Maleficent is a character I was fascinated with as a child and who I remember today with glee because she is so wonderfully, elegantly awful. My pleasure is linked inextricably to the fact that my adoration is at odds with her mean-spiritedness and cruelty. Her character provokes what I consider to be a cautionary insight: villainy exists, it displays itself overtly, and yet, something in me is capable of finding its meanest qualities seductive. In fact, it is precisely these meanest qualities that are the most seductive.
Maleficent retells the villain’s story in a way that completely defuses this insight. In this new version, beautiful and young people are good and act badly only when driven to do so by unattractive, older villains. And the wrongs people do (and suffer) can all be undone and forgiven if only the hard edges of the human heart can be softened. And they are, as if by magic, by the love of a child. In this version, villainy only hurts itself. These changes make this second look at an iconic villain feel wishful and childish, and I don’t like it.
That said, Angelina Jolie is just great, and she has brains and drive to burn. But I’d rather see her in a movie that let her be a better villain. An animated, sarcastic villain. Like Maleficent.