OK, this is more Maleficent than Loki. But some Loki, okay? Also, total SPOILERS for Maleficent. So if you haven’t seen it and are a spoiler purist (I suspect many of you won’t mind Maleficent spoilers so much) then don’t read this until you have seen it.
One more time, so you don’t miss it and for spatial padding: SPOILERS for Maleficent immediately below.
Caveats: I’m a regular person who watched this movie today. Not a film critic. Not a literary critic. Haven’t read interviews with Angelina Jolie or anyone else involved in this movie about the choices they made, or any points they were trying to make. This is just my thoughts…seen sort of through the lens of Loki. Because, you know, I tend to see storytelling things through that lens these days. (It’s called “obsession,” people.)
I would give this film somewhere between 3.0 and 3.5 out of 5 stars…and there may be no films out there I’d give 5 stars to, so this is not as bad as it maybe looks. I thought the movie was okay, and it made me think a bit (without leaving me depressed!) so that’s in its favor, too.
Maleficent is another film sort of vaguely in the line of Snow White and the Huntsman, which subverts the traditional Disney animated movie convention of the helpless beautiful damsel in distress saved by the handsome gallant prince, preferably with a magic kiss. It goes much farther though. (I think. Even though I saw Snow White and the Huntsman 1.5 times [I saw parts of it a second time…YES, mostly the parts with Chris Hemsworth], I don’t actually remember it all that well.)
It does this in a clearer way, I’d say. I came away from Snow White I think feeling a little…confused, perhaps? About what was whose role in the broad sense, specifically the Huntsman’s. Characters and their roles and their development are much clearer and more straightforward in Maleficent, at least for me.
The real spoilers, the plot: Maleficent is a kind fairy with lovely wings and a sunny disposition who smiles and says “good morning” (and “I love you”? wasn’t quite sure on that one) to everyone she passes by. This is a bit overdone for my taste, I mean, she’s sweetness and perfection incarnate, but, you know, they’re setting up a contrast. She meets Stefan, from the human world, a poor orphan who is taken with her (and who wouldn’t be?). Maleficent is also an orphan, and is touched that when she’s burned by his iron ring, he immediately tosses it off, though it’s the only thing of value he has. They’re supposed to be…maybe 14 or so, I don’t really know, and they form a friendship as he comes back to her land to visit, and the friendship slowly turns to love. (There are supposedly other fairies, by the way, but the only human(-ish) person we see in her land is her.) Stefan dreams of living in the palace, and as he reaches adulthood the relationship fizzles as his sights set on his ambition within his own land. We’re never shown Maleficent looking horribly heartbroken over it, so at this point you could take this as simply a young love that simply comes to an end as the couple grow up and apart.
Later, though, Maleficent has grown powerful, the most powerful creature in her land (and with cheekbones that frankly constantly distracted me, because I was wondering if they were digitally altered, holy moly, Angelina’s cheekbones! they reminded me of that protrusion running down the sides of newer car models now that’s designed to increase protection in a side impact) — and Stefan has obtained a position of some sort in the palace, tending the king. The king has foolishly tried to lead an army against the Moors, the magic land, for no real apparent reason other than “Conquer = Good” and failed miserably, and he wants his legacy saved. He will make his heir whomever can avenge him. (Uh-oh, unintentional Avengers reference!)
And then Stefan proves himself to be a hideous, awful, cruel, horrible man. He goes to see Maleficent after all these years and gets all snuggly with her like it’s the old days all over again, then gives her a magic drink that knocks her out really soundly apparently, falling asleep on his shoulder. He picks up a knife, lifts it up…tries really hard but can bring himself to kill her in her sleep. So instead, out of his mercy and kindness (!) he picks up I think an iron chain and (off-screen) hacks off her wings. He brings back his prize wings and dumps them at the foot of the dying king’s bed and is made heir.
Now…this was really kind of dumb on his part. Okay, so she can’t fly. So? She can still do all kinds of magic (like…turning other creatures into dragons with the flick of a hand). Annnnnnnd he’s really made her mad now. He got what he wanted, but he also brought about his own downfall with that move.
