Movie Guru: ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ delivers more promise than the original
One of Disney’s best-known villainesses finally gets to spread her wings a little.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” the misleadingly named sequel to 2014’s “Maleficent,” is a far more assured movie than the original. The movie starts five years after the last movie, when Aurora and Prince Phillip finally cap off their long courtship with an engagement. The marriage would unify the Moors and Phillip’s kingdom, but Phillip’s mother has a much darker plan in mind. When Maleficent becomes a target, she discovers that she’s not the last of her kind as she once thought. Will the entire country devolve into war, or will Maleficent decide that peace is more important than vengeance?
The storyline is stronger and more complex in “Mistress of Evil” than in the original film, with better established themes. This allows the movie to have a bigger supporting cast, more of which get established personalities and even some cool moments. And that supporting cast — Elle Fanning, Sam Riley and Michelle Pfeiffer — delivers a performance that matches Angelina Jolie’s in the titular role. It gets to be its own story, not just an adaptation with as many callbacks to the original tale as possible. It’s a fantasy action-adventure worth spending time with.
It also does a better job of establishing the movies as a viable, independent fantasy world. The addition of Maleficent’s people helps give a better sense of inter-kingdom politics and history. It gives Maleficent herself more of a backstory, adding an extra depth of poignancy that only validates her pain.
Even better, the entire rest of the cast gets more of a chance to be interesting. Fanning’s Aurora actually gets her own independent character arc in this movie, and Harris Dickinson’s Phillip gets a few cool moments of his own. Riley’s Diaval is just as charming as last time, but there’s clearly been some unspoken growth in his relationships with other characters.
This applies to new and minor characters as well. Ed Skrein’s character, Borra, starts off seeming like a pure warmonger but is slowly shown to have genuine love and care for his people. Even Lesley Manville, whose fairy was pure ditzy comic relief in the last movie, gets genuinely heroic moments. Some of the other fairies get actual personalities, and one of the bad soldiers gets his own miniature character arc.
Pfeiffer is fantastic as the evil queen, chewing the scenery with an enthusiasm that proves to be infectious. She’s considerably more fun than Sharlto Copley’s Stefan, who took on the bad guy role in the 2014 movie. He was just crazy, especially by the end, but Pfeiffer’s character will plot your death while she’s smiling at you. In the end, that’s ultimately more frightening.
The movie’s one real flaw is that Jolie and Pfeiffer’s characters don’t get much of a chance to interact. The trailers, and even the basic premise, promise a diva showdown that the movie never really delivers on. It tells its own story, but anyone looking for the faceoff element will be disappointed.
Mostly, though, it’s a solid fantasy adventure that shows real growth for the series. If this is the way the producers learned to tell a story, I’d love to hear more.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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