The first Maleficent film was a huge hit, and with good reason. Featuring good performances from the two leads, an ok script, and pretty good effects, it took something we knew and gave it its own spin. Too much these days, people are taking Disney to task for their live-action films and “mailing them in”. Really what they have done these last few years is start to cater to all audiences, children and adults alike. When I say that, I don’t mean to imply that their animated offerings do not have a little something thrown in for whatever age group may be watching. What I mean is that they saw an opening for a few new ways to appeal to a more mature audience.
Maleficent is the perfect character for such experiments. Take a beloved villain, let her do villainous things, while also also humanizing her just enough so that the essence of who she is can still be found. That was what made that first film so good- it was a story about mothers and daughters, told in a very meaningful way. You completely bought that this evil person could find a spot in her black heart for the relentlessly bubbly Aurora. It helps that Angelina Jolie is perfect in the role, as is Elle Fanning as Aurora.
In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, we pick up with Aurora becoming engaged to Prince Philip (Henry Dickinson), much to the chagrin of Maleficent. At a dinner to celebrate their engagement, we are introduced to King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). The King is happy that the two kingdoms of humans and fairy-folk will soon become one, while the Queen is not to keen about it. She frames Maleficent, accusing her of cursing the King with the same sleeping curse she used on Aurora, and wounds her while she flees. Maleficent awakes after being rescued by an unknown person, only to discover she is not the last of her kind. Meanwhile, the Queen sets a plan in motion to rid the world of the fairy-folk for good and raid their kingdom for resources.
There is a lot packed into these 97 minutes, and especially at the beginning, things seem quite rushed. We go from engagement to Maleficent fleeing in about 20 minutes or so. the film needed to let these new characters breathe a little, instead of just doing the cliche “here is some people, you only need to know one thing about them” style intros. When you are more than halfway into a film and you don’t remember some important characters names that’s a problem. It does not help that the Queen’s evil plan could be undone with maybe ten seconds of dialogue between characters either.
Another problem is how little we SEE Maleficent. There are very long stretches of this film where Jolie is nowhere to be found. When you have such a perfect marriage of actor and role, you should fall over yourself to give it to us as much as possible. Not the case here, as director Joachim Rønninghas decided that less is more. When the film works the best is when Aurora and Maleficent are together onscreen and interacting with one another, and that just doesn’t happen nearly enough. All of the various plots are very simple and fall apart at the slightest thought, until the climax of the film.
Which is where it redeems itself quite well. The huge battle at the end between the Dark Fae and the Queen’s forces is gorgeous. Sweeping shots, plenty of well-choreographed action, and pretty spiffy effects make the last 40 minutes of so fly by. Once again, this is where the relationship between mother and daughter is played back up and Jolie and Fanning take over. Pfeiffer is ok as the Queen, her motivations are quite murky and not well-explained, but she is a dastardly villain. The film stops a little short giving us a satisfying end for her, especially with all of the mayhem she causes. Like, A LOT of people straight up die in this film, it has quite the dark tone. By the end, order is restored of course. We get some very funny moments of Jolie’s Maleficent learning about tone and tact, and all is well in the lands.
Overall, while not as solid as the first film, it is still a good time at the movies. Jolie and Fanning are great again, and that last battle scene is quite fun. We needed way more Maleficent in this one, and surely after audiences flock to see this one over the weekend we will get more in a third film. it would be a welcome one as far as I am concerned. 3 stars out of 5