Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) Review
TWICE UPON A DREAM
In 2014, Walt Disney Studios, following the success of their live-action reimagines of Alice in Wonderland and Oz, the Great and Powerful, released Maleficent; a new twist on the classic fairy tale story of Sleeping Beauty. Loosely inspired by the iconic original fairy tale by Charles Perrault and Walt Disney’s 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty, the movie, which was directed by Robert Stromberg, frames the story from the perspective of the eponymous antagonist (Maleficent), depicting her conflicted relationship with the princess (Aurora) and her father (King Stefan) of corruption and love. While the film did face criticism from both fans and critics, Maleficent was considered a box office success and was able to garnish over $758 million at the worldwide box office that year; making the film fourth highest grossing film of 2014. Additionally, the movie did receive praise for its reworking the fairy tale narrative, visual style, and actress Angelina Jolie’s performance as the title character. Now, five years after the release of Maleficent, Walt Disney Studios and director Joachim Rønning present the follow-up sequel film with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Does “twice upon a time” work for this cinematic tale or is far cry from “once upon a dream” narrative?
After awakening the princess from her slumber and defeating her tyrannical father, Queen Aurora (Elle Fanning) has established peace between her kingdom and the creatures of Moors, who remain distant from humans, but are allowed to thrive and live in blissful happiness, while Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) watches over her daughter as she grows into powerful figure. When Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to his love, Aurora immediately accepts and implores Maleficent to play nice as they attend a special dinner to meet the future in-laws King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). Unfortunately, the evening events are thrown into chaos when Ingrith questions Maleficent’s ability to control herself and the Moors, while King John falls into a curse of eternal slumber. Framed for the villainous crime, Maleficent tries to escape, only to be wounded and surprisingly rescued by other of her kind, with these Dark Feys taking refuge in a secluded hidden world underground, trying to survive. Meeting with Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Borra (Ed Skrein), Maleficent’s eyes are opened to her power and to her heritage, while Ingrith assembles her armies for war against the Moors, manufacturing a secret weapon to annihilate all the woodland creatures.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Well, hello there, beastie! I have to say that I had mixed thoughts when Maleficent initial came out. For starters, I did like the idea that Angelina Jolie was gonna play the infamous villain of Sleeping Beauty story (an idea that was probably the best strength about the film); finding her performance to be “pitch perfect” as well as her physical appearance. However, the rest of the movie…. I just wasn’t that really impressed. Of course, I like the idea of “breaking away” from the tried and true narrative of Sleeping Beauty, but the whole “another side, another story” angle, while interesting, didn’t exactly pan out correctly. Plus, the film’s tone was off as some parts were dark (for a kid’s film) and then quickly shifts to comical and lighthearted. Yes, I do understand that it is a a kid’s movie after all, but the movie’s marketing campaign promised a darker iteration of the classic fairy tale. Still, in the end, Maleficent did what it was suppose to do; offering up a new look a classic.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the 2019 sequel film to the original 2014 movie. Like many, I wasn’t really expecting a second Maleficent movie as the first film was able to tell a story and close it off completely, with little to no loose ends left dangling / unanswered by the time the end credits began to roll. However, due to the movie’s lucrative box office success (I assume), Disney decided to “revisit” this fantasy tale and expand upon its Sleeping Beauty mythos…or rather looking “beyond” the iconic story. Of course, I was quite pleased to know that Jolie was gonna be returning to the project (as well as Fanning and Riley) and I was curious to see how the other veteran talents (Pfeiffer, Skrein, Ejiofor, etc) would act in this sequel. Furthermore, I was somewhat curious to see “where” the movie would ultimately go, with the film’s movie trailers showcasing plenty of intriguing fantasy-esque concept and designs to the feature’s cinematic world. So, I was curious to see how Mistress of Evil and decided to see it during its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, while it still has it fair share of problems, I felt that Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was a better installment than its predecessor. It’s definitely an unnecessary sequel, but still proved to be effective within its own expansion of the Sleeping Beauty tale.
