Unlike the redundant ‘live-action’ updates of Cinderella and The Lion King, 2014’s Maleficent saw Disney take one of their existing properties, Sleeping Beauty, and deliver a fresh take that cleverly played with the themes bubbling under the surface of that classic fairy tale. Maleficent, formerly a one-dimensional villain, was put front and center in a movie that explored such ideas as nature vs nurture, the futility of revenge, and whether or not true love really exists. Most surprisingly of all, it served as a potent allegory for how victims of sexual abuse are often shunned by society. But importantly, it never took its eye off the fact that it was primarily a fantasy romp aimed at children.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a cynical sequel that discards everything that made its predecessor work. At the conclusion of the first movie, Maleficent was no longer positioned as a villain, a stumbling block this sequel gets out of the way with a condescending voice-over that essentially tells us the writers couldn’t come up with a clever way of getting around this so you’re just going to have to indulge their lack of imagination. It’s the first sign that this is a movie nobody really wanted to make, but the 2014 movie made so much money that everyone was contractually obliged to deliver a sequel.
The bare-bones plot borrows heavily from the sixth Star Trek movie, as Maleficent’s god-daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) becomes engaged to human prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), much to the disapproval of the latter’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is far from happy with the thought that the union might bring the kingdoms of fairies and humans together. When Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) attends a dinner at her would-be in-laws’ castle, an argument soon breaks out, ending with Maleficent placing a sleeping spell on King John (Robert Lindsay). War threatens to break out between the kingdoms, and Maleficent may have lost Aurora once again.
If Maleficent was an example of Disney at its best, using an existing commercial property to mine thematic coal, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil sees the mouse house at its worst, delivering a lazy, unnecessary cash-in devoid of imagination. Where the first movie had wry humor, excellently played by Jolie in what she instantly made her signature role, Mistress of Evil is a humorless affair, one which seems desperate to capture the Game of Thrones audience. The structure of the film is borrowed from the Star Wars prequels - an hour of people standing on balconies discussing politics, followed by an overblown hour-long battle fought between characters we’ve long stopped caring about. A subplot in which Maleficent stumbles across a hidden race of fairies (some of which sport rainbow wings; a patronizing bone thrown to the queer audience) is straight out of every second installment of those Young Adult trilogies that were forced upon us five years ago.
What’s most disappointing about Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the lack of screen time afforded to Jolie. She’s practically a supporting character in her own movie, as though the actress was being paid by the minute, or perhaps she realized the movie was a dud and it’s a case of damage control. Pfeiffer does her best to inject some life into proceedings but her Queen Ingrith is a one-note villain badly in need of the sort of camp villainy of the likes of Anjelica Huston’s antagonist from The Witches.
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There’s nothing here for the adults in the audience to chew on, and even less to keep the kiddies amused. I can’t imagine the target tween demographic will be drawn in by Mistress of Evil’s political machinations and endless battle scenes, while younger viewers will likely be disturbed by some unnecessarily dark moments, including a misjudged scene that crudely alludes to Nazi gas chambers. Disney cracked a crowd-pleasing formula with Maleficent, but with its sequel, the spell is well and truly broken.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil 1 ½ stars out of 5
Directed by: Joachim Rønning; Starring: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Juno Temple, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, David Gyasi, Chiwetel, Ejiofor, Lesley Manville, Sam Riley