Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the sequel to the 2014 film Maleficent, and it will certainly come as a relief to all those who, in the interim, have been worried that Disney might let a potential franchise go unexploited. Did that keep you awake at night, as it did me? Well, now we can all sleep easy, knowing that the sequel no one was clamoring for (yet may still make a ton of money even though it’s crap) is finally here. Phew.
So, once upon a second time, Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the evil fairy in the giant horn wig who cursed Sleeping Beauty. The first film was, in effect, an origins story. It wasn’t an especially good origins story, but at least it had a point, as it asked: how did Maleficent become so dark and wicked and twisted. Whereas this time out? We don’t appear to be asking much of anything.
Directed by Joachim Rønning, the film opens by flying us over the Moors, the enchanted forest kingdom ruled by Maleficent. A voiceover tells us that she is ‘still hated’ even though, by the end of the first film, she’d become a total mensch. She’d reversed the curse on Sleeping Beauty, aka Princess Aurora, with the love she had learned to feel for her, then treated her like a daughter. And as motherhood equals fulfillment, presumably, she just didn’t feel the need to be dark, wicked and twisted any more. But all that, continues the voiceover, has been ‘completely forgotten’. Handy, I suppose, if we’re meant to hate her again. And the film doesn’t want to do any of that work itself.
Next it’s into the forest where we discover that Aurora (Elle Fanning) is still white, blonde and dull, yet has been made Queen of the Moors by Maleficent, who wants more time for what? Golf? Who knows. (Or even cares, let’s be honest.) The plot is set in motion when Aurora agrees to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) who is hot but has no personality whatsoever, which can, admittedly, sometimes be the trouble with hot men. They want their marriage to unite the Moors with the human kingdom, which is where Philip is from, but it turns out that his mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), has other plans, and wants to conquer everything and everybody. On the other hand, Philip’s father, King John (Robert Lindsay), is kindly but a curse early on puts him to sleep almost until the very end. Lucky fella, you will likely think.
So it’s war and CGI battles and it all looks tip-top, as does Jolie, with her giant horn wig and incredible cheekbones. But she’s given maybe 10 lines to say, max. Spectacle is no substitute for storytelling and the storytelling is a leaden mess. Why does Queen Ingrith hate little magic folk? No idea. When did the Moors people suddenly develop this allergy to iron? No idea. Why is this subtitled ‘Mistress of Evil’ when Maleficent isn’t in any way bad any more? Ah, that’s because… nope, no idea. But at least it all builds into a strong message about ‘overcoming difference’ which none of us have ever heard before, apart from a billion times.