I re-watched 2014’s “Maleficent” last week in order to get ready for “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” It had been a couple of years since I had seen the film starring my favorite Disney villain.
My main takeaway from my re-watch? “Maleficent” didn’t need a sequel. The story of the dark fae and the baby she cursed who grew into a young woman she loved was told to completion. It was a story of redemption, revenge and a love truer than any romantic love could ever be.
Five years later, we have a sequel, and I stand by original statement: “Maleficent” didn’t need a sequel.
It’s literally five years after the events of the first movie, and Aurora (Elle Fanning) is queen of the Moors, the enchanted forest where all the fae and other magical creatures live. Despite the fact Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) was the one who provided true love’s kiss to Sleeping Beauty, she’s been vilified by the humans in the neighboring kingdom. After all, she’s still the one who cursed a baby, right?
Aurora and Philip (Harris Dickinson, a recast from the first film’s Philip) are getting married. Maleficent isn’t thrilled with the news, but she’s willing to put on a smile to please Aurora. Unfortunately, Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfieffer) is a genocidal maniac who doesn’t approve of the marriage. Or Maleficent. Or Aurora. Or really anyone who’s not human or in any way connected to the Moors folks.
At a dinner to celebrate the engagement, the king is stricken by a curse, and Ingrith creates a rift between Maleficent and Aurora by blaming Maleficent. Y’all, this is after Ingrith has goaded and poked and insulted Maleficent throughout the entire meal, but Maleficent is automatically the bad guy when something bad happens. Even Aurora turns away from her. I never thought Aurora’s character was very bright, but this is ridiculous.
The queen’s henchwoman (Jenn Murray — I’m not sure the character was ever named, but she sounds like Riff Raff from “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) injures Maleficent as she makes a break for it from the castle and the vile, nasty, disloyal people within it. Badly injured, she’s rescued by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another dark fae, who takes her to an exiled kingdom where many dark fae live. This includes Borra (Ed Skrein), who wants to kill everyone. He’s Scar to Conall’s Mufasa, if you will.
I’m trying to cut down on the synopsis here, but this film has a ridiculous amount of stuff going on. As the film goes on, we discover the queen is not only a shrew but also the genocidal maniac. She has a mad scientist (Warwick Davis) creating a biological weapon to kill all fairies.
So, here’s the thing. “Maleficent Mistress of Evil” is a PG-rated movie. It’s intended for kids. PG literally means “parental guidance suggested.” And yet, here we are. There are a number of things I struggle with here, but I really can’t stress enough the genocidal maniac that is Queen Ingrith. She’s a vile creature and truly the most monstrous entity in the film.
She tries to justify her actions by saying she’s taking care of her kingdom, and the fairies must be exterminated so her citizens can claim the Moors’ riches, meaning food and supplies. She feels they’re creatures who don’t have rights or even deserve to live. Considering the slaughter that takes place on screen, I have to wonder if the MPAA feels the same.
You see, Ingrid’s scientist has test subjects, who also have to be living, breathing fairies kept like lab rats in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. And we see one of those test subjects meet its end in the name of protecting the kingdom.
In fact, we see lots of characters meet their end in the movie. From the gas chamber-like trap Ingrith creates for the Moors folks to the battle between her soldiers and the dark fae, we discover the weapon her scientist created is very lethal. The audience sees life after life snuffed out. It makes the film crazy dark and extremely depressing.
What’s even more off-point is the end sequence where everyone pretends nothing bad happened. After all, there’s going to be a wedding! The film has a gas chamber and a blushing bride so what more do you need?
The film does feature very sincere performances from Pfeiffer, Ejifor and Skrein. Every single one of them oozes sincerity for their cause, whether it be peace or murder. Then there’s Dickinson, who’s probably sweet but very dull in this film. But, he’s not quite as dumb as Aurora, who basically throws away a five-year relationship with her godmother.
And then there’s Jolie. Some of her best bits in the first film were her interactions with her Beasty, a.k.a. Aurora or Diaval (Sam Riley), her faithful servant. While there are glimpses of that lightness here, Jolie feels like she’s relegated to a supporting character in her own movie. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” isn’t Maleficent’s tale, it’s everyone else’s. Regardless of screen time, I feel like Jolie is the Golden Age actress you give a cameo, just because she deserves to be remembered. None of that really matters, though, given the screenplay.
While the MPAA might have thought this is a suitable film for children, I can’t agree. I’m not even sure it’s suitable for full-grown adults. As much as I hate to say it, if you love Maleficent and her story, stop at the 2014 film or even rewatch the classic “Sleeping Beauty.” This sequel doesn’t do the character or the Disney legacy justice.