While director Robert Stromberg directed the first feature, the role of helming Maleficent: Mistress of Evil goes to Joachim Rønning, whose previous directorial works includes such films as Kon-Tiki, Max Manus: Man of War, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Given his involvement on Dead Men Tell No Tale (for Disney), Rønning seems like a suitable choice in directing this feature, with the director now “versed” in handling a Disney-esque blockbuster feature film. To his credit, Rønning does indeed expand (visually and storytelling) more into a narrative story that goes beyond both the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and of the first Maleficent movie. Thus, Rønning certainly does stage a lot of big-time epic shots and grandness into the film, which allows the movie (as an entirety) feel bigger and more expansive than the first movie. Additionally, the film’s script, which was penned by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster, and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, expands the narrative in new and interesting by exploring more of Maleficent’s kind (i.e. the Dark Feys) and the secretive world that they inhabitant. Their backstory is quite compelling and definitely adds a layer of intrigue that certainly goes beyond the established character in both the fairy tale and in the 2014 movie. Also, as an interesting point, the film’s story / script does deal with a very topical / thematically charged message of acceptance and somewhat prejudice / racial undertones within Mistress of Evil. Of course, these points are “kid’s glove” message and are easily to spot (even for kid’s audience viewing it), but these morals / messages are quite palpable to be presented in this movie and definitely speak volumes, especially when considering today’s world.
In the technical presentation category, Mistress of Evil certainly does feel like a Disney blockbuster production and excels within that format by returning the lush fantasy world of the previous film and expanding upon its visual appeal. Like before, I do love all the fantastical creatures (faeries, pixies, trees, etc) that dwell within the Moors and are heavily emphasized within this sequel, with the visual concept designs (and CGI rendering) bring these fanciful characters to life beautifully. Plus, I do love the movie’s art direction and concept background setting layout / designs, which offers grand fantastical fantasy world that looks quite visually appealing that will surely satisfy any fantasy fan out there. From the ornate medieval fantasy costumes, to weapons / armor, to lavishing set decorations, the whole background setting for the film is definitely a cinematic delight. Thus, the talents of Patrick Tatopoulous (production design), Dominic Capon (set decorations), Ellen Mirojnick (costume designers), and even Henry Braham (cinematography) definitely help bring this cinematic fantasy world to life…. more so than the first feature. Also, as to be expected, the film’s score, which was composed by Geoff Zanelli, is quite good; offering up plenty of melodic moments in a variety of scenes….be it soft / tender moments to heroic / bombastic sequences.
There are several points of criticism that I do have with Mistress of Evil, which do hold the movie back a few steps. Of course, I found the film to be enjoyed (more so than the original film), but it’s really hard to overlook the more commonplace element of the feature’s materialization and its overall justification of being a sequel. What do I mean? Well, in simpler terms, the movie’s creation just screams unnecessary. It’s not saying the film is deplorable as there’s stuff to like about it, but (like I said above) the first film was quite the solo endeavor that told a story and ended in a way that felt satisfying and left little unanswered questions for a sequel adventure. Thus, Mistress of Evil simple feels superfluous from start to finish. Yes, there’s new material added to the fairy tale and expands upon the cinematic fantasy that certainly goes beyond the well-known fairy tale, but there’s really no reason to go beyond the source material. Think about 2016’s Alice Through the Looking Glass and 2016’s Snow White and the Huntsman: Winter’s War. Both films expand upon the first installment features and well-beyond the initial fairy tale setup, but never feel strong within their own cinematic tales; struggling to provide a sustainable follow-up installment that’s worth venturing through (i.e. characters, narrative premise and the like) as well as being quite forgettable entries. Mistress of Evil is definitely the better of those two sequel fairy tales features (i.e. better directed, better story, better acting, and better overall presentation), but definitely falls into that particular category of being quite an unnecessary sequel endeavor. There’s just really no reason to revisit the Maleficent fantasy world as Disney is creating a sequel for the sake of creating a sequel. That….or just simple for making more money. However, like many out there, I felt that Maleficent was better as a “one and done” movie and not a franchise start; making this movie feel forgettable.
