Movie Review: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' a Noisy, Sloppy Mess
Angelina Jolie far too absent as title character in 'Maleficent' sequel.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a bizarre misfire. Disney spent nearly $200 million dollars on this sequel, and while all of that is definitely on the screen in opulent production design, costume, and high level CGI, the story is absent and the narrative is bizarrely inert. Much like another over-priced Disney sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, story and character are secondary to lavish but empty visual spectacle.
We pick up the sequel to Maleficent with Queen Aurora (Elle Fanning), the former Sleeping Beauty, reigning as Queen of the Moors. Aurora is overseeing a grand meeting of fairies, nymphs and other magical creatures when one of her favorite little creatures steals her crown. They roll around and chase and the Queen gets dumped in a lake before the reveal that this is a plot.
Aurora is led into a lovely corner of forest, hemmed in by a strange and beautiful tree where Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, taking over for an absent Brenton Thwaites) is waiting for her. The Prince has chosen this moment, with the help of Aurora's fairy aunts, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville, to ask Aurora to marry him.
Aurora agrees but fears telling Maleficent who remains wary of both humans and love. Maleficent opposes the marriage and her antipathy for the idea only grows after she meets the Prince's parents, King John (Robert Lindsey) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). Ingrith holds a barely concealed contempt for Maleficent that eventually boils over during the engagement dinner.
In a scene that reveals the lack of imagination in the script, the King is cursed and sent into a coma and the Queen blames Maleficent. Maleficent, knowing she's not responsible for what happened leaves without trying to tell even Aurora that she's innocent. Why? Because if Maleficent were to say she didn't do it and make plain how she knows she didn't do it and who she knows did do it, there would be no movie.
So, instead of doing what would logically make sense, Maleficent escapes and leaves behind a heartbroken Aurora who now believes her beloved mother-figure is as evil as everyone has always claimed because that is what the plot calls for. Maleficent is then shot by an iron bow by an insignificant character, Gerda played by Jenn Murray, and is believed dead.
Of course, Maleficent is not dead. Instead, the Mistress of Evil is rescued by the random appearance of Connell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a fellow fairy, like Maleficent, but one who doesn't have her magical powers. He rescues Maleficent for unspecified reasons and brings her to a secret Fairy hideout that just sort of exists now after however many years of Maleficent being without a family of fellow fairies.
Why now has this place been revealed? Who knows? What purpose does this reveal serve? It gives Maleficent an army that she doesn't need given her nebulous magical powers which allow her to do pretty much whatever is narratively needed. Ejiofor then is almost immediately dropped from the movie, and for a significant period, so is Maleficent herself.
In a mind boggling and senseless decision, Maleficent, the BEST thing in the movie, by far, and its name character, obviously, spends a solid 20 minutes completely absent from the screen while a rando character, Borra (Ed Skrein), a fellow fairy, eager for war against humans, leads an attack on Queen Ingrith's forces. I won't describe the plot any further for those concerned about spoilers.
Angelina Jolie is the one good thing in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Maleficent is the only character in the movie that is playing for laughs and bringing a light heart to the proceedings. This is a fairy tale after all, it shouldn't be a dirge. Jolie plays Maleficent straight, she's not standing aside and laughing at the narrative but she's not at all self-serious and the rest of the cast is sorely lacking her whimsy.
Elle Fanning is lovely, but her performance her is wooden and dry. Aurora and her relationship to Prince Philip is the dramatic crux of the story, but I didn't buy their romance for a moment. Harris Dickinson, who replaced Brenton Thwaites for unknown reasons, is a blank slate and his chemistry with Fanning is almost non-existent, as if they secretly realize that their relationship is merely a plot catalyst.
Michelle Pfeiffer as Queen Ingrith is playing high camp minus the fun. Pfeiffer is chewing the scenery with lots of showy line readings but she needed to be even more over the top for this role to work. The movie restrains Pfeiffer for unknown reasons from going full blown over the top much to the detriment of the character and the movie.
If the Queen is going to be a mad tyrant then let her go mad. Give her some wacky scenes where she does comically evil things for no other reason than because she's evil. Pfeiffer appears ready to go to those extremes but those scenes are absent from the movie and the lack of fun renders her campy yet bland. She's still a drama queen but lacking the playfulness of a great Disney villain. The role is charmless, much like the whole of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
I vaguely remember liking the original Maleficent in 2014 but the memory doesn't linger. I remember hating Sharlto Copley but that is a long standing hatred and nothing really related to his role as Maleficent's big bad. I recall being charmed by Jolie and by Sam Riley as Diaval, who is maybe the other good thing about this sequel, though he's also limited by Jolie's shocking absence from the story, but beyond that, I struggle to remember the original.
Sadly, I will probably remember Maleficent: Mistress of Evil more than the original because I dislike it so much. Mistress of Evil is sloppy, over the top and misguided. The production is handsome, the costumes are immaculate but it's an empty shell of a movie. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is an extravagant bad movie, an expensive misfire that is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It's memorable for poor choices such as sidelining its star, casting Chiwetel Ejiofor for no good reason, and restraining Michelle Pfeiffer in a role that calls for screaming, ranting, frothing, camp.