If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, you may have read my review of Maleficent way way back in 2014. In that review, I was very critical of the film in many aspects, including the watered-down — or non-existent — relationship between Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) that was supposed to be the crux of the plot, as well as the lack of character development to make the whole idea behind telling the story of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s perspective. The film was okay, and there was a lot to like, it just felt flat and uneven because it wasn’t executed to its full potential.
Changing things up behind the scenes was a good start for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Joachim Rønning takes over the directing reigns from Robert Stromberg and lifts the energy of the film to a new level, even while falling into many of the same traps the first film setup because everything on-screen is exactly the same.
Jolie and Fanning are back as Maleficent and Aurora, respectively. Aurora has spent the last five years (give or take, depending on the actual timeline of the film, which it never really discusses) ruling over all of the beautiful creatures that inhabit the woodlands under the watchful supervision of her still menacing godmother. The good news here is Jolie still looks and feels incredible as Maleficent and Aurora is given a much larger emotional palette that helps her break free of her happy-go-lucky sprite-in-distress persona.
When Philip (Harris Dickinson), the prince of a nearby kingdom, proposes to Aurora, she and Maleficent are invited to a congratulatory dinner at the castle by King John (Robert Lindsay) at the chagrin of his queen, Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). Much like the scene of Aurora’s christening in the first film, this specific sequence is one of the better scenes in the film, oozing with menace while setting up the plot. The dynamics between the characters is at its best here and the inciting incident, in which Maleficent is accused of poisoning John with the same sleeping spell she performed on Aurora, is well-executed.
This is where the film loses a bit of steam. As Ingrith begins testing ways she can destroy the fairyland creatures with the help of her hardened ingenue (Jenn Murray) and a sinister creature (Warwick Davis) stuck hundreds of feet below the castle in his own dank, dark den, Maleficent discovers that she is not the only one of her kind; in fact, there are dozens more like her, all living underground after fleeing human persecution. Though this diversion hints at what’s to come in the grand finale, it also sidelines the character in favor of focusing on Ingrith and Aurora.
It doesn’t help that, much like it’s predecessor, the film lacks strong development in the supporting characters. Like the first film, we can’t get emotionally invested in what happens to these characters because we don’t know anything about them. Pfeiffer is always one mustache-twirling cackle away from a walking cliché; Murray is given nothing to do but scowl; Davis is much more talented than he’s allowed to be; and the woodland creatures that Rønning want you to believe to be important are wasted when the time comes to rise up and be important
This includes a potentially great new hedgehog character who looks like a cross between Sonic and a Critter. The film spends a lot of time on this character with no payoff. And of course there’s the trio of fairies, who remain uninspired, even as they’re doing something heroic. All of them together become nothing more than a set of glorified extras with the appearance of having meaning within the lives of our two main heroines.
The special effects aren’t improved either. From the dizzying intro sequence to the fairies that still feel like little bobbleheded children, the effects are at times mesmerizing and at others disorienting and plastic. If it wasn’t for the majestic third act reveal and the consistency in effects that made the first film tolerable, the abundance of effects utilized throughout would have made the entire film as emotionless as a sack of potatoes.
Despite all of this, there was still a heightened sense of kinetic energy that brought a spellbinding life to every frame. I felt much more invested in the outcome of this film than I did in the original. The way Rønning frames his subjects and the power of the editing fuel the film with enough energy to keep you absorbed in the world around you, as well as what’s happening and how it will all play out in the gripping final battle.
Maleficent was an average adaptation of a Disney animated film that didn’t need a sequel. And although the film is plagued with many of the same issues as the original, sidelines its star to settle into a substandard plot full of clichéd villains, and includes an abundance of visual effects that add nothing to the heart of the story, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil feels superior to its predecessor due to a has a sense of vitality that was sorely lacking in the original.
My Grade: B+
I wasn’t one of the many fans of Zombieland when it premiered back in 2009, so I wasn’t all that interested in returning to this world. Surprisingly, Zombieland: Double Tap adds several new characters to the mix that not only enhances the comedy throughout (making for some extremely funny sequences), but unites the gang of four in a way I don’t feel the original ever had a chance to do. A-
Next week, new movies include Black and Blue, Countdown, and The Current War: Director’s Cut. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.