Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Directed by Joachim Ronning. Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer. Rating: 5 (out of 10)
Maleficent had her wings monstrously clipped in the first live-action adaptation of the Disney film, which went a long way in explaining the source of the villainess’s bad temper. But there’s a figurative wing-clipping in this sequel, one that neuters some of her power and much of her identity.
Five years have passed and Aurora (Elle Fanning) has been raised by Maleficent in the Moors among the fairies and creatures who dwell there, including those well-meaning but inept pixies Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville).
But things are about to change. Presumably tired of commuting long-distance from the neighbouring kingdom of Ulstead, Aurora’s boyfriend Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats) has asked for her hand in marriage. Suspicious of humankind since her own lost love and wing-clipping incident, Maleficent’s answer is a resounding no. “Love doesn’t always end well, Beastie.”
Yes, Maleficent still calls Aurora “Beastie,” one of the few things that hint at her less-than-maternal origins. But her true love’s kiss and the years raising Aurora have softened her; afraid to lose her goddaughter forever, Maleficent consents to a meet-the-inlaws dinner with Prince Philip’s father and mother (Robert Lindsay, Michelle Pfeiffer). She even covers up her horns for the occasion.
There’s a new Evil Queen in town, and Pfeiffer plays the role to the hilt: claws out, but minus the Catwoman suit. Her husband may want to broker peace, but the Queen has a more violent, more permanent solution. Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith is a fair match for Jolie’s arch-camp performance, but has the effect of minimizing Maleficent’s malevolence and making the “Mistress of Evil” of the title something of a misnomer.
So too does the revelation that Maleficent is not the only one of her kind. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads a band of winged creatures – the dark fey – who are in hiding from the human world. He asks Maleficent for her allegiance to her own kind, for a change. From here the film devolves into a kind of kingdom warfare heavily influenced by TV’s Game of Thrones and dark enough that parents with young children should give this one a miss.
The 2014 Disney film was an inventive spin on the classic fairy tale, told from the villain’s point of view and with a feminist twist. But what started off as a study of inherent badness-versus-goodness and the power of love and kinship becomes an overwrought CGI spectacle by the sequel’s end, with a hefty (albeit bloodless) fairy body count.
It’s a nice change to have a Disney offering that isn’t a frame-by-frame live action remake of an animated film (see Jungle Book, The Lion King, Aladdin) but when you have a cast this committed, it behooves you to give them something to do beyond wicked glances, a great deal of flying around, and mass execution orders. Let them spread their wings, so to speak. A less-is-more approach is sorely needed; viewers may find themselves falling into a deep sleep of their own.