Pretty to look at; hard to watch.
Whenever not watching over their forest kingdom, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) keeps a close eye on her goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) until the day the sorceress dreads finally comes: Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to the princess. The boy’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), seizes the opportunity to not only meet Aurora but legendary Maleficent as well, all in the name of fostering a lasting peace between the human kingdoms and the fairy lands. Unfortunately, old hatreds stir and secret plots are hatched to destroy the forest kingdom and its inhabitants… but only if Maleficent can successfully be removed from the equation.
Disney took a risk five years ago, casting Angelina Jolie as the sorceress we know… yet also misunderstood due to a dire betrayal. Maleficent was a clever idea to create a Gothic fairy tale around one of their most iconic villains while spinning it in a unique way (read: for franchise purposes). It seemed the first film would be the last until new trailers finally appeared, hinting at a bigger world, more magic, and new dangers. Will the sequel build on the original in a way that expands the story into a bigger franchise without ruining all the good will that came before?
Giving credit given where credit is due, the people in charge of the production went to incredible lengths in concept and design. New weapons, new creatures, and expanding upon all the little details, from how Maleficent’s wings are attached to the arcane nature of the forest fae — a feast for the senses and the mind in terms of pure fantasy and imagination. Tying it all together is the problem: a disjointed edit introducing huge concepts without preconception that buries significant character opportunities, as if the writers were tasked to combine three different scripts that defied being strung together.
With regard to the liberties taken with the first Maleficent to subtly enhance the reworked story, the sequel is jarring. The second act introduces an entire race of creatures like our sorceress (who’ve never been mentioned before) with Ed Skrein’s character Borra demanding a war against humanity (for crimes we haven’t seen) and specifically against the only human kingdom we know about (who seem awfully well-prepared for something they have no idea is coming). Coupled with a lack of curiosity as to how Maleficent herself also knew nothing about any of them or was inexplicably too angry/betrayed/depressed to ask “Hey, any of you ever meet my parents?”
There are plenty of other inconsistencies — Sam Riley’s Diaval being utterly wasted this time around among them — but then the movie pulls an Evolution: dismissing the death and destruction the third act offers up as spectacle for a mega-happy ending that in no way earns or deserves it. Sure, Disney wanted a family fantasy film and a mini Lord of the Rings battle at the same time, but things perished and it weighed more heavily on the innocents than those instigating with little in the way of comeuppance. It falls flatter than Voldemort’s defeat in the final meh-whatever War of Hogwarts, right along with a twisted final line uttered by Maleficent that showcases just how off the rails the film really went.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence, brief scary images, and cheating viewers out of our favorite dragon.
Two skull recommendation out of four
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