonslayer mothballed and collecting dust a few sets over.

Diaval clears the room with his fire breath, yanking the net off his mistress. Sweet, DOUBLE DRAGON time! Or, you know, not. Maleficent just stands there while the men box her in with their iron shields. Aurora runs upstairs to safety, JUST HAPPENING to enter the room where Stefan's been keeping Maleficent's wings. That was lucky! The wings begin to flap of their own accord, Aurora knocking the case over to free them. Good timing too, because a heavily armoured Stefan enters the fray and begins whipping Maleficent with chains. This is surprisingly violent for a movie I anticipated being violent, but not like this.

Downstairs, all hope looks to be lost. Maleficent lies prone on the floor before Stefan, while his soldiers have subdued Diaval. Stefan, somehow more of a cartoon in this film than the version where he was an ACTUAL cartoon, removes helmet and begins to gloat rather than finishing off his former lover. His men, getting as bored of this as I am, begin to rhythmically beat their shields on the floor for an impromptu rendition of Stomp. That's probably what I'd do in this instance too. For the eighth time, I'm not really sure what's going on here. Why doesn't Maleficent use her freaking magic on him?! She has no iron on her, and doesn't seem that weakened despite getting the crap whipped out of her. The least she could do is transform Diaval into a smaller form to escape his bonds and then turn him right back into a dragon.

I guess none of that would be as cool as her wings flying to her and reattaching themselves to her back, which NOW gives her the brilliant idea to free Diaval. All hell starts breaking loose, Stefan somehow managing to wrap a chain around Maleficent's ankle in an attempt to bring her down to the ground. She instead flies out the window, taking him with her. You could have LET GO OF THE CHAIN before that happened Stefan, now you're holding on for dear life hundreds of feet above the ground. He ends up falling to his death, which I believe is the leading cause for fatalities in a Disney picture. He had a weird arc: a gentle loving boy to a power hungry tyrant to a loving father to an obsessed tyrant to an IDGAF about my daughter tyrant to an anticlimactic final boss.

We shift to wrap up mode as Maleficent takes down the wall of thorns and restores the Moors back to their Disney colours. Aurora becomes queen and unifies both kingdoms, as the narrator reveals SHE'S Sleeping Beauty. Philip shows up at Aurora's coronation to smile at her and do nothing else. I wonder why he had to meet with Stefan anyway? Kind of a flimsy excuse to red herring him into this thing.

Cue the credits, set to Lana Del Rey's morose and joyless cover of “Once Upon A Dream”, which fits this film PERFECTLY.

I could basically copy/paste half of my thoughts on previous blockbuster movies here and you wouldn't notice. Looked good, had some great acting, story was TOTAL RUBBISH and barely made any sense. Hollywood knows that, barring some kind of colossal fuck up, people will go see these kind of movies no matter what, so why waste time on trying to develop any kind of coherent story? Rewrites and multiple drafts can take forever, that's time they could be using to create more CGI characters to sell more toys or thinking up a REALLY bitchin' Facebook marketing campaign.

Sure, if you're going for a purely superficial level, this movie was entertaining. Up until the end it never really dragged, thanks almost ENTIRELY to the superhuman effort the actors were exerting to keep you interested in all the nonsense. It had an interesting visual style, nothing compared to the original, but at least it felt like they were trying to make this look like it wasn't just leftover cut scene footage from a Lord of the Rings video game. The most love was put into Maleficent's costume, which I would rank VERY high on an “All time best live action adaption” list. I've already said how fantastic Angelina Jolie and Sam Riley were in this, but I'll say it again: they were FANTASTIC! I would gladly watch a sitcom about those two and their wacky hijinx every week.

If you dig though, nothing works, and thanks to how first draft the script feels, you don't have to dig that deep even. This was supposed to be Maleficent's view of the events of Sleeping Beauty, but that's not in line with today's trends so she went from villain to straight up hero. You can't even say she was an anti-hero, Stefan was FLAT OUT evil so he made her look like Snow freaking White. Even when she was consumed with RIGHTFUL hatred for Stefan, she still couldn't even bring herself to curse his daughter with a death curse but instead used some neutered sleep spell.

Neutered also describes Maleficent herself, who went from one of the most badass villains ever to grace the silver screen to a practical joker and borderline stalker. The second act of the movie was just excruciating to watch because of this, because the second Maleficent doesn't kill Aurora as an infant you know EXACTLY what's going to happen. This makes the reveal she cares for the princess feel so drawn out, as she's given no internal conflict about her feelings. Why is Maleficent watching Aurora in the first place anyway? Is she just that bored of sitting on her throne in the Moors watching creatures cower before her?

