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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Review

October 18, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios
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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Review  

Directed By: Joachim Rønning
Written By: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton
Runtime: 118 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images

Angelina Jolie – Maleficent
Elle Fanning – Aurora
Harris Dickinson – Prince Philip
Michelle Pfeiffer – Queen Ingrit
Sam Riley – Diaval
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Conall
Ed Skrein – Borra
Robert Lindsay – King John
David Gyasi – Percival
Jenn Murray – Gerda
Juno Temple – Thistlewit
Lesley Manville – Flittle
Imelda Staunton – Knotgrass
Warwick Davis – Lickspittle

Angelina Jolie returns to the role of Maleficent in the new sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Instead of a live-action remake of the Disney animated classic, the 2014 film sought to retell the events of that story, with Maleficent as the misunderstood hero. The 2014 movie was a bore, but it made over $750 million worldwide, so a sequel was arguably inevitable. Mistress of Evil does little to improve upon the last film.

Set about five years after the last film, Aurora (Fanning) still reigns over the Moors, the enchanted kingdom where the supernatural and fairy folk reside. It was still never rightfully explained why Aurora needed to be made queen of the Moors, which went against the message of the original. Her suitor, Prince Philip (Dickinson replaces Brenton Thwaites from the original), proposes marriage, and Aurora accepts his offer, much to Maleficent’s chagrin. As the surrogate parents of Aurora, Prince Philip’s parents, King John (Lindsay) and Queen Ingrit (Pfeiffer), wish to have a “family” dinner to celebrate their children’s union. In other words, there is an awkward meeting of the parents where high jinks ensue.

Unfortunately for the happy couple, Philip’s mother wishes to annihilate the Moors and other fairy folk, and she’s been gathering the arms and conspiring the means to do so. She frames Maleficent for putting a spell of sleep-like death upon King John, and even Aurora believes Maleficent is responsible. Maleficent flees, wounded by the iron projectile shot at her by one of Queen Ingrit’s ruthless servants, Gerda (Murray). She is then saved by another Dark Fae, Conall (Ejiofor), spiriting Maleficent away to an underground nest. This nest serves as the last remaining sanctuary for the Dark Fae race. All of them have been driven underground due to hostility with the humans, and one of their leaders, Borra (Skrein), seeks to fight them in an all-out war to reclaim the surface. The pacifistic Conall wants Maleficent to serve as a leader to reach a peaceful coexistence with the human, which Maleficent is now reluctant to do. With time running out, it appears that the marriage of Aurora and Philip will be nothing more than a red wedding of death and blood.

The main appeal of a live-action Maleficent franchise is to see Jolie portray one of Disney’s most iconic villains. The novelty in the first film wore off rather quickly. Despite her name in the title, Maleficent has very little to do in this film. She’s a fairly passive character, and she does not act on much of what is happening until the very end. Even the revelation that her Dark Fae brethren have not been driven to extinction incites little in the way of emotion.

Sadly, Jolie’s Maleficent is fairly one note. She has some comedic one-liners and gets to act like an overprotective mother of Aurora. It’s never really shown why Maleficent loves Aurora so much in the first place. None of the pizzazz, charisma, or menace that made Maleficent such an interesting character in the first place exists in Mistress of Evil. Even the revelations about Maleficent’s backstory and ancestry lack the punch that they should.

Most of the story focuses on Aurora. Fanning’s performance is fairly flat. It’s a mystery why Aurora even likes Philip since he’s about as interesting as a piece of chalk. It doesn’t even register that the actor for Philip changed between films because the character is so bland and nondescript. Considering their relationship is so important to the story, it’s difficult to root for Aurora’s pairing with the noble Prince.

Both characters are asked multiple times if they love each other. Despite their verbal affirmations of the fact, their physical reactions and chemistry belie that narrative fact. The obvious plot thread to explore is marrying for love or the good of their two kingdoms. Is Aurora marrying Philip to keep the peace between humans and the Moors? Is she sacrificing her happiness for the good of her friends, or can she have both? Mistress of Evil never goes there. People are supposed to believe that Aurora and Philip are madly in love, but their performances are unable to prove this notion.

The film’s one real standout performer is Jenn Murray as Queen Ingrit’s right-hand woman, Gerda. The character is a fairly thankless role, but Murray has an eerie presence and ruthless edge to her that’s compelling. That is more than can be said for the rest of the characters in the film.

Ejiofor’s Conall has hints of an interesting character, and he’s a very talented actor, but his role is fairly marginal. Warwick Davis appears under a lot of makeup as Queen Ingrit’s weapons maker, Lickspittle. His character has a dramatic turn that could have used greater buildup.

The annoying pixies from the original, Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit, are back. They are the live-action versions of the animated classic’s Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Apparently, they were allowed to return to the Moors even though they basically betrayed Maleficent and associated with King Stefan in the first film. Yet again, it’s a plot issue that is never addressed. The first movie showed that they were actually brain-dead and were absolutely inept when it came to raising and protecting Aurora, so Maleficent and Diaval stepped in to help. This time, the pixies are inept comedic sidekicks, and they still aren’t funny.

Joachim Rønning tries to stage some large-scale setpieces, but they lack a certain emotional impact. The big reveal of the Dark Fae sanctuary looks like it was ripped straight out of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The narrative meanders since the focus keeps shifting back to Aurora, and she’s treated as more of a protagonist than Maleficent for the story.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a sequel that did not need to happen because the first movie was not an experience that justified a follow-up in the first place. It’s a fairly flat and boring fantasy adventure.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
Much like the original, there's very little charm and excitement to be found in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. While Jolie looks impressive in her full Maleficent costume, there is little reason to watch the film outside of that. More screentime is given to the Aurora and Philip romance, even though the actors lack any real chemistry or spark. If the writers and producers of Maleficent wanted a story where one of the greatest Disney villains is supposed to be a misunderstood hero, they did a bad job in that regard.