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
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.
Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Linda Woolverton, (based on a story by Linda Woolverton)
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