When Maleficent came out in 2014, it had the benefit of being one of the earlier of these new era Disney projects focused on either remaking or retelling old beloved properties. Whilst I didn’t really think much of the film as a whole, I enjoyed the different, comparatively darker approach to the Sleeping Beauty tale, appreciating it more than many of the lacklustre reimaginings we have had to suffer in the proceeding years like Beauty And The Beast, Dumbo, even The Lion King. Of course, whenever there is financial success, there is a sequel, so here we are five years later with Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil.
The film returns audiences to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairytale universe, as Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) and Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) declare their love for each other and become engaged. The only snag? The disapproval of her adoptive guardian Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and the frosty relationship she has with Phillips royal parents (played Robert Lindsay and Michelle Pfeiffer). In many ways, that film would have been more successful operating on this micro, magically enhanced family melodrama, but its insistence on growing the mythology and and raising the stakes of this world result in it, quite frankly, being an out and out mess.
To be honest, the more I think about Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil, the more flaws I can identify. This is not a film that is going to be rewarding on the second, third, fourth watch, it is barely rewarding on the first. For what is for all intents and purposes a children’s movie, the narrative very quickly takes the shape of a supremacist dictator starting a race war. Not necessarily a metaphor young viewers will pick up on, but at the same time also not a particularly enjoyable thing to watch in any kind of magically disguised form.
For a picture under two hours in length, it feels incredibly elongated, with a middle third that does more than just test one’s patience. It’s been a long time since I felt myself dropping off in the cinema. Perhaps most detrimentally, and despite being having her name in the title, the character of Maleficent is very absent for large portions of the story. For someone like me who saw Jolie as one of the only positive points in the original, this move away from the protagonist certainly did nothing to engage me further.
There is a lot of lazy filmmaking on show from start to finish, from unexplained plot elements to groan worthy shortcuts and character actions that either have zero impact or are immediately undone by simple hand wavy ‘magic’. Not to mention, a few potentially poignant character moments that were so severely underplayed that I assumed they would be referenced later, never to be mentioned again. Some really bizarre stuff going on all round.
Reaching for positives, I will say that the colours were beautiful when on full show, though not enough for my liking, the film seems very deliberately dark, perhaps to evoke a tone that the narrative wasn’t achieving on its own. That has to be counterbalanced, however, with a complaint that the CGI, whilst pretty, feels extremely weightless in key moments. Come on Disney, you can do better than this.
Once again, Angelina Jolie reminds us all that she is perfectly cast as this sometimes soft, sometimes hard version of Maleficent. There is something super fun about seeing her vamp it up, all British accent and cheekbones and resting bitch (or witch?) face. Sadly, though, she feel super underused, detached from the main action on her own kind of side quest that, whilst some might see as a highlight, I found to be one of the main culprits for the boring middle third of the film.
Elle Fanning steps up her game compared to five years go, a perfectly serviceable and aesthetically pleasing Aurora, albeit with nothing much interesting to say thanks to a mundane script. It’s always a pleasure to see Michelle Pfeiffer in anything, and she’s clearly having a fun time as the evil Queen Ingrith. The film misses a trick not having Jolie and Pfeiffer spending more antagonistic time together on screen, that would have been something that at least felt rich and of value. A real missed opportunity.
And overall, that’s exactly what I would describe Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil as, a complete missed opportunity. The foundations from the 2014 original were solid enough, the combination of Jolie, Fanning and Pfeiffer would be welcomed on any project, and the possibilities for further adventure in this universe were bountiful and interesting. Sadly, it transpires that the powers that be managed to sidestep all of the interesting ideas in favour of some weird, big battle, Lord Of The Rings light style story that does absolutely nothing to impress. I can count on one hand all and any of the things that I even partially enjoyed, and I think we can all agree that just isn’t enough.