Why stop there though? EVERYONE was neutered in this thing. The good fairies were flat out insulting with their horribly stupidity and neglect, as all the cleverness and competence they had in the first movie went out the window. They did nothing WHATSOEVER for the plot: they didn't counter Maleficent's curse, they weren't any kind of positive influence on Aurora, and did nothing to help out in the end. Philip was a victim of what I'm going to call the “Frozen Effect”, something you should get very, VERY comfortable with seeing for many years to come.

Frozen is now over a year old and has made God knows how many billions of dollars when you factor in merchandising, it's fresh breath of air concepts are going to be ripped off endlessly. Linda Woolverton was apparently a big fan of the “Big strong man saves the day fakeout” they used there, because she sure “payed homage” to it here. Philip had no role besides winking at the camera and tricking us, or rather trying to trick us. Show of hands, who thought for even a second, his kiss was going to wake up Aurora? I'm not mad about this because his character was so nonexistent, and his lack of heroism allowed Aurora to FINALLY do something in a movie as she indirectly saved the day for once.

I will give this film credit for being loyal to exactly ONE character from Sleeping Beauty, and that's our totally fucking worthless Queen No Name! Kudos everyone! She went the entire film without being named, had like three lines of dialogue, and even had the courtesy to die off camera so she didn't waste any of our valuable time. Queen No Name, you the real MVP! Although I would have much rather endured ten minutes of Disney's strange contempt for her than the date rape scene we were “gifted”. And make no mistake, it was a rape. Stefan drugged someone who trusted her and violated her body, which is exactly the implication the scene was meant to project.

Did we... did we REALLY need Sleeping Beauty reimagined as a rape/revenge story? Rape is literally the most overused plot device in the world of fiction, employed by hack writer after hacker writer because it's edgy and an instant plot device to create conflict. That's MUCH easier than having to write any kind of story with depth, after all. It's a vile and disgusting cheat that is ruining genre after genre, but seeing that some of the most popular shows on television feature a rape plot damn near WEEKLY, it's not going away anytime soon. For crying out loud, DOWNTOWN ABBEY had a storyline about a character getting raped. If that doesn't prove there's no form of entertainment safe from Godawful ideas, nothing will.

This movie was definitely not Maleficent's finest hour, so I'd recommend sticking to her original appearance because she was given far better justice there. See it if you want to see some great visuals and acting, but if you're as sick and tired of rape as a plot device as I am or don't want to see Maleficent reduced to playing stupid pranks, skip it. Even though it's going to be fairly obvious how this will play out, let's go to the Original Vs. Remake Final Rundown.

1. What Were The Movies About?

1959's Sleeping Beauty was about an evil sorceress cursing the newborn daughter of a king, and the king trying his hardest to protect her until the curse could be broken. Much entertaining adventure did ensue as the valiant Prince Phillip and the three good fairies saved the day.

2014's Maleficent was about a power hungry man date raping his childhood love, turning her into a barely vengeful antagonist that went all emo and cursed his daughter to eternal sleep. However, she ended up coming to care for the daughter as she stalked her for years and ended up saving her from the curse because Philip and the fairies were jokes.

2. Which Movie Had The Better Protagonist?
Alright Maleficent, you win this one. Sleeping Beauty has no clear protagonist, since you could make solid cases for either Phillip or the fairies. Maleficent's movie is definitely her movie, and she gets a well rounded character arc that establishes her as the true hero. It certainly didn't hurt she was anchored by a powerhouse Angelina Jolie performance.

3. Which Movie Had The Better Love Interest?
This doesn't really apply as Maleficent had no actual love interest in the original definition of this category. Technically it'd be Aurora, but she was quite vapid so I'm giving this to the slightly less vapid Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty.

4. Which Movie Had The Better Antagonist?
Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent vs. Maleficent's King Stefan. Stefan did FAR more evil things than Maleficent did, but he was also as stereotypical crazy as a bad guy gets. Maleficent was TOTAL BADASS, one of the most sinister villains to ever appear on film. No contest on this one.

5. Which Movie Had The Better Story?
Maleficent is certainly a more detailed story than the original, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with a simple story when it's done right. Sleeping Beauty would have won this even if Maleficent didn't have a plot defined by date rape.

6. Which Movie Wins?
Sleeping Beauty in a squash, with remakes/reimaginings/reboots YET AGAIN showing they're missing the point on WHY something was popular in the first place. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Disney isn't going to learn their lesson on this anytime soon, because A) Maleficent made a ton of money and B) there's a Grim 'n Gritty Cinderella live action movie due out next year. Yay... On the plus side, this means we'll get a BITCHING Diamond Edition Blu-Ray release of the original Cinderella! One must take their victories where they can in this day and age.