Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Can’t Cast A Spell (Movie Review)

Angelina Jolie has returned to the big screen. Though she’ll always be “Acid Burn” to this reviewer, as the powerful, horned anti-hero, Maleficent, fans of the original 2014 flick are far more vocal than a ragtag group of rollerbladers intent on hacking the planet. The first film, which felt more like a ninety-minute television pilot, raked in over 750 million worldwide, so a sequel was inevitable. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is definitely more of a film than it’s predecessor, but it’s still a mess.

As Godmother to her young human ward Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent is cautious when she learns young Prince Phillip has asked for Aurora’s hand in marriage. Despite her misgivings and overall mistrust of humans, she agrees to attend a dinner with the King, Queen, Prince, and Aurora. Perhaps finally, the world of men and the world of fairies can find peace (Slight spoiler: Not a chance).

Queen Ingrith is played by Michelle Pfeiffer (mother!), which quickly pays off as great casting. Even though I was not a fan of the first film, the trailers had me looking forward to seeing these two divas clash in amazing costumes, surrounded by a fantastical backdrop. Fortunately, Pfeiffer definitely came to play, which is fantastic.

Sure enough, the meet-and-greet between Maleficent and the royal-blooded humans goes south as the King falls into a deep sleep.  The Queen claims a spell has been put on him by the rageful Malelifcent. Clearly, if you’ve ever seen (or read) a fairy tale, you know Queen Ingrith is to blame. And yet, the naive, good-natured Aurora just can’t see it.

The dinner scene is a great jumping-off point for Jolie and Pfeiffer showdowns. Both Ingrith and Maleficent throw serious shade within seconds of meeting each other. Once Jolie starts glowering with her big eyes, sparks start flying soon after. Later, in another fun moment with the King on his deathbed, Aurora insists the Queen kiss her husband. Maybe true love will wake him up. “This is no fairy tale!” proclaims Pfeiffer. The stage is set for soap opera-sized antics.

Sadly, the trashy push and pull of Maleficent versus Queen Ingrith for the soul of Aurora is not the bulk of Mistress of Evil

The main story concerns Maleficent learning that she is not alone, nor is she one of a kind. She meets a gaggle of flying horned creatures, led by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who plan to wage war on the humans. Meanwhile, Queen Ingrith intends to use the marriage ceremony of Aurora to Prince Phillip (a bland Harris Dickinson) to annihilate all the fairies in the land – or any magical race, really.

One assumes the budget for the film was significant, yet the art direction and the FX are pretty flat and dull. The forest, wherein the fairies live, sport a color palette that feels too busy (too much CGI) and not textured. To be fair, my screening was regular-sized, and I’m sure IMAX is the way to go.

The costumes by Ellen Mirojnick (The Greatest Showman) are the film’s only real stand out. From Maleficent’s deep black matte attire to Pfeiffer’s incredibly fussed over white gowns, each look impresses. Fanning’s wardrobe is less Vogue and maybe a bit too “Free People,” but a wedding dress made by her fairy friends strikes the right design of asymmetrical threading accentuated by wonderfully organic hues.

Look, I’m okay with a movie like this not having a great narrative thrust. No one sees a movie where Jolie flies like a bat with green glowy powers that can devastate a city for realism. But the production design and the performances gotta click.

Jolie is still terrific. Her entrance, an extended speech made with her back to the screen, works like gangbusters. Every moment with Jolie, Pfieffer, and, to a lesser degree, Fanning works, but there’s not enough of it. Honestly, by the end of the film, I wondered if Jolie did like two weeks of shooting. There are long stretches where the titular character is MIA. Not a smart move.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. The great Ejiofor is saddled with a nothing role. Likewise, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple reprise their fairy duties from the last film but grated my last nerve. However, Jean Murray (Brooklyn) does a lot with almost no dialogue. She’s essentially Pfeiffer’s evil sidekick. A scene where she plays a church organ is wicked fun.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the first film, but I get why it has fans. Jolie is a one-of-a-kind actress. When she’s on, she’s one of the best Hollywood stars of the modern era. Mistress of Evil is merely a pleasant diversion when it should have embraced what it had, given the strong ensemble, and took more chances to soar.

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