Stefan is king, and Maleficent sends her raven slave-slash-friend (whom she turns into a guy and occasionally other things — like a dragon) to look in on what’s up with Stefan. The raven very conveniently (me no like contrived coincidence! but…it moves the plot along) happens to flit in just as Stefan is crowned king, and later just as it’s announced a baby girl has been born to him and his queen (a cardboard character whose name we never even hear unless I’ve just forgotten it). Everyone shows up to wish the baby well at her christening. (The baby, by the way, deserves a Best Actress — or Actor, you know, who can tell at that age — Academy Award. Or at least a Most Delightful Baby Known To Man award.) And for some reason, though she has no invitation, the guards let Maleficent walk right in. In fact, no one tries to stop her at all from cursing the Most Delightful Baby Known To Man. I think Stefan says “stop” or something once or twice. And it takes her several minutes. No one even tries to distract her. They just stand there and watch her work her Evil Magic Mojo over the baby. (You know the curse: she’ll prick her finger on a spinning wheel before she’s passed her 16th birthday, fall into a sleep like death, and won’t awake until she receives “true love’s kiss.” Maleficent then leaves, and everyone apparently watches her go, peacefully.
Stefan is terrified and paranoid (though weirdly, we’re never shown him expressing any actual love for his daughter, and the queen is MIA) — he sends the baby, Aurora, away to the forest to be raised by three tiny flying fairy women. (They’re meant to be comic relief, but I found them hugely annoying. Maybe they were there for the kids.) Stefan earns Worst Father of the Year award right there, because these women don’t know the first thing about taking care of a baby. The baby’s hungry and they bring her freshly-picked carrots and radishes. They also forget her outdoors. Later they aren’t paying attention and she chases a butterfly or something over a cliff. Stefan, you idiot.
So who takes care of the baby? Why, Maleficent, of course! Sort of. Sometimes it’s the raven, sometimes it’s Maleficent. In the beginning we don’t really know why Maleficent bothers. It could be because she wants Aurora to live long enough for the curse to take hold, to make Stefan suffer. But ultimately, why is it?
Because Maleficent was never “evil.” She was a woman scorned, or to be a little less cliched, maybe, she was a woman deeply, deeply hurt and betrayed by someone she trusted and cared about, someone she’d known for a very long time, and she was furious and lashing out with all her power.
Oh, wait! Did you just picture Loki?
There’s a telling scene where she meets Aurora at around age…maybe five or six-ish? And Aurora is just like Maleficent was at that age (something driven home more later), goodness and sweetness incarnate, very trusting, very loving, throws her arms around Maleficent to hug her when Maleficent tells her (though not harshly) to go away. Maleficent apparently doesn’t need to earn a living (must be nice), because she spends all her time watching over Aurora. She lets a teen Aurora (raised in a cottage in the woods by three clueless fairies) be introduced to the Moors, and Aurora delights in everything and everyone with her heart and soul of the purest of gold, and echoes the same behaviors we saw earlier there with Maleficent, an innocent little mudfight, for example. We aren’t explicitly told what Maleficent is thinking (which I kind of like), but it’s fairly clear. This girl is really awakening her heart. She’s as enchanted with her as anyone else who meets her. She sees herself — her innocent, young, happy self — in young Aurora. She comes to care for her so much (and it’s mutual, Aurora calls her “Fairy Godmother”) that she goes to Aurora at night and tries to remove the curse — but her original curse had included that no one could ever revoke it (which was a bit of foreshadowing that I missed).
Maleficent almost tells Aurora the truth — she’s almost 16 now — but is interrupted. Aurora says she’ll come and live in the Moors for the rest of her life with her fairy godmother, when she’s older. And Maleficent says, “Why not now?” She’d be happy to have her there, I think, but her main motivation at that point I think is that she wants to be able to protect her from the curse. On the way back to her cottage, where the fairy ladies apparently have no clue Aurora’s been wandering off to the Moors all this time, Aurora meets Philip. (I was wondering when the prince would show up!) Love at first sight, sealed when their hands touch. (Or just infatuation?) Philip is a fetching lad, meant to be about her age, very polite. He’s headed to the castle, and promises to come this way again. The raven sees it. At this point I suspected the storyline would be that Aurora turns her back on Maleficent after 30 seconds spent with Philip, and follow him to the castle where the curse would come to force. Yay, the movie surprised me.
Instead, she talks to the fairies to tell them she’s moving to the Moors, and they let slip that they were supposed to take her to her father the next day…and the truth (off-screen) all comes out. Aurora had been told her parents were dead, so, I guess she’s curious about dad and off she goes (we aren’t really told her motivation for her immediate ride to the castle — is she angry at him? does she have a romanticized notion of a loving father waiting for her with open arms? I suspect the latter).
