Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Review
It's still an unexpected but pleasant surprise to have Angelina Jolie's Maleficent back, but Mistress of Evil muddles a decent enough premise and loses some of its dark magic along the way.Disney may be stuck in the blow-by-blow retread cycle now, but there was a time when they were a little more adventurous with their live action remakes, with 2013's Maleficent proving just how much meat you could get off the bare bones of the tale of Sleeping Beauty and her ostensible nemesis, the dark witch, Maleficent. Repositioning the now so-called Mistress of Evil as the veritable protagonist of the tale was a stroke of daring genius, even more so when you consider that the basic plot structure for her anti-hero character was that of rape-revenge; falling foul to an evil human who left her mutilated, only to take her revenge on the man's future child, and ultimately - realising that she herself loved the child - on the man himself. It was cathartic, and surprisingly powerful, driven by a fearless performance from Angelina Jolie, making up for the somewhat lacklustre presence of the fairy tale's ostensible heroine, Elle Fanning's Aurora.
Mistress of Evil goes wayward with an unnecessary subplot that convolutes a story that could have been straightforwardSix long years later and we get a sequel that nobody really expected, seeing the primary cast members returning - Jolie and (unfortunately) Fanning - and added to by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Unfortunately, Fanning's prince would undergo an acting change in a shift from Brenton Thwaites (who's undoubtedly busy cleaning up the streets as a very angry Robin in the excellent Titans) to the utterly bland Harris Dickinson.
With a plot that sees Aurora's potential future step-mom essentially orchestrating a scheme to push Maleficent back into being the villain everybody assumes she should be - by framing her - as well as trigger a war between the humans and non-humans who live in the Moor, Mistress of Evil has some nice war/terrorist analogies to play with, and a few inspired moments - and it's always a joy to see Jolie back, front and centre - but it goes wayward with an arguably unnecessary subplot that sucks up too much runtime and convolutes a story that could have otherwise been blissfully straightforward.
Mistress of Evil has some nice ideas in it - the church lockdown is terrifying genius, like a scene out of Homeland or Jack Ryan - and its initial clash of the titans between Jolie and Pfeiffer is electric, making you wish these two could have shared more than just a single memorable sparring scene together. Indeed, both command the screen, and almost everything with either is strong, even when the plot strands start to rip. But Fanning's Aurora is bland as all hell, made worse by a somewhat impossibly even more bland prince for her to marry. Where was the Fanning from Refn's The Neon Demon? She'd have eaten Aurora for breakfast.
The entire subplot with an angry Ed Skrein and a philosophical Chiwetel Ejiofor is unbelievably hackneyed, and adds very little in the process, other than literal cannon fodder to the later large scale battles (which are, visually, impressive, but don't always have the impact that they were clearly going for). Really the story needed to stay on-point and keep Maleficent in focus, and it was perhaps ill-advised to leave this in the hands of a first-time director, even with the mighty hand of Disney working hard in the background to keep everything on track.
It was ill-advised to leave this in the hands of a first-time director, even with Disney in the background to keep everything on track
Despite palpable shortcomings - and the lack of a thematically defining score doesn't help either, with James Newton Howard sorely missed - there's still much to enjoy here, mostly thanks to Jolie, who is still utterly stunning, particularly when she literally lets her hair down. Terrorism moments work, and battle sequences feel pretty epic (even if strangely inconsequential). Pfeiffer is on form - perhaps a little too one-note in her villainy, but still a joy to watch going toe-to-toe with Jolie, and the two remind you of the long road Fanning has ahead before she can even begin to think about joining the Big League. If they wanted to come up with a sequel for a film which nobody was really asking for a sequel to, they should have really nailed something spectacular, but entertaining is enough. And Jolie? More than enough.
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