Dan's Review: "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" a big mess, but better than expected
Oct 19, 2019 09:41AM
By Dan Metcalf
Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil - © 2019 Disney.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Disney)
Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Harris Dickinson, Robert Lindsay, Warwick Davis, Jenn Murray, David Gyasi, Judith Shekoni, John Carew, Freddie Wise.
Written by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, based on characters from Disney's Sleeping Beauty and 'La Belle au bois dormant" by Charles Perrault.
Directed by Joachim Rønning.
Evil, Schmevil. It’s all relative, especially when there’s money to be made. This is purely evident with Disney’s proclivity to recycle all of its content, especially the classic stuff, like Sleeping Beauty. 2014’s Maleficent sought to crash all narratives of Disney’s 1959 animated masterpiece, going so far as to render the castle in the company’s logo as a palace of evil. Since Disney doesn’t how to quit (especially when their reimagined content makes boatloads of cash), we get a sequel like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
Angelina Jolie is back as the sorceress Maleficent, who (by some misunderstanding) was not really the bitter summoner of hellfire as we were led to believe in the popular fairy tale, but the victim of an ambitious, cruel king; a protector of “the Moors,” (the fairy woods) and sweet (albeit ill-tempered) godmother to Queen Aurora (Elle Fanning). As we rejoin the ladies, Aurora accepts Prince Phillip’s (Harris Dickinson) marriage proposal that will unite the Moors with King John (Robert Lindsay) and wife, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who does not approve of the merger. In fact, Ingrith is working to pilfer magic creatures and plants from the Moors, intent on weaponizing their magical powers by binding them with iron (which is deadly to fairies). After an engagement party at John and Ingrith’s castle, the king suddenly collapses, apparently due to the same sleeping curse used in the original tale. Ingrith calls the guards to arrest Maleficent, but she escapes. During her getaway, one of Ingrith’s guards wounds Maleficent, who falls into the ocean. Before drowning, Maleficent is rescued by Conal (Chiwetel Ejifor), the de facto leader of the “fey,” a race of horned, winged beings banished to a hidden underground world. After saving Maleficent, some of the fey hopes she will lead them to war against the humans, hoping to regain their lost lands and status. Since Maleficent is directly descended from a phoenix, she possesses great magical powers. Borra (Ed Skrein), one of the more angry fey leaders goads Maleficent to strike back, while Conal takes a more pacifistic stance. Meanwhile, back in the human world, Ingrith plots to wipe out all the fairies on the wedding day, while preparing to battle the fey, using a deadly combination of iron mixed with fairy magic. As the battle rages on, sacrifices are made and heroes emerge as humans and fey learn the truth behind Ingrith’s treachery.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a mixed bag of problematic cinema. On the one hand, it’s better than its live-action predecessor, having a more epic scale and fast-paced action. Once you divorce yourself from the 1959 animated classic, you can feel more empathy for the main characters and become invested in their outcomes. Jolie never breaks character as the good-hearted but snarky sorceress, but that’s still not the nature of the original character, an evil woman who curses a princess, imprisons her lover, and turns into a killer dragon (sorry kids, it was all a lie). Jolie’s performance is better this time around, offering up some hidden vulnerability as well. On the other hand, the movie is a grandiose mess, with cartoonish characters like Pfeiffer’s evil queen, a one-dimensional villain who poses and sneers like some B-movie heavy. The rest of the cast is consumed by all the conspicuous green screen special effects, which feel less than authentic, even if visually impressive. The troubled relationship between the real actors and the special effects is no more apparent than in the scenes involving Aurora’s three pixie caregivers Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple), and Flittle (Lesley Manville) – for those who may have had their memories molested by the Disney machine, these were once the sweet ladies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. The new fairies are obviously animated bodies with the human actors’ faces superimposed on them. Like the rest of the film, these characters don’t seem real.
Another inauthentic problem for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the heavy-handed moralistic messaging of the movie, which can be summed up simply as “can’t we all just get along?” The resolution between Maleficent’s people, the fairies and the humans is altogether abrupt, lacking any nuance or smart development. This manner of messaging might work for little kids who revel in fantasy, but for adults with real-world experience, we know better: life isn’t like a Disney movie, and people who have watched their loved ones die in battle don’t suddenly stop fighting and have a “bro hug” with the enemy.
Even with all the reimagined Disney clumsiness, slippery morals, and technical mess, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is slightly enjoyable as an escape from the real world and shouldn’t cause any harm to families who see it. If you’re a Sleeping Beauty purist, well…let’s just say it’s plausible to compartmentalize both worlds into separate castles and leave it at that.
"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" Trailer