Synopsis – 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.
My Take – With the massive success of this year’s The Lion King and Aladdin (forget Tim Burton‘s Dumbo), it has become quite evident that Disney is going to continue to plunder its complete animated library for live-action remakes.
A new sort of renaissance which started back in 2014 with a dark fantasy which put a unique spin on the 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty, by placing its antagonist at the center of the tale. The film provided an alternative telling of how the titular villainess, Maleficent wasn’t actually evil, but a wronged fairy taking revenge on Princess Aurora’s father, the duplicitous king.
The film painted its title character as someone who rose from tragedy and betrayal to form a complex bond with the young Princess. But most importantly it gave its star, Angelina Jolie, enough space to spread her wings and embody her own take on the dark character.
Now, five years later, director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge), is tasked with unnecessarily continuing the story, pitting Maleficent against a conniving, ruthless new foe. The biggest hurdle the sequel faced was the direction the film would take considering how its predecessor redeemed its titular anti-hero, and in doing so burned through all the familiar fairy tale source material.
As a result, the sequel seems forced to invent wholly new problems to plague its leads in the familiar territory, hereby increasing the sense of predictability. Yes, for a sequel, it ups the star quotient by adding a few more recognizable actors into the mix, and increases the colorful spectacle, but in doing so, it also lowers the emotional impact and the celebration of its independent feminine characteristics, which the 2014 film was so focused on.
While younger audience may devour this film up delightfully, the rest will struggle to sit through as the only form of elevation comes from Angelina Jolie who swoops in again and again, burdened with the unenviable task of keeping the audience entertained for 118 minutes.
Taking place five years after the first film ended, the story once again follows Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), who continues to serve as protector and enforcer to the Moors, the fantastical organic kingdom where her adoptive Godchild, Queen Aurora (Elle Fanning), reigns as its leader. However, their relationship begins to complicate when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora and she accepts, as the two see their union an opportunity to unite the Moors with the oft-hostile human Kingdom of Ulstead that borders it.
While Maleficent is openly against their marriage due to her past experience with humans, she reluctantly agrees to visit the castle in Ulstead, to dine with Aurora’s future in-laws, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). But with the treatment she is meted out, she is forced to unleash her wrath, with evening ending with the King in a cursed slumber.
Disappointed that Aurora decided to blame her and choose to stick by Phillip’s side, Maleficent leaves with her trusted ally, Diaval (Sam Riley), but is shot down while attempting to do so. Saved by a hidden tribe of her people, led by a peacemaker, the compassionate Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a battle–hungry, upstart Bora (Ed Skrein), Maleficent decides to take on Ingrith, who has been secretly plotting an elaborate attack to settle the beef between humans and fairies once and for all.
While the 2014 film took bold strides by adding a kid-friendly spin on the original story while adding feminist tenets, its follow-up feature forgets to do anything nearly as creatively innovative, and instead delivers an infuriatingly dull story that hinges on two women fighting each other.
While Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer have proved themselves to be very capable actresses, here, screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton have concocted them into a thoroughly rote narrative, bestowing each with rickety, uninteresting character arcs that frequently serve to splinter them. The trio are brought together only twice, with neither time making much of an impact.
It also doesn’t help that director Joachim Rønning is more interested in either following a CGI hedgehog named Pinto, or focusing on a wholly unnecessary father-son storyline, or spotlighting a lackluster side quest for supporting players, who just act as noise to pad the run time and distract the youngest members in the audience away from its sluggish story.
We are also introduced to a race of creatures like the Maleficent, expanding the film’s lore, carelessly forcing into the fairy tale myths and legends that only end up confusing and confound.
The film is without a doubt absent of the emotional stakes of the first film, which were rooted in a terrible injustice and the unlikely bond between Maleficent and the cursed princess she comes to adore. Their love was true enough to break the curse in the first film, and yet all that character work is disassembled only for them to reform their bond once more. Maleficent once again has to discover within herself that shred of kindness that makes her more than the feared villain, and Aurora once again has to affirm her belief that Maleficent truly is a good person as well.
There’s a good angle here about the destructive potential of myth, tied to the stories that unfairly poison Maleficent in the human world, but she goes missing for long stretches of the film as Ingrith does her scheming. Yes, Ingrith is the real mistress of evil in this tale, and it’s revealed that she spread the legend about Maleficent being the mastermind behind Aurora’s curse to whip up fear against her all along, and for some reason the fact that Maleficent did curse Aurora is somehow less significant that the propaganda around that fact.
As one would expect, the action sequences in the sequel are grand and expansive. Like most big-budget high fantasy projects these days, it seems more than a little derivative of Game of Thrones, but the big battle scenes are dynamic and lively. The contrast between the leaden formality of the human world and the flowery overgrowth of the Moors also make for a striking visual palette, as well as a theme about mankind’s tendency to ravage the natural world.
While the visuals are often mesmerizing and transporting, the film does lean very heavily on computer-generated imagery. This is expected of a fantasy adventure film, but some of the characters do seem unnatural. For example, the Fairy Godmothers Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) who return from the first film, have their almost-human facial features sometimes cross over into the dreaded uncanny valley.
Much of the film works because of Angelina Jolie as she continues to be all sharp-cheekboned perfection as the titular anti-heroine. Not only does she gets numerous fabulous costume changes, but she still appears to relish the role. Casting her opposite Michelle Pfeiffer was an inspired move, as we all have come to see by now, Ms. Pfeiffer is an absolute hoot. Elle Fanning has been building her profile in smaller budgeted films for a couple of years now, with strong acts, however here, unlike the first film, she seems lost.
Sam Riley, continues to enjoy himself, in probably the most likable member of the cast. Harris Dickinson, who has replaced Brenton Thwaites doesn’t get much to do here, while newer additions, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jenn Murray, Ed Skrein and Robert Lindsay are also wasted. On the whole, ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil‘ is a watchable yet stumbling sequel, which never reaches the heights of its predecessor.
Directed – Joachim Rønning
Rated – PG
Run Time – 118 minutes