Review: Story Gives Way to Spectacle in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
It’s difficult to believe that five years have passed since Maleficent came into our lives and set the record straight on just how the Sleeping Beauty legend really played out, thus giving Disney the excuse to cast Angelina Jolie as a slinky sorceress or whatever Maleficent is supposed to be. But now that we’ve made our way through this alternative look at the beloved story, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil brings us an entirely new tale of warring kingdoms, a wedding, an unexpected enemy (but not really that unexpected), and the young Aurora (Elle Fanning) caught between the world of the humans and that of the fairies, that one run by her loving godmother (who just happens to be the realm’s most feared entity).
A few points to start with: Mistress of Evil is a beautiful-looking movie. I’m sure it cost a small fortune, but every penny is on the screen, and even when I was bored by the subpar fantasy storyline, the visuals kept me engaged. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I was looking at when the three fairy sisters (played by Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville) show up. But the dozens of other woodland creatures continue to be a treat for the eyes. Also, even more so than the first film, Maleficent is downright sexy, a point made abundantly clear by Jolie, as she cycles through more costume changes than Cher in Vegas. And these are not buttoned-up, dignified outfits; it’s more like someone went shopping in the “Sexy Maleficent” costume aisle at a pop-up Halloween store. I’m in no way complaining, but parents should be aware that their children (male or female) may go through puberty during the movie.
The story of Mistress of Evil feels arbitrary. Prince Philip (now played by Harris Dickinson) has decided he wants to marry Aurora. Maleficent is against the idea, but her love for her goddaughter is strong enough to convince her to give Philip, his parents, and humans in general a chance to prove themselves allies of her realm. When Philip’s parents, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) and King John (Robert Lindsay) invite Aurora and Maleficent to dinner to celebrate the engagement, Ingrith baits Maleficent into losing her cool, and after an explosive scuffle, the King is in a coma-like state and Ingrith is blaming Maleficent for his condition, forcing her to flee the realm entirely in a wounded state after being taken down by an iron arrow and left for dead. She is discovered by a winged, horned creature such as herself (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and she quickly learns that an entire civilization of such creatures exists, hidden from human view.
All roads lead to a massive battle between these two worlds, fueled by misinformation spread by Ingrith about the threat these fantastical creatures pose to humans; she happens to have a hidden lab under the castle devoted to creating a chemical weapon that is only deadly to fairy creatures, and she wants them all dead. Yes, this is a children’s story about genocide.
Directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Mistress of Evil’s greatest crime is that it gets so lost in its fantasy elements that it forgets to create engaging characters or a story that generates any real drama. If you can’t squeeze drama out of a genocidal tale, you have issues.
Considering how little I actually remember about the first film, I do recall that one of its strengths is that Jolie and Fanning had an interesting dynamic, which is all but ignored this time around since they share very little screen time. That being said, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the better of the two films, based largely on the creativity and artistry on display and less on some of the basics of good storytelling. I rarely recommend a film solely on the spectacle of it all, but I’m closer with this one than usual; take that for what it’s worth.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!