Slightly twisting the Sleeping Beauty narrative so that the story’s villainess (Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent) was more a misunderstood anti-heroine, 2014’s Maleficent rewrote the titular character as a vengeful fairy who ultimately served as a godmother of sorts to the very princess she cursed (Elle Fanning’s eternally sunny Aurora). As much as Disney hyped up the film to be a product unlike any fairytale we’d witnessed before, Robert Stromberg’s fantastical outing still had a definitive story-book ending in-tune with what one would expect from a Sleeping Beauty adaptation; yes, they all lived happily ever after.
So, given that the original had such a definitive ending, where does that leave this sequel? Born more from the fact that its predecessor netted a neat $750 million globally rather than existing for the sake of telling a worthy story, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil never rises above middling mediocrity, acting as a mash-up of interesting ideas that never gel cohesively but soldier on thanks to the welcome return of Jolie and the snarky addition of Michelle Pfeiffer’s evil antagonist.
Jolie has largely shunned the limelight since donning the jet-back horns that adorn Maleficent’s head – save for 2015’s By The Sea, a misguided vanity collaboration with ex-husband Brad Pitt that would best be expelled from their respective filmographies – so her presence in this film adds a considerable weight, and given her penchant for beefing up the thinnest of material with her compelling shine, whenever her blood-rep lips, fang-assisted smile, and protruding cheekbones are on-screen, it’s impossible to turn away from.
Sadly, Jolie’s feared-once-more Maleficent isn’t a constant presence throughout Joachim Ronning’s over-stuffed sequel, with the story taking her character away for extended chunks so that the impending union between Aurora (Fanning, still eternally sunny) and Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites from the first film) can earn traction; their marriage-to-be will not only unite their respective families but their kingdoms too – Aurora and Maleficent’s fairy-realm The Moors and Phillip’s home-land, the kingdom of Ulstead.
As we expect, this won’t be the most peaceful of celebrations, especially given that Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (a savagely delicious Pfeiffer, hamming it up just enough and devouring the scenery in the process), a warmonger if ever there was one, wishes to eradicate the inhabitants of The Moors, viewing the magical subjects there as nothing more than a plague. And that plot-line would be enough to sustain a hefty running time on its own given that the film garners good mileage out of Ingrith trying to drive a wedge between Aurora and Maleficent, but screenwriters Linda Woolverton, Noah Harper, and Micah Fitzerman-Blue opt for a an abundance of side arcs and characters that are all potentially interesting in their own right but ultimately muddle a narrative that would benefit from serious streamlining; the main culprit being Chiwitel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein’s turns as a duo of horn-sporting fairy warriors who liken themselves to Maleficent and live out their days in a secluded cocoon away from the supremacy of the humans.
Heavy on visually-stunning imagery but light on the substance behind why such pictographs deserve to be seen, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil never really delves deeper beyond being aesthetically pleasing, and nothing about the film’s existence is particularly justified, but the magical Meet the Parents-type set-up the film initially lays out and the spitting back-and-forth between Jolie and Pfeiffer is its own special type of joy that suggests had the reins been tightened this sequel could’ve been a genuine delight rather than an intermediate slice of contentment.