Maleficent finds out about this too, and wants to stop her from getting there because of the curse. The Raven Guy (he has a name, I just couldn’t understand what it was) tells her that she needs to get the boy, Philip, because he’s her only hope if they can’t prevent the curse. I thought this was a bit lame (after a 30-second meeting? really?) but I had hopes they would subvert that bit somehow. (In fact I may have guessed what would happen by now, I can’t recall when that was.) Maleficent tells Raven Guy basically, “You don’t get it. I said true love’s kiss could break the curse because there’s no such thing as true love.” She has been utterly disillusioned about love by the pain inflicted by the one she loved. Still Raven Guy convinces her it’s the only chance Aurora has if they don’t get there in time.
Oh, am I feeling a Loki vibe again.
They race to the castle, where dear old Stefan, who’s basically gone mad with his fear and paranoia and hatred (and, hopefully, guilt, though we’re never really shown it), has ordered his beloved daughter locked up in her rooms. Now, mind you, that’s to protect her, but he never even hugs her or says “Hi, sweetie, how’s it going?” Aurora is magically drawn to the room with the locked-up broken spinning wheels and pricks her finger and collapses. It’s too late.
Maleficent delivers dear young Philip (made to sleep while she transported him) to Aurora’s doorstep, and the the three fairies are ecstatic when they hear he’s a prince. Which is weird, because it’s not like the curse said a prince had to kiss her. I mean, it was “true love’s kiss,” and she’s like in a permanent coma without it…who the heck cares about the dude’s genealogy?? Anyway, the fairies urge Philip to kiss her. Which is just freaky. And God bless Philip, he hesitates. He says, “I hardly know her.” (I would add, AND SHE’S ASLEEP. Sorry, this is creeper-land. And a love story convention I enjoyed undermining in one of my fanfics.) Still, Aurora is HOT when sleeping, and Philip gets over his reluctance and lays one on her. Yes, it’s a polite, gentlemanly, chaste kiss, but still.
Nothing happens. Woo-hoo! Because only in fairy-tale land is that “true love.” True lust, that I could buy, though here their attraction is presented as a very innocent infatuation.
Maleficent is saddened. She comes out from her hiding spot to Aurora’s side. (Many people will have guessed by now what will happen. Because somebody’s kiss has to break the curse, right?) Maleficent is crying a bit I think (the tears probably puddle atop her cheekbones), and she swears she’ll make sure nothing ever harms her (I think, anyway, she makes some declarations of her love for her “goddaughter,” this may have been the part where she says that Aurora has given her back her heart), and she leans forward and kisses her forehead.
And Aurora awakes.
Really nicely done, IMO.
Then there’s a big battle, and I don’t really care about that, so, the highlights are that apparently Maleficent’s wings can be reattached — Aurora finds them in their glass case and breaks the case and the wings fly back where they belong and BOOM Maleficent can fly. In the end she lashes out at Stefan in anger and could kill him but doesn’t and tries to walk away. But Stefan can’t let it go (he’s pretty much just cardboard-evil by this point, or you could say “crazy”) and rushes at her and winds up dying in a fall. And the audience burst into tears. Not.
The movie was over when Aurora woke up. Really the movie was over when Maleficent kissed her forehead. But then there’s the battle, then there’s the obligatory “everybody’s happy, good triumphed over evil” scene, where, in the Moors, Maleficent puts a crown on Aurora’s head (because I’m sure the fairies were teaching her all about being a queen…and reading and writing…in their little cottage) and she’s made queen of both lands (ha, I almost typed “realms”). Though weirdly there are no humans around at all…let’s hope they’re cool with this little coronation ceremony. Ah, and then there’s Philip sharing a little smile with Aurora, because maybe he’ll be her Prince Charming after all.
