Review: ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ sleepy version of original
Director Robert Stromberg’s 2014 take on “Sleeping Beauty” with “Maleficent” entertained through a fresh look at the familiar fairy tale and with a story that showed the power of love can be found even with the darkest of hearts. This was all delivered through one of the most endearing performances of Angelina Jolie’s career as she took on Maleficent.
Jolie reprises her role in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” But except for an on-target performance by the film’s star and stunning cinematography by Henry Braham (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”), the sequel ends up a muddled mess, mostly manifested through melodramatic acting and a mangled script. Jolie and the production’s look are the only things memorable.
At the heart of the original film was the story of how the wicked master of the Moors puts a sleeping spell on young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). That’s where the production took a left turn, as Maleficent developed motherly feelings for Aurora and her character became a twisted version of what a fairy godmother is supposed to be.
The sequel has an older Aurora reigning over all the creatures that live in the forest. She’s found time to fall in love with Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), who lives on the more affluent side of the river. The news they plan to wed upsets Maleficent, but she’s willing to let the union happen so Aurora will be happy. All she has to do is get through a meeting with her future in-laws, including the manipulative Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). She sees the wedding as less a matter of love but more of a way to wipe out the creatures of the woods.
The screenplay by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster pales in comparison to the original film. Instead of a beautiful story about love and redemption, the sequel is nothing more than a tale about awful in-laws. In this case, awful means someone willing to murder thousands of creatures for personal gain. That’s interesting, but even with Pfeiffer doing her best evil work since Catwoman, the story never reaches any serious emotional levels.
And the script is loaded with sloppy writing. The film establishes that Maleficent isn’t one of a kind, but there is a whole species of fliers who have been living in secrecy to survive. It’s established that no one in the castle was aware of the group, but when it comes time to go to war with them, the entire castle’s defenses have been designed to fight the opponents from the skies.
There’s also confused writing as to why Ingrith is so determined to wipe out the creatures. It has something to do with being poor as a child, but she’s living in a castle where things appear to be going extremely well. Even the way the creatures act has to be ignored in an overly melodramatic scene where they are in danger but can’t seem to escape a pretty flimsy trap that includes a mad organ player. And the big moment where justice is done is played with a corniness that ends the movie on a flat note.
All that could have been overlooked if the story had the slightest touch of what made the first film work. Director Joachim Ronning (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) has put together a film that is stunning visually, from the dainty creatures to the massive concluding battle. His use of dazzling colors and dark tones set distinct moods throughout the production.
It’s not enough to distract from how only Jolie is able to bring the kind of deep passion to the performance that elevates a fairy tale into a magical tale of fairies. She surrounded by so many average acting efforts there’s no hope for the heart of the work. That leaves the visuals as the only thing that keeps the film from making every beauty watching it very sleepy.
“Maleficent” was magnificent. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” just misses.