Additionally, the film itself feels bloated in certain areas and lacking and certain “tightness” of the feature as a whole. This perhaps stems from Rønning’s direction as (much like Dead Men Tell No Tale) gets somewhat lost in his own visual effects ambition. Both Dead Men Tell No Tale and Mistress of Evil rely heavily on CGI visuals, which is not a bad thing, but only if it’s done within moderation and not to make it overpower the film. Unfortunately, this somewhat happens with Mistress of Evil as the film’s visual (though quite stunning and beautifully designed) definitely seem a bit artificial and unnecessary. This is most apparent during the film’s climatic third act ending, which certainly dazzles the eyes (for sure), but feels quite bloated and elongates the movie’s narrative. Simply trimming this sequence of events down could’ve been more effective for a better presentation. The same can be a bit said during some of the scenes in the first act; creating several pacing problems along the way.
There also are the ideas that the film’s script / story toils with, which (again) are quite interesting, especially the ones involving the Dark Feys and the hidden world that they dwell in (during the movie’s second act). This particular storytelling element could’ve been easily ironed out even further and probably could’ve been the more primary narrative focus instead of the one involving Aurora’s wedding / Queen Ingrith’s villainy. Also, there are a few “bone-head” moves that some of the film’s characters (be it major or minor ones) that make you “roll your eyes” and say “oh, come on”. You’ll know them when you see them. Lastly, while I do understand that this is suppose to be a kid’s movie, there are a few moments that are bit scary for some of the younger kids out there. Nothing too extreme, but a little scarier than the first Maleficent movie. So, parents…just a fair warning.
The cast in Mistress of Evil is indeed a solid one, with most of the acting talents involved on this film project bringing a sense of “quality” to their respective roles…. regardless of being major or minor characters. Naturally, leading the charge of the film’s cast is actress Angelina Jolie, who once again returns to play the dark misunderstood sorceress fae Maleficent. Known for her roles in Salt, Changeling, and Girl, Interrupted, Jolie was definitely the absolute best thing about the first Maleficent as she hands down looked the part of the iconic villain of Sleeping Beauty (horns, cloak, and all) as the feature was meant to be a sort of “vehicle” for her to play around with in this new iteration of fairy tale. Mistress of Evil continues to see Jolie having fun with the role of Maleficent by continuing to play up the steely demeanor of the character as well as the iconic look of her. Like before in the first movie, Jolie isn’t given much in “verbally’ say during the film’s second act as she’s more physically there rather than speaking lines of dialogue, which is a bit confusing. I kind of wanted her character to have more lines during these parts as it pertains her character’s lineage of her people (i.e. the Dark Fae). Still, the character of Maleficent (as indicated from the first film) is more physical character of which Jolie embodies rather than one that spews monologue filled moments. So, in the end, I still continue to like Jolie’s iteration of the iconic sorceress; loving her even more in this movie than before, which is still the greatest strength of both feature films.
Behind her, actress Elle Fanning also returns to her Maleficent character roles for this sequel as the iconic Princess Aurora (i.e. Sleeping Beauty). Known for her roles in The Beguiled, The Neon Demon, and Super 8, Fanning is perfectly fine as Aurora, the human princes who seems caught between the human world and the Moors. Fanning is capable of drumming up emotion / dramatic beats for the feature’s story and certainly does so throughout the feature, who is (again) caught between her godmother (Maleficent) and her stepmother (Ingrith). Thus, her interaction between Jolie and Pfeiffer are great in the movie. So, in the end, while she might not overtake other actress talents of playing iconic princess roles (i.e. Lilly James in Cinderella or Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast), Fanning’s portrayal of Aurora is suitable / likeable in Mistress of Evil. Additionally, actor Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Control) returns to reprise his role of Diaval, Maleficent / Aurora loyal servant, which is fun and amusing role for sure.
