Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Go beyond the fairy tale.

Back in 2014 when Disney’s live-action remakes weren’t so commonplace, Maleficent felt like a fresh flick. Re-telling the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the evil sorceress, Maleficent hit all the right notes. The Mouse House used the film to rework the villainess into an anti-hero of sorts, re-jigging the reasons as to why Princess Aurora was pricked by the spinning wheel that put her to sleep. Disney struck gold with the casting of Angelina Jolie as the intimidating fairy godmother Maleficent, the winged queen of the Moors. Her prosthetic cheekbones, and eccentric wardrobe became synonymous with the character. I guess the film made a fair bit of money, too, around $758 million, give or take.

A few years later and we’re back with the inevitable sequel subtitled Mistress of Evil, this follow-up giving Jolie another chance to chew dialogue and deliver dramatic stares while donning her signature horns and feathered black gowns, but there’s less meat on the narrative bones.

The Music of Razors

The story picks up five years after the events of the first film, where Aurora (Elle Fanning) is enjoying her life as the newly appointed queen of the fantastical forest realm of the Moors, alongside her godmother Maleficent. Things kick into gear when the woodsy critters orchestrate a distraction that leads Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, taking over from Brenton Thwaites) to pop the question. This doesn’t go down well for Maleficent, who receives the distressing news while perched on a rocky height overlooking the kingdom — ‘Don’t ruin my morning,’ she scowls to her shape-shifting right-hand man Diaval (Sam Riley).

Afraid of letting her treasured goddaughter go, Maleficent eventually agrees to play nice, attending a ‘celebratory’ dinner party hosted by Phillip’s folks King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) at their picture-perfect castle across the river; what ensues is an amusing/ awkward Meet the Parents (2000) type sequence that is more redolent of the happily-ever-after satire film series Shrek (2001-10) than a serious Disney IP. Instead of uniting both lands, it turns out that Phillip’s wicked mother intends to secretly use the wedding as a means to stomp out fairylike monsters for good, Pfeiffer’s Ingrith still prejudiced towards the magical populace in the other domain — the parties argue over an ongoing quarrel that’s taking place at the border of both lands.

Over the witch’s cauldron.

Before getting to dessert, Ingrith’s plan takes shape, with King John finding himself under another pesky sleeping spell. Of course, everyone assumes it’s Maleficent. Instinctively, she attempts to flee but is shot down by the kingdom’s defenses crashing into the ocean below. Before drowning, however, Maleficent is rescued by another winged humanoid and flown to a hidden part of the world where other Valkyrie-esque Dark Fey had been living. There she meets Chiwetel Ejiofor’s kind, heroic Conall and Ed Skrein’s vengeful leader Borra. Turns out that Borra has been preparing his ‘brothers and sisters’ for a rebellion against the humans and is convinced that Maleficent might be the key to their victory. The stage is set for a fight to become the prominent species in the land.

Taking the reins from original director Robert Stromberg is Joachim Rønning in his first solo outing post his Espen Sandberg collaborations. As a duo they did a decent job with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in 2017. Here the Norwegian filmmaker adds an Expressionist flavor to the proceedings, chiefly with some of the first-rate visuals. Scenes where an injured Maleficent wanders through her people’s shadowy lair are strikingly gorgeous — the production design by Patrick Tatopoulos of Justice League (2017) is topnotch. Likewise, the flora and fauna which inhabit the VFX-heavy Moors are enchanting enough to distract from the so-so script, which stands as the movie’s biggest bane.

Black Fingernails, Red Wine

Written (both script and story) by returning scribe Linda Woolverton — who shares a screenplay credit with Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue — the tale being told here is pretty run-of-the-mill, focusing on geopolitics and a Lord of the Rings lite style battle between two tribes. Mistress of Evil also dishes out a standard message of intolerance for youngsters. Even so, the middling storyline could have been elevated if the titular character had more to do — especially after she’s wounded and finds herself back with her own kind where she becomes an observer of sorts, Jolie just grinning and glaring for much of the film’s 118-minute runtime.

Still, Angie’s larger than life presence is felt quite strongly as she does a primo job as the feisty Maleficent, and stands as the best part of the film, despite feeling like a secondary player — as you’d expect, she delivers the campy goods whilst looking ravishing in her signature headpiece and gothic attire. Elle Fanning, Super 8 (2011), is passable as the ostensible lead, but she’s less compelling than she was in the previous outing. Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray (2007), does the best she can in her ham-fisted role as Ingrith — the character makes for a pretty weak antagonist if you ask me.

No White Knight

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Doctor Strange (2016), and Ed Skrein, Alita: Battle Angel (2019), look a bit silly in their clunky bird-like prosthetics, while Jenn Murray, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), is silently eerie as Ingrith’s henchwoman Gerda. Finally, Imelda Staunton, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread (2017), and Juno Temple, Horns (2013), reprise their roles as pixies Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit, respectively, the three more like obligatory additions to the ensemble as opposed to essential players in the plot. And oh, look out for a bite-sized role by Warwick Davis, Willow (1988), who appears as a goblin-type scientist named Lickspittle, a character experimenting on creatures (such as living mushrooms and a prickly CG porcupine) for Ingrith in order to craft weapons powerful enough to combat the enchanted forces.

All things considered, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has more than a few bright spots and should satisfy its target demographic even if it never manages to justify its existence beyond the obvious — ya know — to make Disney oodles of extra cash. Why exactly we’re re-visiting this world or these characters is never made clear. Everyone could have easily lived happily ever after at the end of the former film. At least Jolie’s having a great time casting her spell on the screen. For some viewers that might just be magic enough.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is released through Disney Australia