Back in 2014, ‘Maleficent’ was one of most anticipated films, back when the Disney remake trend wasn’t the norm and ‘Maleficent’ looked at an exciting twist by showing a behind-the-scenes look at one of the studio's most iconic villains. However, when I saw it - opening night, of course - it quickly became one of my most hated in the Disney live-action canon (although they've outdone themselves trice over this year). It "changed" or "fixed" things from the original ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in a terrible way. Disney was never going to make ‘Maleficent’ a full evil villain, but how they twisted the Mistress of Evil into this loving do-gooder babysitter wasn’t something I needed to see. So when a sequel was greenlit, I wasn’t jumping for joy at the idea - but to my surprise, ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ is an enjoyable fun fantasy film.
Five years have passed since Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, ‘Salt’, ‘Girl, Interrupted’) first cursed the kingdom and changed the relationship between humans and fairies forever. Aurora (Elle Fanning, ‘The Beguiled’, ‘The Neon Demon’) rules over both, but when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites from the first film) proposes to Aurora, his Mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’) has other plans. She plans to use the wedding to start a war between the two, manipulating Aurora’s strong bond with Maleficent to divide the kingdom.
Once again, Jolie just inhabits Maleficent so perfectly; this time she gets to have a bit more fun as the film leans into a more comedic tone. You can just feel the joy and delight she has playing her, and it really draws you into the film. However, Miss Michelle Pfeiffer is the one we need to bowing down to. She isn’t just chewing scenery, she is having a full course meal; she is just having too much fun playing this truly evil character, and there isn’t a scene where she isn’t going balls-to-the-wall insane. Her introductory scene involves her using a crossbow, and it’s just beautiful. When it gets to the third act and all the characters know her evil ways, she gives it her all and its just fantastic.
The sequel also feels grander in scale, not only in terms of new worlds but the action scenes. The big climactic fight between the two worlds at the end is epic and brutal - the death toll is extremely high in this film, the use of magic versus weaponry is great and is a really enjoyable set piece.
There are some negatives. I still hate what they did with Fauna, Flora and Merryweather - here Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton, ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Paddington’), Thistlewit (Juno Temple, ‘Wild Child’, ‘Black Mass’) and Flittle (Lesley Manville, ‘Phantom Thread’, ‘Mr Turner’) - they have just made them so dumb and annoying. At one point in the film one of them asks, "Well, she isn’t a Sleeping Beauty anymore?" followed by one of another replying, "Oh, I see what you did there", just in case it flew over the audience’s heads because it was so stubble. Luckily, they aren’t in this film a lot, but it’s unfortunate we don’t care about these fairies because they are some sweet things they do in the film’s final scenes.
While nowhere near as visually dark as the first film, there are a few scenes here were you just can’t see what is happening. The film's opening is shot so poorly that it was pointless to have in the film because you can’t see a thing. The film also introduces a lot of magical elements and either explains them poorly or not at all; it’s hard to keep up with why this flower is important or how fairies work, and makes it easy to lose interest in parts of the film. We also see the home of the Dark Fairies, lead by Conall (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor using his Scar voice again), and while it's cool and there are a lot of interesting designs, it's ultimately pointless besides having an army to go against the humans in the third act. When they first showed the tribe of Maleficents in the trailer I was very angry and confused, as the first movie tells us that she is a fairy gone bad and not part of another species, but in context of the film it didn’t bug me, I just wish it was explored more.
Yes, it’s filled with flaws, but it’s nice to leave a Disney film not wanting to cry in a ball and question if you really ever liked them.
Taking the original film out of it, 'Mistress of Evil' just has some weird rules, even within the law of the ‘Maleficent’ franchise. We know that Maleficent raised Aurora and at the end of the first film is good, but in the five years that have passed, we are told in the opening narration that as the story of Maleficent got passed around, things changed from person to person and she was made out to be the villain. But Aurora still sees Maleficent regularly in public places, and she is also the queen of two kingdoms so she could easily show people that she isn’t evil, but the movie has to movie. This leads to a further problem, where a twist sees one character in the film changing the story to make Maleficent the villain and we should believe what we hear. But what message is Disney trying to say? Do they not want to us to watch ‘Sleeping Beauty’ any more and only watch ‘Maleficent’ because that version is the truth? It was just weird for it to be so integrated into the plot. In this film, we never go to Aurora’s castle and in a throwaway line are told that it was given to the people of her kingdom, and that seems like a big deal to just throw away a castle, but oh well.
The movie wants you to remember everything about the first film, and yet nothing at all. The fairy kingdom is called the Moors, and while ‘Maleficent’ isn’t a fantasy film like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ where people remember the law and words, the filmmakers really think everyone has done their homework but also feel the need to recap the first film just in case we forgot.
There are large chucks of film that are missing Maleficent and then others where she has no dialogue, and in the final battle of the film she never utters a line. It just seems like a strange choice, and the scenes we have with Aurora working out things at the castle aren’t as engaging, so the film loses steam every time it cuts away for the titular anti-hero.
For those, like me, who were quite angry that Maleficent didn’t turn into her iconic dragon, instead trying her bird Diaval (Sam Riley, ‘Free Fire’, ‘Sometimes Always Never’) in it. This film, without spoiling, makes up for that... kind of.
‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ is not only a surprising follow-up to the original film, but also among 2019’s live-action Disney offerings is the only one that I actually sat through and enjoyed. It made me laugh, and the action is really engaging. Jolie and Pfeiffer are having so much fun that you can't help but join in. Yes, it’s filled with flaws, but it’s nice to leave a Disney film not wanting to cry in a ball and question if you really ever liked them.