The sequel to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty prequel that introduced Angelina Jolie’s bony-cheeked take on perhaps Disney’s most iconic villain to the world, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil doesn’t hold back in trying to redeem her reputation in yet another CG-laden fantasy adventure. It also has fun playing the misdirection game with new director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) ready to upend not just the audience’s expectations of good vs. evil, but even who the movie’s real star is.
Mistress of Evil picks up months after the original left off, with Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) aka Sleeping Beauty, beloved leader of the Moors, and Prince Phillip (Harris Dickenson) just as enamored and now completely smitten with her. Opening with a proposal that Princess Aurora quickly accepts, Maleficent is less than pleased when Diaval (Sam Riley) promptly delivers the news and does her best to stop the relationship from moving forward.
However, even the villainous herself is powerless to say no to her goddaughter when Prince Phillip’s family invites Princess Aurora over for a celebration dinner, but only if Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) joins them. While at the dinner Prince Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfiefer), makes every attempt to test Maleficent’s patience until she finally hits the wrong nerve, causing a rather large and disastrous outcome. Amidst the chaos King John (Robert Lindsay) falls into a deep sleep and everyone, Princess Aurora included, believes Maleficent is responsible for yet another sleeping curse.
Despite maintaining her innocence, Maleficent leaves heartbroken that her goddaughter doesn’t believe her. Then, on her way back to the Moors, Maleficent is shot down out of the sky and falls to what should be her death. That is, until a mysterious fae swoops in and pull her out from the water and carries her to a home filled with dark fey that resemble Maleficent with their large wingspan and incredible powers.
Back in Ulstead, Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip plan their wedding, but the Queen has other plans in mind that include a dungeon-filled with captured fairy creatures the Queen uses in experiments to figure out a way to kill every magical creature that dare stand in her way of taking over the Moors. By the time Princess Aurora realizes what her future mother-in-law is planning, these poor creatures have already been locked inside the palace chapel, unknowingly awaiting their demise. It’s up to Princess Aurora and Maleficent to save the day – if only if they can get past the Queen and her army of iron-throwing guards.
What Maleficent: Mistress of Evil lacks in plausibility, it makes up for with plenty of heart and a little magic. While this sequel puts an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, Disney’s message of “don’t believe everything you hear and not everything that seems true actually is” is sure to resonate with many fairytale fans, while younger audiences will connect with Princess Aurora’s ever-innocent way of relating to the residents in the magical world of Moors.
Angelina Jolie once again brings a strength and poise to the role of Maleficent, which isn’t surprising. However, her bony over-exposed shoulders, which were cleverly hidden in the first film, had me more worried about the actresses’ health than her character’s innocence and survival. Those coming to see Jolie bring the goods won’t be disappointed, though by shifting the theme from pure malevolence to one of misunderstandings we never get to see the Oscar-winning actress fully become the ultimate evil seen in the animated classic.
Elle Fanning gives a consistent, but subdued performance as the iconic Princess Aurora / Sleeping Beauty. It’s almost as though she was instructed to feel, but not too much. To care, but only just enough. Her odd way of portraying this classic character actually made me like Princess Aurora less, making her feel more shallow and less compassionate than we assume the character to be. Likewise, Harris Dickenson as Prince Phillip turns in a forgettable performance that fulfills the role, one showcasing little, if any, of his true potential as an actor. Robert Lindsay’ King John might have been the film’s ultimate good guy, if only he hadn’t been robbed of so much screen time due to his wife’s evil plot.
And speaking of evil…Despite Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones and name front and center the real stand out performance goes to Michelle Pfiefer as Queen Ingrith. Stepping out of her usual comfort zone of playing kind heroines, Pfiefer delivers a fierce performance that would have any formidable adversary begging for mercy from suffering her character’s evil ways. Coming off as a doting mother and wife, only to be revealed as the film’s true “mistress of evil”, Pfiefer commanded not only her role, but the entire film, with a firm grip that is sure to captivate audiences around the world.
Beyond Pfiefer’s irresistible performance, the other real highlight of the film is all the digital eye candy of sweeping landscapes, magical creatures, and cinematography that can leave even the most jaded filmgoer slightly breathless. It may seem a bit excessive for some, but seeing such a lavish production has become commonplace is just about every Disney production these days, animated or otherwise (or, as we saw in The Lion King remake, both at the same time).
Notably missing from Maleficent: Mistress of Evil were clear wins for Princess Aurora or Maleficent, a few great songs mixed to accompany the story, and a satisfying ending that didn’t leave room for another adventure. As sequels go, this one isn’t that bad, and worth a watch if you liked the original movie and want to see these characters interacting again (or just Pfiefer completely steal the show). Disney has managed to strike it rich with their endless stream of remakes and sequels lately, but it sure would be great if they dove back into the world of original content again. Well, maybe after Mulan. One more remake couldn’t hurt.