‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ relies too much on large-scale warfare to tell its fairy-tale story.
Kernel Rating: 3 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. This sequel to the first ‘Maleficent’ film returns to the Moors where fairies and other magical creatures live in uneasy proximity to human kingdoms; the film builds in backstory for the titular Maleficent that introduces a new species of magical creatures. But the movie relies too early and too often on violence and warfare to move the plot forward; many, many fairies and other beings are tortured, harmed, killed, or destroyed, and a variety of weapons, including crossbows, bombs, and bullets, are used. Teenage characters kiss and there is talk of a character becoming pregnant; humans and fae insult each other.
By Roxana Hadadi
The latest method of updating fairy-tale stories is to incorporate large-scale warfare to make them seem more real, and so it goes that the sequel to “Maleficent” goes the route of “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” shifts the narrative away from a subversive retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” and into a violence-filled bonanza that might scare younger viewers with is onslaught of war and prevalence of death.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” picks up 5 years after the first film, in which the dark fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) was portrayed with some empathy. We now understand her to be the defender of the Moors, where the fairies and other magical creatures live, and a beloved mother figure to Queen Aurora (Elle Fanning), who she named to rule the Moors. But as Aurora has grown, her attention is divided: between the needs and requests of her subjects and her own desire to be with her boyfriend, Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), who is next in line to rule the kingdom Ulstead, which borders the Moors.
There is already bad blood between the two lands: Fairies are going missing from Ulstead, while human men keep turning up dead. Humans loathe the magical creatures, while Maleficent is merciless in her defense of them. And so the news that Aurora has accepted Phillip’s proposal is met with mixed reaction, both from Maleficent, who is wary of how Aurora will change when around other humans, and from Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has her own agenda regarding the Moors.
A misunderstanding at dinner leads to a rift between Maleficent and her daughter, and the reveal that Maleficent is not the only fae of her kind. Her reunion with other horned, winged beings known as Dark Fae is a complex one because they too have issues with humankind, and are unsure of how to proceed: While hotheaded Borra (Ed Skrein) desires war, more even-headed Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) thinks a peace can be reached between the human kingdoms and the Dark Fae, if only Maleficent will help broker it. Will she?
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” benefits from the excellent chemistry between Jolie and Fanning, who show great affection and love for each other; their bond helps communicate the unlikely relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. But the movie tips its hand too early with the reveal about Ingrith’s intentions, and the narrative is so intense with its depiction of warfare that it makes the ultimately happy ending even more difficult to take. There are about 10 minutes of time within the film between a large-scale genocide and a kingdom-uniting wedding, and it’s a jarring shift that demonstrates the movie’s difficulty with striking a consistent tone. The same goes for another scene where a human is shown blissfully playing an organ that dispels out poison bombs; her physicality is played for laughs, but her actions kill numerous fan-favorite characters. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” wants to raise its stakes, but the movie is too extreme in its methodology.
Still, some moments before then are quite beautiful, in particular the society of Dark Fae. Their character development and production design nods to different cultural traditions from around the world, and their secret hideaway is imagined as an eerie series of labyrinthine caves that look as if they are carved from bone or shaped from wood. It’s unfortunate that “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” spends less time in that world than it does scaling a gigantic war that the movie glosses over in record time. “Mistress of Evil” is less of a subversive fairy tale this time around, and as a result slightly disappoints.
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