Directed by Joachim Rønning
Starring Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elle Fanning
It seems Disney’s fairy-tale revisionism has painted one of its most iconic villains into a corner: At the end of 2014’s Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s black-horned, Cubist-cheekboned sorceress had not only turned away from her spurned-lover vengeance rampage, but even become a mother in the process. Which is why the writers of the ill-advised, misleadingly titled sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, had to scramble to find a way to get the title character back into the bad graces of humankind. Their solution? Fake news.
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Whether Mistress of Evil becomes a metaphor for the current political climate remains to be seen. What is readily apparent, though, is that the idea of Maleficent being cast once more as the villain because of misinformation is the first of two lazy plot machinations to get the film where it needs to be at the start. Maleficent’s human charge, erstwhile princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), is now assigned with running the day-to-day of the Moors, the magical realm of animate trees and humanoid insects just outside the human kingdom of Alstead.
Complications arise when Alstead king-apparent Prince Philip (Beach Rats hunk Harris Dickinson, subbing for Australian hunk Brenton Thwaites from the first movie) asks for Aurora’s hand in marriage, sending his father King John (Robert Lindsay) and his mother Queen Ingrith (the always-welcome if not consistently utilized Michelle Pfeiffer) at loggerheads. King John wants peace with the fairies; Queen Ingrith believes they’re a threat that must be stamped out. An uneasy mix of Meet the Parents and Game of Thrones ensues.
The biggest disservice the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton do to Maleficent is not finding a way to make her the antihero of her own story. At least in the first movie, Jolie was handed the challenge of working on some dark impulses and making the audience understand why she had to follow them. Here, she is reduced not only to the misunderstood but genuinely good-hearted monster who is accused of doing some dastardly deeds (which, of course, the manipulative and media-ready Queen Ingrith is responsible for), but a mid-movie development has her being rescued by a race of winged creatures whose physical resemblance to her implies that she is one of them. So now, not only is Maleficent neutered, the sequel also makes her generic.
Queen Ingrith is determined to start a war that will obliterate all of fairykind, and she has come upon the idea of mixing iron (which fairies are allergic to—the other lazy, Kryptonite plot device which the writers are guilty of indulging in) and a toxin from a flower that grows upon the graves of fairies to use as a weapon. This sets up one of those third-act battle spectacles that have become a requirement for multimillion-budgeted tentpoles like these.
Truth be told, Norwegian director Joachim Rønning and his small army of visual effects designers seem duty-bound to fill the plot’s deficiencies with such eye-popping vistas and displays that they actually have the opposite effect—instead of stimulating the eye to explore, they send your brain into a stupor. One thing that wowed me? Ellen Mirojnick’s catwalk-ready gowns for Angelina Jolie’s “dark fey”: Whether wrapped in a lace-and-crow-patterned bodice or swathed in a flowing black-segueing-to-ivory nightgown, the Emmy-winning Mirojnick makes sure that Maleficent’s wardrobe is always up to point. It makes you wonder what this sequel could have been had it been as sharp as Jolie’s costumes...or even her cheekbones.
Photographs from Disney Enterprises, Inc.