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‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ (review)

Produced by Joe Roth, Angelina Jolie,
Duncan Henderson

Screenplay by Linda Woolverton,
Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue

Story by Linda Woolverton
Based on Characters from Disney’s
Sleeping Beauty La Belle au bois
dormant
by Charles Perrault

Directed by Joachim Rønning
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning,
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein,
Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple,
Lesley Manville, Michelle Pfeiffer

 

In recent years, Disney has done exceptionally well in creating animated films that tackle conversations all the way from feminism and death of a loved one to mental health and alternative family dynamics. However, their live action movies tend to bite off more than they can chew, becoming meandering tales that suffer from lack of focus.

Even with the high camp of Angelina Jolie as the title character, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil cannot overcome this curse.

The story picks up with Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) presiding over the magical forest kingdom of the Moors as its Queen. A dizzying array of CGI creatures flit about constantly but nothing is distinctly memorable. This dainty and precious kingdom is reflective of its ruler, who never fails to be sweet and fawning throughout the entire film.

For all of the work to reinvent the story, it’s a glaring oddity that Aurora has so little empowerment.

We also have a defanged Maleficent to contend with. After Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, the beastly godmother is forced to play nice in order to appease Aurora. The two are invited to the castle by the future in-laws for a decidedly tense dinner party where Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is quick to show her disdain for Maleficent and her fellow fey, while Maleficent must hide her own prejudices. After a disastrous end to the night, she is wounded in the escape and continues to play a weak, uncertain version of herself for far too long. The best parts of the original are her sharpness, ferocity, and displays of power.

Though Jolie gives another captivating performance, it is not enough to make up for a script that clips those glorious wings at every turn. She is either broken or bossy, with no development between the two extremes.

The second powerhouse actress is also light on material. Michelle Pfeiffer was wickedly delicious as a fairy tale villain in Stardust, but in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil she is flattened and false. There is no real depth to her contempt for magical creatures, and the little motive that exists is revealed far too late to be worthy of reason. The film spends a great deal of time on her storyline, but it would have been better spent exploring Maleficent’s crisis of self. Instead, the title misleads us as she seems like a second thought in her own movie.

If the directors had narrowed it down to a handful of themes done well, this would be a welcome sequel to the 2014 original. Instead, we have vague causes with very little backing or explanation that set off major events. When the reason for this much CGI bloodshed is so halfheartedly explained on each side, it makes the climactic end battle seem more like a deadly temper tantrum.

Old and young viewers alike will find themselves fighting a deep slumber to stay engaged with this overly ambitious tale.

 

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