“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stars Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Harris Dickinson, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Released on October 18, 2019, the film once again chronicles the complex relationship between Maleficent and Aurora.
The film is directed by Joachim Rønning, who also directed “Kon-Tiki” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” with Espen Sandberg. It is a sequel to the 2014 film, “Maleficent”. There are plenty of Disney villains that are sinister and don’t like to fool around with our favorite heroes. One of them, in particular, that stood out the most is none other than Maleficent, the “mistress of all evil” that first appeared in Disney’s animated adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty” 60 years ago. Since her debut, Maleficent has been causing nothing but mischief to our Disney heroes, whether it’s from cartoons or video games, most notably the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise. In 2014, Disney released a live-action remake of “Sleeping Beauty” known as “Maleficent”, which retells the story from the perspective of the villainous witch with Angelina Jolie as the title character. While it received some mixed reviews from critics and fans of the animated version, it became a box office hit for Disney and continued the studio’s trend of remaking their animated classics into live-action fantasies. Two years after its release, Disney moved forward with a follow-up to “Maleficent” with Jolie and most of the main cast reprising their roles from its predecessor. I really didn’t have a lot of issues with “Maleficent” since it wasn’t a straight-up shot-by-shot remake like most of the live-action remakes from Disney. It’s far from perfect, but I found it to be a pretty unique take on the “Sleeping Beauty” tale that transformed the Disney villainess into a complex and nicely-developed character. So I was interested in seeing how this type of story will continue in the latest fantasy sequel. Oh, and if the film is good enough to justify its existence. With that said, let’s revisit the Moors and see if this story is worth telling.
The story is set five years after the events of its predecessor, where Maleficent (Jolie) continues to act as the protector of the Moors while Princess Aurora (Fanning) rules as the realm’s queen. When Aurora informs Maleficent that she is marrying Prince Phillip (Dickinson), she quickly becomes concerned that Aurora's romance with Phillip will end badly. They are then invited to meet Phillip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Pfeiffer), which didn’t turn out well for Maleficent when she found out that Ingrith wanted Aurora to have a real family. This small “disagreement” results in an all-out war between Ingrith and Maleficent that could put an end to the winged fairy’s relationship with Aurora. This is sort of what happens if “Meet the Parents” takes place in a fantasy world where people think that war is the only solution to solve problems. Brought to you by the magic of Disney. “Mistress of Evil” is a continuation of the first film’s distinctive take on the source material as well as the title character’s inner quest to find love and trust within herself and others around her, particularly Aurora, which I believe would inspire young viewers to do the same in real life (if they can get past some of the film's dark moments, of course). Much like Disney’s other live-action reimaginings, this film isn’t going to win everybody over, especially those who are fondly nostalgic with the 1959 version, but it also has some tolerable moments that prevented itself from being cursed. As I mentioned before, the film continues the story that was first introduced in “Maleficent”, which gave the filmmakers an opportunity to expand the world of “Sleeping Beauty” a bit and explore the title character’s backstory by introducing the audience to a race of creatures similar to her known as the Dark Feys. Those elements that were introduced in the film easily fell victim to its own sense of familiarity and its inability to further explore this concept, resembling how Aurora felt victim to Maleficent’s curse in the first film. It also had some issues on what tone it wants to utilize from time to time. One minute, it wanted to be a dark fantasy epic. The next, it wanted to be a light-hearted fantasy adventure with the creatures from the Moors and the three good fairies serving as sources of comic relief. To me, the tone was fine since it didn’t want to scare the kids too much, but compared to its predecessor, it did feel a bit off during a couple of scenes. However, it had enough entertainment and charm to keep me interested in its plot and the characters. Angelina Jolie was once again fantastic as Maleficent as she successfully captured the character’s mannerisms and personality, both inside and outside. Her performance was my personal highlight of the first film, and I’m happy to see that she was able to pull it off again in the sequel. Elle Fanning and Sam Riley were also very enjoyable as Aurora and Diaval, respectively. There’s also Harris Dickinson as Prince Phillip, who replaced Brenton Thwaites from the first film. His acting felt a bit stale at one point, but he got a little better as the film went on. As for the new characters, they weren’t exactly well-developed, but the actors did really well in portraying them, regardless, especially Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrith, who’s somehow a better antagonist than Stefan in the first film, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Conall, the leader of the Dark Feys. Speaking of which, I seriously couldn’t help but think that the “Dark Feys” element reminded me of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” in which the two leaders, Conall and Borra (played by Ed Skrein), have different motives as to how to deal with the humans. I don’t know why, but that’s exactly how I pictured that scenario. The film was also supported by its seamless visual-heavy settings and the costume designs. The CGI worked wonders in portraying the creatures that live in the Moors. It can be a bit too reliant on the visuals sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I would call them “eyesores” or “distractions” or whatever.
Overall, like its predecessor, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” was able to soar past its troublesome curse to provide a suitable and nicely-told continuation of the “Sleeping Beauty” tale. The story and its tone has its share of flaws, but the cast (particularly Jolie) and its dazzling visuals are powerful enough to keep me attached to its plot and characters. It also proves that the studio should continue to deliver unique directions in some of their upcoming live-action remakes instead of going down the easy route by following their animated classics’ stories beat-by-beat all the time. They’re already working on a live-action spin-off centering on Cruella De Vil from “One Hundred and One Dalmations”, so here’s hoping that that one is just as decent as the ones centering on Maleficent. If you like the first film, then there’s a good chance that you might like this one as well.