Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Joachim Rønning, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
With Disney Studios shoulders deep in the onslaught of their live-action remakes, I found the announcement of their planned sequels not the least bit surprising. These remakes, or reimaginings – whatever you want to call them – don’t appear to be going away any time soon. Some Disney fans are dismayed by this fact, but yours truly believes in looking at these cash grabs with the law of averages in mind. Surely one of them will take the path least traveled and inject a little dose of ingenuity into these recycled stories.
Five years after the events that transpired in 2014’s Maleficent, Joachim Rønning’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil challenges the titular character, played again by Angelina Jolie, when her adopted human daughter, Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, is set to marry the handsome Prince Phillip of Ulstead. Against her better judgment, Maleficent agrees to meet Phillip’s parents, the Queen and King of Ulstead, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay, for the sake of both her daughter and the peace between humans and magical creatures. As you can probably guess after reading that set-up, the dinner party doesn’t go according to plan. Maleficent abandons all those she loved most dearly and literally flies into a journey of self-discovery.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is an odd turducken of light Game of Thrones politics, unexpected intensity, and unabashed, clichéd plotting. So much happens and so many new characters are introduced in under two hours that my investment in all of it peaked and dropped like an unruly EKG monitor. There are organic, cause-and-effect beats in the story that had me on the edge of my seat, but the insufferable technique of stacking one unrelated plot point on top of the other pushed me back in my seat as my eyes glazed over.
Amidst the poor story construction, the film managed to draw a great deal of engagement out of me. I can’t say a lot of it was intentional. The subplot of Maleficent meeting members of her species earns points for taking the famous fairy away from the familiar direction of the original Sleeping Beautystory. However, points are taken away once we learn that the politics of Maleficent’s people are about as intricate as a rivalry in a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon. Normally, I would say that a script like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil needs two more rewrites and a more streamlined story. For now, I must admit that any sane corrections made to this film run the risk of turning it into a mundane intellectual property for the masses.