Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (aka Disney's Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The sequel to 2014's Maleficent would seem to be a more pleasing upgrade from its dour predecessor. Free from the grim garnish and rape allegories, here is a film where the titular witch can literally spread her wings. When she does, however, a more colorful picture takes flight, yes, but also a more tiresome tale of colonialism most bland.
This is rather depressing considering how strong of a high note the film opens with. Princess Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), now the princess of the Moores, is quickly falling in love with Prince Phillip of a more armed kingdom. Their territory had once been at war but maybe a marriage would cool the fires of hatred.
The announcement of the wedding itself has done little to cool the feathers of the winged witch Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). Still bitter about humans after her brutal breakup with a king, she is not keen to let her daughter get married to a human. But Aurora is her adopted daughter and she is still a softy for having such pointed horns. She’s willing to stifle a smile if it means the happiness of some she has raised since she, well, you know, cured her.
The dinner to celebrate the marraige at the more civilized kingdom has its brilliant moments considering how Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), despises creatures of the forrests. Their banter about kingdoms and questionable actions is hilariously awkward and biting that I wished this would be the entire movie. Of course, it won’t be. We’re shown very early that Ingrith really enjoys a good war and that the current peace isn’t sitting well with her. We see that she is preparing for war with her secret armory, laboratory and general distate in the King who favors peace. Should we really be surprised when it turns out she stages a scene to launch the kingdom into war?
Out of nowhere, the film pulls out a more left-field surprise; there’s an underground world of more creatures that look like Maleficent. They all have wings and horns, driven underground by the humans who forced them out. They can’t trust the humans and believe they should take back the land that was once their own. If this sounds too on the nose for being a film about colonialism, they’ll beat this point home in a scene where Ingrith calls them all savages with the very next scene featuring them all in war paint and beating their chests in a war chant.
There’s familiar shades here of the likes of Dune, Dances With Wolves, Avatar, etc. The big difference is that those previous films took their time so that we understand each side to have value in who wins or loses. So little time is spent with either the magical creatures or humans that there’s little stake in caring who will win this battle. We just have to settle for a few characters we know of basic traits for a few scenes being angered and sad that their comrade perished in battle. Even familiar characters from the previous film are killed and I still feel little for them with such a lack of focus and development.
Mistress of Evil is so unneeded in how it taps into such a tired scenario for more fantasy fair. Rather than harp on how tense the relations are between magical creatures and human, this film falls back on such an old and tired battle of colonialism that never comes off as unique. Angelina Jolie still looks remarkable as this kind of villain and it’s neat to see her slip back into her evil ways, but it’s filtered through a rusty lens.