Maleficent: Mistress of Evil expands the world of Disney's retelling with high fantasy action, but suffers from a weak plot and thin characters.
In Disney's quest to remake its animated properties in live-action, 2014's Maleficent was one of the studio's first, taking the classic Sleeping Beauty tale and putting a new spin on it by making the villain the protagonist. Angelina Jolie starred as the titular misunderstood Dark Fae who not only put a sleeping curse on the princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), but awoke her as well. Now, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues the storyline of Jolie's fairy and the princess - who's now queen of the Moors - as they encounter more Dark Fae and the hatred certain humans have for the fae. Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) takes on directing duties for the sequel, which has a script by Maleficent screenwriter Linda Woolverton and the duo behind A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil expands the world of Disney's retelling with high fantasy action, but suffers from a weak plot and thin characters.
Mistress of Evil picks up five years following the events of Maleficent, with Aurora happily ruling the Moors as its queen. However, when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) asks Aurora to marry him, a chain of events is set into motion that will change the lives of everyone closest to them and their entire kingdoms. Phillip's parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), invite Aurora and Maleficent to dinner, but things take a turn for the worse when Maleficent loses her temper and forbids the marriage. Maleficent flees and takes refuge with other fairies like her, learning from Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that the Dark Fae are in hiding from the humans and some, like Borra (Ed Skrein), would have them wage war on the humans. With Queen Ingrith similarly stoking the flames of war among the humans, fae and humankind are barreling toward an epic battle, and it remains to be seen if Aurora and Maleficent will be able to stop it - or if they'll take sides.
Like Maleficent before it, the world of Mistress of Evil is beautifully realized, with lush landscapes and interesting creatures brought to life in the Moors. That said, Mistress of Evil looks better when its characters are in a static environment or when using practical effects to bring its fairy creatures to life. Some of the CGI characters - particularly the pixies Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) - wind up looking more awkward and shoddy than fantastical. Still, since many of the Dark Fae are brought to life with makeup and costuming, they present an imposing new faction of fantasy creatures to make Mistress of Evil even more striking. Though their history and culture isn't as well developed as it could be, the Dark Fae do provide a compelling expansion of the Maleficent world.
As for the actors themselves, they're not given much to work with in terms of their characters' arcs, with very little development of the main characters beyond basic motivations. Jolie is fine as the formidable fairy, though she does shine when working opposite Sam Riley's Diaval, especially when she's attempting to mimic human customs and politeness. Aurora is given a great deal of agency in Mistress of Evil and Fanning works to portray her as a dynamic character, while Pfeiffer has some fun with the campiness of her Queen Ingrith. Dickinson, who takes on the Prince Phillip role from Brenton Thwaites in Maleficent, is perfectly charming, brave and kind - and not altogether useless. Ejiofor and Skrein are serviceable at preaching their characters' respective views about war with the humans. Despite an all-star cast, though, the Maleficent: Mistress of Evil script is too thin for the stars to bring much depth to their one-note characters.
Altogether, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a resplendent return to the world of Disney's live-action Sleeping Beauty retelling, continuing the first film's themes and giving its female characters as much - if not more - agency than the typically male heroes of fairy tales. The story isn't very strong, but the writers do manage to include themes of xenophobia that are undoubtedly relevant today, and though those themes aren't handled with a deft hand, they are easily understandable to the children in the audience. Because, of course, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is meant to be a film for children and their families, and it will no doubt succeed in entertaining young audiences all the way through.
As such, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is fun for the whole family, if perhaps a little overlong for more adult viewers. The third act especially drags as director Rønning goes all in on CGI spectacle and lets the characters fall by the wayside - though that may make it worth a viewing in IMAX if viewers are so inclined. And, since Mistress of Evil goes beyond the Sleeping Beauty story, it's forging its own fairy tale path, though it's nowhere near as strong as the classic story. Ultimately Maleficent: Mistress of Evil attempts to make up for its lack of character development and strong plot with CGI spectacle, which will only win over those that can forgive the movie's missteps for the lush, high fantasy action.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 118 minutes long and rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images.
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- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019