Some movies win you over and others trick you into liking them. 2014’s Maleficent fell into the latter category. People love Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty, not to mention Frozen and Wicked. So naturally, recycling the same characters and ideas turned Maleficent into an audience favorite. Upon my first viewing, I admittedly looked past many of the film’s faults to appreciate its highlights, i.e. the gorgeous production values and Angelina Jolie’s juicy performance. Looking back five years later, though, the film’s cons undeniably outweigh its pros. Does Maleficent: Mistress of Evil learn from the mistakes of its predecessor? Does Maleficent do anything explicitly evil or even unethical in this film? Well, no, and that’s just one of the many problems.
Although she turned over a new leaf in the first film, humans still view Maleficent as a villain. Maleficent is less concerned about her public image, however, and more worried about Princess Aurora’s (Elle Fanning) impending marriage to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). Along with the bride-to-be, Maleficent is invited to a celebratory dinner hosted by Phillips’ parents. Have you ever wanted to see the fairytale version of Meet the Fockers or Father of the Bride? If not, too bad because the first twenty minutes of this movie turns Maleficent into a shrill, disapproving mother who won’t let her daughter grow up. As if the character hadn’t been stripped of enough dignity already.
Thankfully, this more comedic angle is dropped as the plot gets rolling, but what ensues isn’t much better. Phillips’ mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), is hell-bent on painting Maleficent as a monster so she can declare war on the Moors. Herein lies the biggest issue with both Maleficent movies. The message seems to be that every story has two sides and nobody is one-dimensionally evil. This moral doesn’t really work, however, when you have an undeveloped villain filling in for Maleficent.
Granted, Frozen and Wicked had bad guys too. In those stories, though, the villain was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tying into the theme that appearances can be deceiving. Here, we know that Ingrith is going to be a bad guy from the second she storms onto the screen. It doesn’t help that Ingrith’s motivations are shoehorned into a quick monologue that does little to flesh her out. Rather than making Maleficent a more sympathetic and complex character, the filmmakers just made the characters surrounding her either more devious or dumber. Speaking of which, those idiotic pixies played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville are also back, although they aren’t quite as annoying this time.
Occasionally we see glimpses of a more interesting movie, such as when Maleficent learns where her people came from. Even this subplot comes off as undercooked, though. It all accumulates to an overproduced climax that feels like the PG version of the Red Wedding. While Jolie once again does what she can with the material, much of the script simply requires her to stare off into space. There are a lot of dead glares and wooden line reads here, suggesting that none of the actors involved were especially passionate about the project. In the first scene, three men wander into a dark forest. One of them suggests turning around while they still can, but another insists on pressing forward in order to collect their money. That pretty much sums up Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in a nutshell.