Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Joachim Rønning

Starring

Angelina Jolie Elle Fanning Michelle Pfeiffer

Anticipation.

Always nice to see Jolie in a film.

Enjoyment.

Alas, her performance is so understated as to be imperceptible.

In Retrospect.

A waste of everyone’s time.

Angelina Jolie and co are back is this muddled and misguided sequel to Disney’s inverted fairy tale.

Five years ago, Disney’s Maleficent reimagined the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain: the evil godmother who curses a child to fall into an eternal sleep on her 16th birthday, with only true love’s kiss able to wake her. Though turning an allegorical fairy tale into a character study may not appear like an obvious idea, from the perspective of a studio interested in recycling its own material while adapting it to the mores of the time, Maleficent made sense.

On the one hand, the origin story revealed that the mean creature was only a hurt, proud woman without the proper tools to deal with her anger, thus overturning the misogynistic undertones of both Charles Perrault’s original story and Disney’s own 1959 animated interpretation. But more importantly, Maleficent allowed Disney to freely indulge in the idea that the bad guys are more interesting than the heroes.

As suggested by the success of a recent film about a crazy murderous clown, this idea is yet to go out of style, and Disney attempts to recreate the magic in the randomly-titled Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. The fact that the first film firmly established the inherent goodness and hero status of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is a hurdle the sequel overcomes with the grace of a sledgehammer. Awkwardly arguing that legend becomes fact really fast in the world of fairies, a voiceover informs us that humans have simply “forgotten” the events of the previous film, and now hate Maleficent all over again.

Thus this new adventure begins on already shaky ground, and we spend the next two hours in a cruel world where nothing good ever lasts, more sympathetic to the wronged Maleficent than ever. Making matters worse is the flat, aggressively bright CGI, which gives the Moors where Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) and the other miscellaneous creatures live the allure of a child’s birthday party, stripped of all mystery and wonder.

The faces of Juno Temple, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton are back, stuck once more to the floating digital bodies of the Princess’ fairy godmothers, apparitions more unsettling than any of Maleficent’s frankly elegant black gowns and slender thorns.

When Prince Philip (now played by Harris Dickinson), after waiting five whole years for some undisclosed reason, finally asks Aurora for her hand, Maleficent is invited to meet the family and the temperamental creature tries her best to be agreeable. But she finds good reason to be upset when soon-to-be mother-in-law Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) threatens to take Aurora away from her.

We soon learn that this provocation is part of a plan not only to forever break the bond between the worlds of humans and creatures, but to eradicate the latter. Not such a novel idea for a film where man and magical entities cohabit, but the clumsy inclusion of what can only be described as Holocaust imagery certainly gives pause.

In one scene, Ingrith’s men cut all the rare flowers growing in the fairy cemetery – essentially vandalising the graves of an already oppressed minority – for her evil scientist to use in the concoction of a fairy-killing powder. Even more eyebrow-raising is a scene of actual extermination, in which the Queen lures the creatures into the church, only to lock them in and spray the deadly powder over them.

Such references to real-world tragedy can be worthwhile – Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant is a children’s film that successfully broached the topic of nuclear weapons and mass destruction, making the horror of hate palpable while acknowledging the gravity of genocide. But here – despite the revelation of the existence of other horned creatures like Maleficent, a gesture towards bigger themes of oppression, home and belonging – these plot elements come across as random, misguided and sadly unimaginative.

Published 16 Oct 2019

Tags: Angelina Jolie Disney Elle Fanning Joachim Rønning Michelle Pfeiffer

Anticipation.

Always nice to see Jolie in a film.

Enjoyment.

Alas, her performance is so understated as to be imperceptible.

In Retrospect.

A waste of everyone’s time.

Related Reviews

Beauty and the Beast

By David Jenkins

This luxuriant live-action refit of the beloved animated feature sees Disney extend its recent winning streak.

review

Frozen

By David Jenkins

A very decent seasonal Disney feature which amply refreshes a haggard old template.

review

Alice in Wonderland

By Anton Bitel

Tim Burton has always been a visual storyteller and his Alice is a source of visual wonder.

review LWLies Recommends

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design