The scariest villains are the ones who don’t have any reason to be evil – they just are. Sure, having a background of abuse or a tragic story could work just as well. After all, isn’t it terrifying to actually relate to someone who has killed many people? In a “if I went through this, I’d be exactly the same and I’d go around hurting people” way? But to see someone either devoid of all human empathy or someone who will inflict devestation because they like to see the pain, doesn’t that just creep down your back? Many male villains have this and are perfectly done; up until Hannibal Rising, Hannibal Lecter was the perfect scary villain and Moriarty, London’s Consulting Criminal, reveals in the glee of it.
Maleficent revolves around the story of the titular fairy who was the most powerful in all the magical lands. The kingdom that she ran was separated from humanity, who would want to plunder and destroy many of it because of their own banal reasons (the reasons that we've been using for many many years, power). However, after many wars with humanity, Maleficent is struck and destroyed by love when an old childhood flame Stefan turns into a enemy and he steals her wings. Pained and enraged, Maleficent swears revenge on the now King and his daughter – Aurora ("Sleeping Beauty").
I’m going to get the great stuff about Maleficent out of the way. The allegory’s and allusions of feminism in this film and the metaphors about sexual violence against women is poignant, perhaps the better elements of the film. The scene where she loses the wings is a clear metaphor for rape that has been confirmed by the film-makers themselves. That betrayal of a friend and that cold and empty rawness felt afterwards is one that is portrayed outstandingly and bravely addresses the issues - with Jolie enthusing her character's pain with this unnerving humanity. The film also fails the reverse Bechdal test where no male characters converse to one another without talking about females – a rather pleasant turn of events for cinemagoers who have spent decades seeing male obsessed girls on screen. (It’s especially good when you consider that the Prince, the King and all men are the most insignificant part of the story. In fact, because of a lot of trouble, and it is more about the female relationships within).
The main reason why Maleficent is flawed is because it had so much potential to be outstanding. Instead, it feels wasted. There is some off-acting (in particular, Elle Fanning) and some uninspired moments that dilute Maleficent as a character, a villain and her entire story because boring. Taking away Maleficents rather enjoyable callousness from the original tale and giving her a quaint “she isn’t really bad” arc feels wrong. After all, some people genuinely enjoy villains. They gobble up their darkness for many different reasons and, frankly, there is no good reason why every single villain must have their childhoods and stories told. It marks for lazy film making and is probably an indictment of audiences nowadays that they have to know the nooks and crannies of everyone they see. Stripping away your imagination and giving you a villain who has a complete set of reasons for lapsing into antagonist feels rather terrible here.
Rather than stewing in the terrifying mystery or making Maleficent a rounded evil character, she is reduced to being a jaded character who is bitter resulting in a tired trope filled frantic film.