Synopsis: Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and dark new forces at play.
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harris Dickinson, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Robert Lindsay
Director: Joachim Rønning
Running Length: 118 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: The spindles of the spinning wheels were poised and ready to strike when Maleficent was released in 2014 to much fanfare. How would ardent fans of the classic Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty react to a live-action retelling of the genesis of the evil fairy that cursed the snoozing princess? Crafting a backstory for the dark fairy that softened her up a bit but still let her sinister side through, the film was saturated with CGI and not all of it looked great. While it added it’s own twist to the fairy tale, it still felt tied to the source material and lifted large portions of dialogue from the 1959 animated film. The result was a box-office winner that satisfied but didn’t exactly inspire – there was simply too large a shadow looming over it.
Five years later Maleficent is back and this time she’s free from being moved through the paces recounting a story we already know the end of and more’s the better in my opinion. While it still relies far too much on CGI (though in a make-believe kingdom stuffed with elves, sprites, and other woodland creations what did you expect?) it’s a more engaging story than the first. I won’t say the stakes are exactly higher in the sequel but future happiness for more than just Princess Aurora (now Queen of the Moors Aurora) is on the line. The biggest improvement is that screenwriters Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast), Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Noah Harpster give star Angelina Jolie a worthy opponent in another high cheekbone-d A-lister.
Living in their happily ever after bliss, Aurora (Elle Fanning, The Neon Demon) and Philip (Harris Dickinson) decide to make it official and get married, much to the dismay of Maleficent (Jolie, Kung Fu Panda 2) who still feels the sting of scorned love and wishes to keep her goddaughter close to her. Pledging to keep Aurora happy, Maleficent agrees to meet Philip’s parents for a dinner at their castle but doesn’t make a great first impression, living up to her reputation as a temperamental guest. When the King (Robert Lindsay) falls under a spell before they can have dessert, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!) accuses Maleficent of resorting to her old tricks to stop the wedding.
Fleeing the castle and Aurora’s suspecting glare, Maleficent is injured and taken in by a horde of Dark Feys, winged creatures like her that possess many of her same powers. Even without her godmother by her side, Aurora moves forward with her wedding to Philip, unknowingly entering into dangerous territory with Ingrith who has a dark agenda planned for her future daughter-in-law and the land she reigns over. As a war brews between the human kingdom and the Moor forces, a power struggle emerges between Ingrith and Maleficent that will alter the fate of many of our favorite characters.
What’s surprising to note in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is how much time Jolie is absent from the film. It’s not a significant amount of time but there are large stretches when you’ll likely miss her presence because she lends the film (as she did in the first) a certain winking fun. When she’s not onscreen, the action starts to feel a little melodramatic and silly and even Pfeiffer isn’t immune to some over-the-top bits of camp. Still, Pfeiffer doesn’t often get to play the heavy like she does here and she looks like she’s having a grand time in her gorgeous costumes by Ellen Mirojnick (The Greatest Showman). The sparring between Pfeiffer and Jolie is a bit restrained (even the ladies in Downton Abbey got a few more snide jabs in) but they are both strong forces that have a commanding onscreen presence. Often, the screen is definitely not big enough for the two of them.
While the CGI is still plentiful, it’s smoother looking than the first film so not quite as cartoony this time around. I enjoyed the aerial views of the two kingdoms resting next to one another and the various creature creations the artists have dreamed up. I could have done without two gibberish speaking nymphs that get trapped in a dungeon by a fallen pixie (Warwick Davis, Solo: A Star Wars Story) but as a whole the variety of flora and fauna were a wonder to behold. Director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) keeps the movie going full steam ahead, even if it does clock in longer than it should running nearly two hours. There’s perhaps a bit too much time spent with the Dark Feys Borra (Ed Skrein, Alita: Battle Angel) and Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Lion King) without giving them more backstory but its in service to getting back to the main action with Maleficent and Ingrith.
While I still find Fanning to be lacking in the total package for a next generation leading lady, she’s improving and shows it here with a more balanced take on a princess coming into her own. Paired with the cardboard-ish Dickinson, she doesn’t let the script put her into a damsel in distress box and gamely takes action in the super-sized finale. There’s one line near the end that’s terribly misogynistic that I’ve been stuck over for the last few days and it’s almost enough for me to knock the film a whole star down. I’ve decided in the end I’m giving it a slight pass seeing the resolution to another storyline that could have gone wrong handled in an unexpected way.
Pairing nicely with the original movie, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil didn’t have a huge hurdle to overcome in living up to its predecessor. I think it will please fans of the first film and, like me, might serve as an improvement over what came before. It goes to show you how getting the right combination of people together is worth taking the time for, had this sequel been turned out quickly after Maleficent came out in 2014 it might not have been as polished as this follow-up is.