Over the past decade, Disney has taken to revitalizing their branding by adapting their animated creations to a live-action format with mixed success. While doing this, they’ve also engaged in re-writing characters from their original animated IPs that would inspire both old and young to take a different look at the characters they thought they knew. This has been the case with the studio’s tackling of the much-beloved villain Maleficent, who was painted in a more anti-hero light in the 2014 film of the same name. Now the character is back in a brand new sequel titled MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL that seeks to explore not only how the stories we tell of events can be horribly misconstrued, but also the complexities that politics and relationships can come to carry. However, I’d say that these explorations were mixed at best, with colorful action sequences and too many story points muddling the exploration process.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL takes place several years after the conclusion of Maleficent, which involved the titular character waking up Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) with true love’s kiss as her maternal love for the young girl was enough to break the curse. The events of the preceding film come to heavily influence the sequel as a tale has been spun of the events, painting Aurora’s father as a martyr and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as this evil she-harpy that takes pleasure in destroying men. Alright. I might have embellished that just a tad bit. Going into MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL, Prince Phillip of Ulstead (Harris Dickinson who has replaced Brenton Thwaites in this production) proposes to Aurora, who has since been named Queen of the Moors. This union serves to join the two kingdoms, but there is much fear and animosity directed towards the creatures of the Moors from the rulers and subjects of Ulstead. However, Queen Ingris (played with great villainy by Michelle Pfeiffer) suggests that Aurora and her godmother Maleficent come to the kingdom and partake in a celebration dinner. Needless to say, this invitation sets the stage for a great division and the continued tale that the dark fae Maleficent is a monster.
After Maleficent is accused of casting a curse on Prince Phillip’s father and an assassination attempt going horribly awry, both Maleficent and Aurora go their separate paths as both are divided by the plans that Queen Ingris has laid out since the events of the previous film. While Aurora engages in her own sideplot and discovers how rigid the human world is compared to the comfort of the Moors, Maleficent learns of her own people who have been keeping a watchful eye on her and her activities from afar while they live their life in isolation away from the humans. It is when Queen Ingris’s engages in the final stages of her ultimate plan that all characters come together and fates are ultimately decided in an epic battle.
Once again, Disney and director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) have outdone themselves with the visuals, creating visually pleasing scenes that are nothing short of magical. From the fairytale quality and bright colors of the Moors to the diverse magical terrain the newly introduced dark fae have created for themselves away from the humans to the cold, almost colorless palette used throughout the kingdom of Ulstead, you can clearly tell where one is throughout the course of the film. This emphasis on detail in MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL, in particular, lends itself into the design of all the fae within the story, creating creatures that you can’t help wanting to learn more about and want to protect. However, the expansion and exploration of the fae may have been one of the many sideplots that took away from the overall story that screenwriters Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Noah Harpster were trying to tell.
In fact, the story and dialogue are arguably one of the weakest points of the film, which boasts an epic showdown between Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent and Michelle Pfeiffer’s villainous Queen Ingris. There are a good handful of plots within the realm of the story that detract from what could be a great warning tale of what happens when stories are created and embellished to stoke fear in the general populace for personal gain. The perpetual demonization of the dark fae Maleficent is a strong point made throughout the course of MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL, but it has to struggle to keep afloat while dealing with sideplots pertaining to Aurora’s impedding nupitals, the diabolocial plotting of Queen Ingris’s desire to commit genocide, and Maleficent’s discovery of who and what she is in the realm of the fae. All of these plot points alone would have fared better as standalone films rather than being crammed entirely into the span of two hours. As such, when we finally get to the epic battle sequence teased in the trailers, we just hope that Maleficent finally arrives to wrap up what ends up being an unintentionally bloated story.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL is ultimately a better film than its predecessor, with the pacing moving us forward rather than drawing out an origin story that feels familiar to us. The expansion of the colorful, magical fae world that we were introduced to in Maleficent is the highlight of the film and does beg the question of what more could be explored moving forward in this universe Disney has created. That being said, while Maleficent was a simple tale that was easier to follow, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL suffers from having too many plotlines for audiences to try to focus on when the main focus should be on the titular character. Should Disney decide a follow-up film is necessary to round out the series, I recommend using the less is more approach so as to not confuse the viewer but also to keep the focus to where it should belong – the outstanding dark fae that we all know and love.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL will soar its way into theaters on October 18, 2019.