Some reaction: Or, maybe not. Because he’s still just a kid, and in this movie, the other men we’ve met, the old king and King Stefan, are pretty sorry excuses for human beings. Boys are sweet and kind and caring; men are power-hungry uncaring war-mongering jerks. Raven Guy doesn’t fit that mold, but even as he becomes something closer to a friend than a servant he’s always clearly subservient to her and has no choice or “agency” in what she turns him into, he basically does as told. He does express an occasional opinion though (actually I liked the character). He’s also not really a man — he’s a bird. Anyway, these thoughts about the movie’s depiction of men was my first analytical (I use the term lightly!) reaction to this movie. I really like strong female characters, for all of what I suppose are the usual reasons. But I dislike it when strong female characters come at the expense (or vilification) of men. I don’t know if this was something intentional in the movie. I’m sure many people have said this better than I can, but the basic idea is simple enough. Women can actually be strong characters even in the presence of strong male characters.
“True love” doesn’t have to mean romantic love. Ie, it’s not all about Prince Charming — or having the perfect man in your life. I like this subversion of the traditional story. There are many loves and relationships in our lives that we draw strength from — friends and family, in addition to romantic love. Of course, with this interpretation in mind, it makes me wonder if this is why they never showed us Stefan expressing any love toward Aurora. We never even see him touching her at all, as I recall. He’s scared for her safety, but he doesn’t pick her up and hold her. Perhaps this is also why the queen is just “the queen” and dies before the curse happens. The fairies also are shown sort of treating Aurora like she’s their duty…they are never cold or mean toward her, but it’s not clear that they really “love” her (though it’s kind of hard to imagine they don’t, having raised her from infancy) — and when the curse hits they say “well, she’s only sleeping” to placate Stefan…they don’t appear quite as devastated as one might expect. Thus, presumably, Maleficent is the only person in all the world who actually feels true love for Aurora, the only person whose kiss can wake her.
Irony and redemption. Nice irony that Maleficent sets the curse, believing the “out” of true love will be impossible because true love doesn’t exist, and in the end it is Maleficent’s own true love that breaks the curse. And this is enabled because of Maleficent’s redemption arc. There’s not a lot of meat to the redemption arc (no Loki losing his mother and feeling partly to blame, no Thor saving Loki from the gravity grenade thing, no Loki saving Thor from the Kursed and losing his life…ummmm…in the process). Loki’s redemption — if you believe that’s what happened in Thor: The Dark World (not everyone does) — followed really dramatic events in three movies. Tough to bring that much meat to an arc that takes place all within one movie. It’s sort of more like Aurora’s complete goodness melts Maleficent’s icy heart, and she learns to love again. (Maybe someone else has a better analysis!) Anyway, I really like this take on a villain who’s not fully a villain, she’s “a villain and a hero,” as narrator Aurora tells us. Like Loki, her “villainy” comes not out of “evil” but out of deep psychological wounds.
Interestingly, Maleficent’s redemption arc here is, at its heart, quite similar to a lot of Loki fanfictions! Except the love that melts Loki’s icy heart is usually a romantic love.
Angelina Jolie. Jokes about her cheekbones aside, I thought she did a great job. There wasn’t a ton of exposition-y dialogue where she confides in someone about her thoughts and emotions and reactions and decisions. You have to have a decent actor to pull that off. The scene where she wakes up and her wings have been removed she is so believable in the expression of both her physical and emotional pain. The parallel for Loki would be the scene in the Weapons Vault when he learns the truth of his origins. (Loki also doesn’t do any “confiding,” but the big difference in how their journeys are portrayed, to me, is that after that moment in the Vault Loki plays a lot of his psychological state close to the vest — because he’s cooking up plans the other characters, and the audience, don’t know about, while Maleficent doesn’t need to hide anything from anyone, except perhaps for the fact, when Aurora is little, that her heart isn’t quite so blackened as everyone, maybe even herself, thinks.) She does rage really well too, when she’s laying on curses, and going after Stefan’s soldiers. Yeah, I’d run screaming from the room. And she brings a nice complexity to Maleficent as Aurora nears 16, and we can see how much she cares for the girl, yet there’s still something in the way she holds herself or something, she doesn’t let herself show the love that she feels for her the way Aurora does without inhibition. Jolie carries this movie without a doubt, and I thought Sam Riley was great as Raven Guy, a standout in a supporting role. Aurora as a person isn’t developed very much (her main character trait is Good, yes, with a capital-G), but functionally speaking, I suppose she’s not meant to be — her main role is as a catalyst for Maleficent’s redemption story.
Did you watch this movie? Did it make you think of our beloved trickster at all?
(Also, why doesn’t my “alt text” for the images pop up when I hover my mouse over them, anyone know how to make that happen?)