Of the new character, the one that immediately stands out is the character of Queen Ingrith, King John’s wife and Prince Phillip’s mother, who is played by seasoned veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer. Known for her roles in Scarface, The Age of Innocence, and Murder on the Orient Express, definitely has the most “juiciest” role of the entire film (more son than Jolie’s Maleficent) and the talented actress seems to relish in her character’s villainy; making Queen Ingrith a joy to watch in one of those villains that you “love to hate”. While the movie’s script undoubtedly telegraphs Ingrith’s intentions without any sense of hidden agendas or meaning (it almost beats you over the head with her evilness), so the character isn’t the most well-rounded bad guy. Still, Pfeiffer talents are fun to watch in the role and definitely sells the character with joyful glee; chewing their dialogue with icy amusement. Plus, I do think she plays the villain role better than Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan from the first movie.
Two other notable supporting characters in the movie are the characters of Conall and Borra, two Dark Feys that Maleficent discovers and acts intricate parts in the movie’s story. Both of these respective characters are played equally respective acting talents, with actors Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Lion King and 12 Years a Slave) as Conall and Ed Skrein (Deadpool and Alita: Battle Angel) as Boora. The practically effects and make-up definitely help sell their characters “physically” with Ejiofor bringing a sense of knowledge wisdom / foreboding within his character of Conall and a more brash and iron will determination with Skrein’s Borra. Collectively, I did like these two characters as I thought they were interesting and were played by great talents that I like. As for the character of Prince Phillip, Aurora’s love interest, the character is played by actor Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance), who does a decent enough job in the role. Naturally, Dickinson looks and sounds like the classic prince from Sleeping Beauty, but seems more along the lines of the framework of the Mistress of Evil’s narrative than a central character. That being said, the character definitely has more to do in this movie than in the first film.
Additionally, the three “good faeries” from the first film do return in Mistress of Evil, with actresses Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Downton Abbey), Juno Temple (Horns and Atonement), and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread and Another Year) returning to their roles of Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle respectfully. At least in this movie they aren’t as quite as annoying and feel more “at ease” within their roles than acting like three bumbling stooges as before.
Rounding out the cast are several individuals, including actor Warwick Davis (Willow and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) as Lickspittle, actor David Gyasi (Interstellar and Cloud Atlas) as Percival, actor Robert Lindsay (My Family and Wimbledon) as King John, and Jenn Murray (Brooklyn and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Gerda, who play minor characters in the movie. Of course, they’re screen time is somewhat limited, but what was given to them (screen time and narrative) is perfectly fine, with the acting talents using their talents in a respectable manner. Although, one or two characters could’ve been expanded upon (i.e. Lickspittle definitely).
Get ready to go “beyond” the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty in the movie Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Director Joachim Rønning latest project sees the return to 2014’s Maleficent and expanding upon the narrative from the film; adding some new / interesting storytelling and visuals to the movie’s proceedings. While the movie does falter within being somewhat a “unnecessary” sequel as well as struggling with its own pacing (story-wise and characters), the film does offer an enjoyable / entertaining feature thanks to some of the intriguing ideas, thematic message, fantastical set pieces / conceptual designs, and some solid performances (i.e. Jolie, Fanning, and Pfeiffer). Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it wasn’t super great and could’ve been reworked in a better way (or really didn’t need to be made in the first place), but I did find it to be more enjoyable than the first film and I was quite amazed how much I did like this. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a favorable “recommended” as it has an appealing towards the Disney family variety (in a good way). While the movie does somewhat leave the door open for a possible Maleficent 3, it remains to be seeing if future entry will be written. For now, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, while still unnecessary, is a better handling of sequel endeavor; promising of dazzling medieval fantasy epics and continuing the “another side, another story” of the dark fae sorceress known as Maleficent.
3.5 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: October 18th, 2019
Reviewed On: October 25th, 2019
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is 118 minutes and is rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy adventure / violence and brief scary images