“You poor simple fools, thinking you could defeat me. Me? The mistress of all evil?” There is no more iconic Disney villain than that of Maleficent, a woman who commands “All the forces of Hell” and is most known for casting a death curse on a baby, yet with the 2014 live-action film Maleficent, the good folks at Disney Studios tried to put a kinder spin on this classic character, and box office receipts showed that many people were on board with such a radical change. Now, five years later, we have the sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, where we are to learn if there can be a “Happily Ever After” for both Maleficent and Princess Aurora.
Taking place five years after the events of the previous movie, we find Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning ) has been given the position of Queen of the Moors, with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie ) as its guardian and protector — when or how the Moors became a kingdom is never explained, as it was simply a magical forest realm bordering a human kingdom in the last film — but paradise is put on hold when Aurora informs Maleficent that she plans to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson ), heir to the neighbouring kingdom of Ulstead. Maleficent is opposed to this union stating, “Love doesn’t always end well,” but Aurora is insistent and before you can say, “Look who’s coming to dinner?” Aurora and Maleficent are sitting down to dinner with Phillip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay ) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer ), where an awkward dinner conversation quickly turns into nasty accusations.
Maleficent flees the castle, after seemingly cursing King John, and while taking wing, she is shot out of the sky by the Queen’s top henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray ), who was armed with a lead-shot-firing crossbow, but before Maleficent can perish, she is rescued by the Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor ), the leader of the Dark Fae who also wants to broker peace between humans and fairy kind. Conall and his people all sport the same trademark horns and wings of Maleficent and from them, she learns that these fellow fae have been forced into hiding and have nearly been driven to extinction by human oppression. She is, of course, also a direct descendant of the Dark Phoenix Fae, a legendary being of great power.
To say a lot is going on within Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s two-hour run-time, would be a vast understatement — I wasn’t much of a fan of the first film, but at least its plot followed basic fairy tale logic — and this movie practically needs a flow chart to keep track of what’s going on. First, we have King John who, like his son, wants peace between Ulstead and the Kingdom of the Moors, and then we have Queen Ingrith who’s secretly building an arsenal in a massive hidden weapons factory located below the very castle itself. She also has henchmen sneaking into Moor to steal fairies so that the Queen’s de-winged pixie, Lickspittle (Warwick Davis ), can experiment on them in the hopes of developing a lethal weapon that will annihilate all fairies once and for all. This plan will also involve inviting all the fairy folk from Moor to the wedding, which is just one big trap. Then, we also have Borra (Ed Skrein ), a warlike member of the Dark Fae who favours open conflict with humans, and he can’t wait to launch a full-scale attack on Ulstead so that his people can stop living in caves.
Messy plot mechanics aside, one of the biggest problems I had with this film was the bloody title, for at no point in this film does Maleficent perform a single act that could even remotely be called evil, so why is this film called Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and not something more apt like Maleficent: Mistress of Sharp Cheekbones?
Let’s look at her track record in this film; she agrees to let Aurora marry Prince Philip, is framed for cursing King John, and then she survives two assassination attempts before eventually making peace between the races. That doesn’t sound too “Mistress of Evil” to me, but hey, what do I know? With Queen Ingrith’s plans involving the desecration of fairy burial grounds and the genocide of their entire species, the film really should have been called Queen Ingrith: Mistress of Evil. I wasn’t all happy with the neutering of Maleficent in the previous film, where she went evil because she was basically date raped, but in this outing, she’s practically useless throughout the film’s entire run-time. Maleficent has no agency of her own, as we only see her reacting to events being flung at her, and she’s not all that effective at doing even that.
I guess I should be happy that this wasn’t just another soulless live-action remake like Tim Burton’s Dumbo — which was terrible on so many levels — but the character assassination of one of Disney’s premier villains is almost worse. In the first film, Angelina Jolie seemed to be having a little fun with the twist on the classic tale, even if the Broadway play Wicked had already covered that ground years before, but this time out, Jolie seems to just be going through the motions. Jolie will most likely still go down in history as the best looking live-action interpretation of an animated character, but the heart of Maleficent has been truly gutted.
• Why is Maleficent completely unaware of the Dark Fae? Even if Maleficent had been separated from them as a baby, you’d think some other fairy creatures would know of their existence and filled her in on what species of Fae she was.
• Queen Ingrith somehow managed to acquire the spinning wheel from the first movie, and use its spindle to put King John into a magical coma, but the curse Maleficent used was directed at the baby Aurora, with the spindle being just the catalyst, and thus should have had no effect on anyone but the Princess.
• We learn Queen Ingrith has been twisting the events of the previous events to cast Maleficent in a bad light, stoking the fear in her subjects, and she explains that, “It doesn’t matter who woke Sleeping Beauty, they’re all terrified, and the story became legend.” Excuse me, but how does something become a legend in just five years?
• That Aurora’s fairy friends somehow survive the lethal fairy-killing gas, despite being trapped within the castle’s cathedral, is the very definition of plot armour.
• We never get a backstory as to why the de-winged pixie Lickspittle was in cahoots with the Queen to kill his own kind, but I bet it’d have made a more interesting story than this one.
• In the previous film, Maleficent turned her flunky Diaval (Sam Riley) into a dragon, and in this film, Maleficent turns into a Dark Phoenix. Do the people over at Disney have something against Maleficent herself turning into a bloody dragon?
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a mess from the first moment to the last frame; that the cast includes such great actors as Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer and then wastes them in such a way, is a crime against cinema — the less said the better about Harris Dickinson, who replaced Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip as he had about as much screen charisma as soggy toast. Elle Fanning is given a little more to do this time out, but as it’s mostly a “Damsel in Distress” schtick, her performance can’t be put in the win column, and overall, the acting in this film ranged from phoning it in to swinging for the fences. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a worse cash grab than all those live-action remakes combined because it took a character I loved and turned her into that cranky aunt you dread seeing on Thanksgiving.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
I’ve nothing against reimaging classic tales, I even found Disney’s live-action Cinderella to be rather charming, but what they did here to one of cinema’s greatest villains is unforgivable. Maybe with a better script, some entertainment value could have been reached but the end product we received was a travesty.