Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 2019.
Directed by Joachim Rønning.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, David Gyasi, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Jenn Murray, Kae Alexander, Fernanda Diniz, Judi Shekoni, Robert Lindsay, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Miyavi, and Warwick Davis.
Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and dark new forces at play.
Whatever one thought about the 2014 reimagining of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairytale told from the perspective of the sorceress Maleficent (who typically has her actions in the story perceived as villainous), the sequel titled Maleficent: Mistress of Evil should theoretically be ripe for new and fresh avenues to explore with the beloved characters. So, what’s disappointing is that director Joachim Rønning (who seems to be content for right now helming blockbusters for Disney, recently having steered the ship for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) and the plethora of screenwriters (Linda Woolverton returns from Maleficent and is once again also credited for the general story) have settled for a generic tale of love uniting two kingdoms narrative.
Aurora (Elle Fanning reprises the role, once again certainly looking the part but not necessarily delivering a remarkable or defining turn as the Princess) is peacefully enjoying her days in the enchanted forest dubbed The Moors (which still has way too much ghastly CGI going on in regards to the various creatures and fairies that inhabit the environment, that completely breaks immersion), and becomes overjoyed when Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson replacing Brenton Thwaites, the only major cast member from the first film unable to return due to scheduling issues) makes a marriage proposal. More importantly, the lovebirds are optimistic and believe that their unity will go a long way towards resolving the bad blood between The Moors and the human kingdom of Ulstad.
Prince Phillips’ mother, the nefarious Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer playing what might be one of the least interesting villains in mainstream movies all year) is enthused about the wedding, but for different reasons entirely. She’s tired of King John (Robert Lindsay, distractingly given garments that resemble the Burger King) ruling with no backbone and always searching for the civil route to go about dilemmas. Without saying too much, her plan for control does involve twisting around the wedding, but frustratingly also has her evil deeds labeled as the doing of Aurora’s godmother Maleficent. Now, this makes sense in the minds for many of the actual characters, and the film itself lets audiences know soon enough what’s really going on (they kind of have to, otherwise it would be condescending to the children in the auditorium let alone the adults), but it’s not the tense dynamic where thrills are mined from watching the situation play out. It’s boring waiting for these humans and fairies to play catch-up.
Then there’s Maleficent herself (Angelina Jolie does a fine job injecting devilish humor into a powerful being trying to contain her rage while attempting seeing eye to eye with humankind), banding together with a hidden tribe of her own kind, led by Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor playing a couple of horned and winged soldiers that, while both leaders in their own right, have opposing approaches to dealing with the hatred from humans. One of them views the upcoming marriage as proof that progress might be underway towards togetherness, while the other is fairly agitated with Maleficent for raising a human daughter and supposedly betraying her own species. Naturally, this causes Maleficent to reanalyze her own thoughts as war brews. Also present is Sam Riley’s Diaval, stuck in human form for the majority of the proceedings, although it’s kind of a moot point considering the story doesn’t expand on the character in any meaningful way.
There are multiple areas where Maleficent: Mistress of Evil goes wrong, but perhaps the most paramount to the failure is that the romantic relationship between Aurora and Philip is never compelling. It’s difficult to buy into their betrothal making an impact on society at large when it’s hard to care about their love in the first place. Overly predictable storytelling also doesn’t help. The segments with Maleficent and her newfound allies are mildly engaging, but only because of the costume and production design that almost paints them as flying Vikings. There is also a grand battle during the third act that starts out entertaining and builds to one or two decent payoffs but also suffers from functioning as a ripoff of Game of Thrones‘ The Battle of Blackwater Bay. It’s all fantasy action 101 executed with nothing memorable.
If nothing else, the experience sure is aesthetically pleasing (save for the critters in The Moors and that hideous facial scanning for the pixies) with primary characters consistently mixing up their wardrobe. Grounding the actual appearance of Maleficent in prosthetics again is another wise creative decision. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is an onslaught of color and visuals that never go beyond servicing as anything more than pretty to look at. Aurora might as well have never had the curse broken if this is where Disney wanted to take the next chapter of the series.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com