Thursday 24 October 2019

Film Review: Maleficent – Mistress of Evil

The beast is back as Angelina Jolie dons the spiky horns of Maleficent for a second time in Disney's Mistress of Evil.

Maleficent, Robert Stromberg's 2014 reimagining of the classic Disney villain, wasn't a critical darling, but it did win over audiences to the tune of over $750 million, giving Disney plenty of reasons to woo its star Angelina Jolie back for the sequel.

Now with one-time Pirates of the Caribbean director Joachim Ronning at the helm, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil sees Jolie square off against evil queen Ingrid, played by a scenery-chewing Michelle Pfeiffer. With adoptive daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) engaged to true love Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), Maleficent must 'meet the parents' and play nice with the future in-laws ahead of the wedding.

But, Ingrid has other ideas, and conspires to frame Maleficent for bewitching Phillip's father, King John (Robert Lindsay). Cast out by the royals and Aurora, the lonesome dark fairy finds solace in a colony of likeminded outcasts, all while Ingrid plots to stake her claim over both John and Aurora's kingdoms.

I'm not sure many people were 'asking' for a sequel to Maleficent, but Disney has seen fit to make one nonetheless – with the first proving so popular, it's easy money for the Mouse House.

This sequel undoes much of the first film's character work in the opening five minutes, with some narration basically resetting Jolie to a misunderstood witch and driving a wedge between her and Aurora once again. Jolie continues to look the part, complete with fearsome horns and razor-sharp cheekbones (courtesy of some clever prosthetic makeup and costuming).

That said, the film doesn't give her an awful lot to do – mostly, Maleficent is relegated to a passive plot device for other characters to manoeuvre around. Her two big character moments – the inciting incident where she rises to Ingrid's bait over dinner and another that arrives at the start of the third act – are curiously undersold and carry little dramatic heft. For a film titled 'Mistress of Evil', Maleficent is fairly nice at this point – maybe it should have been called 'Mistress of Being Misunderstood'?

A subplot about her lineage is similarly lost amongst reams of fantasy exposition, delivered with sombre seriousness by sleepwalking Chiwetel Ejiofor. In fact, quite a lot of Mistress of Evil is concerned with overlong political waffle – the film has a stab at some half-baked race allegories, but it's rote stuff with warring factions and...I'm nodding off.

Then the third act arrives and it rolls on and on, all the while characters portentously wax lyrical about how 'war has come' and the like.  An overabundance of CGI soon becomes tiresome and the film could easily be about 20 minutes shorter.

I'm sure Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has a hungry audience waiting to feed on its fantasy lingo, flowery forests and winged beasts, but unfortunately I am not it. This is Disney in cruise control, safe in the knowledge that it can churn through the motions and arrive at an easy, breezy happy ending ever after.

The Verdict: 4.5/10

Middle of the road fantasy fare, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil strangely sidelines Jolie in favour of muddled messaging and forgettable fluff.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is in cinemas across Australia now.

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