Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Movie Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ** / *****
Directed by: Joachim Rønning.
Written by: Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton.
Starring: Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Michelle Pfeiffer (Queen Ingrith), Elle Fanning (Princess Aurora), Harris Dickinson (Prince Phillip), Sam Riley (Diaval), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Conall), Ed Skrein (Borra), Robert Lindsay (King John), David Gyasi (Percival), Jenn Murray (Gerda), Juno Temple (Thistlewit), Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Lesley Manville (Flittle), Kae Alexander (Ini), Judith Shekoni (Shrike), Miyavi (Udo), Warwick Davis (Lickspittle).
The original Maleficent (2014) wasn’t a particularly great movie, but it was at least an interesting one – and one of the few times in recent years in which Disney tried to actually do something new when updating an animated classic to the real of live action. Perhaps they realized that Sleeping Beauty (1959) is mostly a snooze other than the villain – Maleficent – so making a movie about her was the only logical thing to do unless you wanted to make another snooze. And yet, for all the flaws in the film, there were genuine moments of human emotion – like Jolie’s Maleficent awakening to find that her wings have been stolen from her – a moment made deliberately to resemble a rape victim’s trauma – but in a way the kids in the audience wouldn’t quite pick up the same way. The Maleficent of that film was more of an anti-hero than a villain – certainly the King, and his army were worse than she was, and only Princess Aurora herself (Elle Fanning) was an innocent – something even Maleficent eventually realizes.
We didn’t really need a sequel to that film – but it made money, and it was Disney, so of course we got one. And the initial look at the films seems promising – a film in which Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer go toe-to-toe certainly sounds promising. And yet, outside of the films best sequence – an extended dinner scene in which Pfeiffer, the queen of a nearby kingdom whose son, Prince Philip, wants to marry Aurora – in which Pfeiffer does everything in a passive-aggressive way to anger Maleficent, we are mostly denied the awesome toe-to-toe that could have been. What we have instead is an another CGI fueled action movie – one in which a giant battle pretty much takes up the last third of the film, before they can slap the happy ending on. We spend so much time on this battle that the film all but abandons any pretense of examining the effects on its characters – flattening them all into bland and forgettable stand-ins for good and evil. Jolie herself seems shunted to the side for far too long here – she spends time with her own kind, in their hidden world, when Pfeiffer is planning and carrying out her genocidal rampage. The movie doesn’t really forget about her – but it almost does.
The movie also, probably by accident, ends up being more retrograde in its outlook than Disney has tried to be in recent years. They have tried, even in movies with Princesses, to not tie everything together with a wedding and a happily ever after, but that’s exactly what happens here – where right after a massacre, essentially both sides come together for a wedding that will fix everything – the one and only bad person has been vanquished, so just get over it I guess.
The film makes poor use of its talented cast, and the CGI isn’t really up to snuff either – it’s fairly lackadaisical and by-the-numbers, offering nothing all that imaginative. It stands out as a pretty big disappointment after the first film – which was hardly a masterpiece, but tried to do something different for Disney. With this film, it seems, they’re more comfortable with the same old same old.

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