CINEMASCOPE: THE RETURN OF MALEFICENT

November 03, 2019

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Director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) is more interested in the visuals rather than the story of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — the sequel you didn’t think you needed. It’s of course a sequel to the dark fantasy film Maleficent (2014) by Walt Disney Pictures.

Maleficent, as you may recall, reimagined the Cinderella story. Here, the titular fairy, played by Angelina Jolie with creepy cheekbones and magnificent large horns that made her look like the critically endangered markhor in Pakistan with a confusingly pretty face, was betrayed by King Stefan, and played a mother of sorts to princess Aurora.

Here, Markhor err … Maleficent returns with a story that continues five years after the events of Maleficent, where the evil Stefan died and Aurora was crowned the queen of the human kingdom and the Moors, the magical forest realm that borders it.

The romance between Aurora, played by the returning Elle Fanning, and Prince Phillip, who is now played by Harris Dickinson, is budding. Unfortunately, while Maleficent has served loyally as the protector of the Moors, she’s treated with unfair suspicion by Phillip’s kingdom, Ulstead.

The visuals are spectacular but Angelina Jolie is criminally underused and the director of this sequel is not skillful enough to maintain Maleficent’s antihero persona

Maleficent is certain that a game is afoot. When she learns that Phillip has proposed to Aurora, she warns her not to proceed. Later, Phillip’s parents King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) invite their future in-laws for a dinner.

Here, the Queen makes no secret about her distaste for Maleficent. Not only does she insult her, but she accuses her of murder. When Maleficent responds angrily, King John falls into a slumber, much like Aurora did. Maleficent professes her innocence, but is heartbroken when Aurora refuses to believe her. Is Maleficent guilty, or did the Queen set her up? The film initially tries to play coy, but Joachim Rønning isn’t skillful enough in the director’s chair to have us guessing and to maintain Maleficent’s antihero style persona.

Maleficent is wounded as she escapes and lands in the middle of the ocean where she’s rescued and finds herself among other Dark Fae — fairies who’ve almost gone extinct because of mankind. In this act, the film introduces us to some new characters. There’s Borra (Ed Skrein), a fairy who wants to defeat mankind in war, and Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is more peace-loving. Soon, the real story begins as Maleficent tries to redeem herself and her kind.

Maleficent is certain that a game is afoot. When she learns that Phillip has proposed to Aurora, she warns her not to proceed.

As a fan of fantasy literature, I found the lore of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil to be as good as one can expect from a dark sequel loosely based on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I also appreciated the somewhat dark and tear-jerking style of the narrative. However, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil resorts to too many clichés and the performances aren’t compelling enough to sell the plot. Also, the film initially takes on the prickly subject of genocide, but self-sabotages with a crowd-pleasingly brain-dead third act.

To make matters worse, Jolie is criminally underused. She doesn’t get enough screen time in her own film and, where she does, the director is content with letting her stare icily at the other characters and the camera. There’s a better way to let an actor play such a character without devaluing their talents. Hopefully, the obligatory third film will give her character some growth.

On the other hand, the production values are out of this world. The visuals are incredibly imaginative, colourful, and a treat for the eyes. The fantastical creatures look wonderful, while the costume design is outstanding. However, this isn’t enough to elevate the film from the shackles of its uninspired script. Often, you’ll find that the beauty in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is only skin deep.

Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 3rd, 2019