Directed by Joachim Rønning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil stars Angelina Jolie, returning as the titular dark fairy, dealing with her goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) becoming engaged to Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), whose mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is setting a plan in motion to execute war against the neighbouring magical creatures under Maleficent and Aurora’s protection.
The first Maleficent five years ago is regarded now as a middle-ground Disney remake. It falls into all the familiar traps of the other remakes, shoving in unnecessary changes to beef up the minimal story from the original. Maleficent was accepted predominantly as a more postmodernist take on female characters in fantasy fiction. The true love to break the sleeping curse was not the love of some useless prince who showed up two days ago, but instead the love of a mother to a daughter she has seen grow up before her eyes. I didn’t like Maleficent, but I did respect that that one story change was enough of a reason for the remake to exist. So off we all went, thinking that was a one-and-done thing, on to the next story to recontextualise.
Oh… wait… no. Um… hmm… this is strange, but… for some reason… uh… oh… there’s a sequel no one asked for. Called what? Mistress of Evil? Really? Well then…
Consider Angelina Jolie’s deliciously twisted yet poignant performance behind great makeup, her fantastic costume and all the other things that people actually liked about the first Maleficent? Well forget all that because now it’s time for a tired world-building affair that doubles-down on ghastly CGI. Add the cutting the already overblown budget, the hiring talented actors to fill useless roles, and the feeling that it’s trying really hard to be the ‘next big fantasy thing’ to fill the void that Game of Thrones left, and you have the result of something that looks and feels like another awful adaptation of a best-forgotten young adult novel about fairies and magic and other dumb crap.
In all honesty, I hated Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. I heavily criticised recent Disney live-action remakes such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin,and The Lion King for not doing enough to justify their existence as live-action remakes, questioning certain casting or technical decisions, and generally being bored by stories I already know or plotlines I could see happening a mile away. Well Maleficent: Mistress of Evil does all the same things wrong as those movies, then goes above and beyond to bore you to literal tears with not a single frame making sense or being worth one second of your attention.
Tell me how, dear reader, can you take the titular character and make her a supporting character in her own goddamn movie? Angelina Jolie feels like she’s barely in this, only occasionally popping in to stare at something big and crazy going on, flare her fanged teeth at enemies, oh, and is given such minimal dialogue that she is only given a few moments to deliver an actual performance. Pfft, who wants that?
Elle Fanning is trying to make this all work, but just like with the first movie, she’s working with a bland and ineffectual character that has no agency in the story. She might as well be asleep again.
Michelle Pfeiffer, on the other hand, is going big instead of going home. Maybe it was a directorial note or simply an independent choice by the actress to go over-the-top and broad, but whatever it was it made me laugh, whether intentional or not. What stops Pfeiffer from being maybe the best part of everything is that she’s still working with a dull and poorly defined character we never care about, still having to deliver corny dialogue that no-one can make work. The way the film is edited chops up her performance into occasional flairs of eccentricity, but mostly presents her delivering long stares at nothing in particular.
Every other actor could have been cut from the movie and it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference. The three fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville) are still so annoying you want to crush each one with your shoe. Prince Philip has a better new actor (Harris Dickinson taking over from Brenton Thwaites) but is no less bland. Fantastic actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Gyasi are wasted on roles that feel like last-minute rewrites. And then there’s Ed Skrein as a dark angel-fairy man who can control plants and screams most of his words. No thanks.
Henry Braham’s cinematography is a step-down from the lush environments captured by Dean Semler in the first film, as is Geoff Zanelli’s score a significant decrease in quality from James Newton Howard’s (which wasn’t his best work anyway). While the makeup and practical effects are still effective, the digital effects are simply awful. Everything looks cheap and rushed like you would expect from a terrible sequel no one wanted, and you can tell all of this from the opening credits.
What annoyed me the most was Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s editing. Editing is designed to not be noticed, it’s meant to tie all the pieces of filmmaking together into an understandable story. The editing does do this at first, but once the halfway mark hits, some strange things happen. The cutting back and forth from Aurora’s castle shenanigans to Maleficent getting constant exposition dumps about her race and some prophecy, but whenever action takes place the film jumps around to a flurry of random, unintelligible shots rendering any intended intensity virtually invisible.
And then there’s the sudden and cheap-looking fade cuts in the middle of the fucking climactic battle. A fade cut is designed to ease an audience’s attention into a new location, character, or time setting, not to cut from a catapult firing to where the projectile landed. It’s not even the usage of fade-cuts but the fast nature of them, looking like what I’m capable of with Adobe Premiere Pro. This editing is simply embarrassing.
If you read my recent review on Gemini Man then you’ll see that I considered it to be one of the worst films of the year. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is even worse. Even if you liked the first movie, every element that you enjoyed before is reduced by at least 50-75%, actors are giving either dull performances or pronouncing important words like “Maleficent” and “humans” incorrectly, and Joachim Rønning is proving that the terrible quality of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was no accident. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the worst Disney live-action remake since either Alice movie, a boring and bland bounty of bullshit that I will gladly forget as soon as possible.
Director: Joachim Rønning
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Linda Woolverton, (based on a story by Linda Woolverton)