The dizzying CGI opening credits offer the first clue that Maleficent: Mistress of Evil puts the emphasis on the digitally created world over flesh and blood characters and story development. Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted) is back as the titular character, with even more lethal cheekbones than she sported in the 2014 Sleeping Beauty spin-off. It’s a shame the script isn’t as sharp as those cheekbones and instead has taken an everything but the kitchen sink approach to storytelling.
There’s no explanation for the “Mistress of Evil” portion of the title, and little said about what’s really been going on since the end of the 2014 fantasy film. The story picks up with Aurora (Elle Fanning) holding court in the moors, living happily among the fairies and other fantastical creatures who dwell not far from humans.
There’s only an easily navigatable river running between the lands, yet the only person who’s apparently able to step foot on the moors without risk of being strung up by his heels from a tree is Prince Philip. Philip, now played by Harris Dickinson, is still madly in love with Aurora. They’ve been together for five years and not long into this sequel, he finally pops the question. Five years is an awfully long time for a romance in fairy tales, and the reason behind their lengthy courtship’s never explained.
Anyway, Aurora enthusiastically and whole-heartedly commits to the engagement. Maleficent, however, is full of doom and gloom when it comes to the romance between a Prince and her beloved goddaughter.
Maleficent ultimately gives in and supports Aurora’s decision to wed which leads to one of the film’s funniest scenes. Diaval (Sam Riley) attempts to school Maleficent on how to smile in a non-threatening manner and make a little small talk, skills that will be necessary as she’s been invited to dine with the Prince’s parents. Maleficent displays a variety of forced smiles that range from deranged clown to psycho killer levels of intensity. Still, she’s willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to make her goddaughter happy.
Maleficent’s first dinner with King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) goes as horribly wrong as you’d expect. The true Mistress of Evil is the Queen who quickly reveals her real goal is to ignite a war between humans and the fae folk. She wants to expand her kingdom by ridding the moors of the creatures who rightfully dwell there, and this vicious Queen of Mean is willing to slaughter innocents to satisfy her craving for more land and power.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil includes several truly disturbing scenes of the fairy kind being eradicated by the Queen’s soldiers/minions. One scene in particular evokes imagery of the Holocaust’s showers, a puzzling inclusion in a family-friendly movie. That jarring scene and one featuring the desecration of the graves of dead fairies are startling for their inclusion in this PG-rated film.
On the one hand, the 2019 Maleficent sequel is a timely tale of tolerance. On the other hand, it’s a violent and barely kid-friendly story of revenge and lust for power. Those two ideals don’t co-exist well, with the tone flipping about like a fish out of water gasping for breath throughout the 2-hour running time.
Angelina Jolie’s terrific once again as the classic Disney villain who found redemption in the 2014 film only to have it snatched away prior to the events of the 2019 sequel. She’s fearsome yet well-loved by Aurora and the fairy creatures. It’s only humans who have an issue with Maleficent and her kind, not wishing an “other” to live so close to their borders.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s wickedly delicious as Queen Ingrith, the only character in the entire production who feels fully developed and fleshed out. It’s unfortunate there aren’t more interactions between Jolie as Maleficent and the Pfeiffer as the Queen. The few scenes they share hint at a much better film buried under storylines that stole screen time from the two pivotal characters.
Elle Fanning isn’t given much to do other than look sweet which she does well enough. Harris Dickinson, absolutely outstanding in both Beach Rats and FX’s Trust, is wasted as Prince Philip. The chemistry between Fanning and Dickinson is non-existent, and the Prince and Aurora are shockingly boring characters in this sequel.
There’s no doubt Disney will dip back into the Maleficent well again. When they do, fans of the original film can hope the screenwriters return to more intimate storytelling and include more meaningful interactions between Maleficent and Aurora. The mother/daughter bonding moments are sorely missing in this mediocre sequel.
Release Date: Oct 18, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images
Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: Joachim Rønning