THE STORY – A formidable queen causes a rift between Maleficent and Princess Aurora. Together, they must face new allies and enemies in a bid to protect the magical lands which they share.
THE CAST – Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville & Michelle Pfeiffer
THE TEAM – Joachim Rønning (Director), Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster & Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
Five years after the first “Maleficent” comes “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil,” the sequel that few seemed to be clamoring for. The first film was fine but forgettable, and certainly didn’t have the fan base that this year’s earlier Disney remakes had with “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” or even “Dumbo.” Perhaps this skepticism ended up helping this sequel after all, as it was mostly a pleasant surprise.
“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” picks up years after the events of the first film, with Aurora (Elle Fanning) crowned Queen of the Moors. This peaceful, grassy wonderland filled with all kinds of magical creatures lives in happiness and safety with Aurora as their ruler and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) their protector. Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), with the help of the creatures, naturally, proposes to Aurora, promising even more peace in uniting the kingdoms of the humans and the Moors once and for all.
Before the preparations for the royal wedding can begin, their parents are less than enthused. Maleficent doesn’t trust the humans and refuses to give her blessing. Phillip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), are hesitant to trust the goddaughter of a legendarily bloodthirsty witch, Maleficent. Nevertheless, the King and Queen invite Maleficent to join them for a dinner, a sort of peace offering in preparation for the pending nuptials. Of course, the meal doesn’t exactly go as planned, and Ingrith pokes and prods Maleficent throughout the conversation until she snaps. Pfeiffer thrives in this role, plotting to take over the kingdom and take down the Moors (and especially Maleficent) once and for all. It’s a wonderful turn, as expected, that helps us invest in her utterly simple plot.
Though this setup is simple, the first half of this film leans into its style, even embracing some of the campiness. As Ingrith heads to her secret underground lair, she enters a dressing room and snaps the neck of a mannequin, which opens the door to her tunnel, where an army is building thousands of weapons at her command. It’s just the right amount of silly to keep us invested. Elsewhere, the costumes and makeup really help to sell the world. Vibrant colors and a great otherworldly feeling brings these characters to life, even if there’s an overload of visual effects.
The second act of the film finds Maleficent away from the kingdom and discovering her origins in a relatively compelling arc that stands out among the rest of this fairly straightforward tale. Injured and near-death, she’s rescued by more of her own race, brought to their land where they live hidden as outcasts. Led by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), these creatures gives us more insight into Maleficent, revealing a new, fascinating land. This world is captivating, with unique production design that highlights the stark contrast between the colorful CGI kingdoms and this dark, underground hideaway. The makeup, hairstyling, and costumes are incredibly well done here, each creature feeling real and tangible, a step up from the globs of CGI that are the Moors. This world is a much more interesting place for the film to dwell, though it doesn’t linger here long enough.
As the film nears its climax, it loses mostly anything that kept the interest alive. Soon enough the film enters generic-battle-mode, giving us the blandest third act we could’ve asked for. Incoherent action, low stakes, and a frankly boring resolution. The ending of this film ties such a neat bow that it’s laughable, as it provides a disappointing end to a promising start. Despite a lackluster third act, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” still works as a whole, largely thanks to Jolie and Pfeiffer’s all-in performances. It may not be much more memorable than the first entry in this franchise, but it’s still enjoyable enough. Though the film settles for a positively bland ending, it dips its toe in enough of a different direction to keep the dark magic alive.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film starts off well enough, nailing its tone and design, which bolsters the fairly simple story. Angelina Jolie’s quiet yet authoritative performance works well, as does the makeup, hairstyling, production design, and costumes.
THE BAD – The last half of the movie devolves into generic battle-mode, losing the fun tone it started with. The movie certainly isn’t offensive, but it’s nothing new.