“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” Movie Review

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     Disney, and its powerhouse of bankable Intellectual Property, has mastered the art of creating new content from their stable of classic characters utilizing a now time tested template of sorts.  They have some of the best people in the world working on them, bringing forth continual excellence within the visual aspects of a production, particularly in the areas of set and costume design.  The talent in front of the camera is typically impeccable, blending notable stars with a consistent wave of new blood, ensuring the chapters to come will be stocked with new heroes to root for.  If there is a weakness, the script is normally the culprit, often bring forth a misfire here and there amongst an otherwise enviable and growing filmography of quality work.

     Just as he did with 2017’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”, director Joachim Ronning utilizes this very template for his follow up to 2014’s “Maleficent”, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”, in a way that remains visually stunning, but doesn’t elevate the material to the level of Disney’s more successful live action adaptions such as 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast”.  And though this second outing for Maleficent doesn’t sink to the cinematic depths of the “Alice in Wonderland” sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, it doesn’t present anything within the story that will prove more memorable than the stunning look of the title character herself.  As Maleficent, Angelina Jolie again owns the room, but the characters around her are nothing more than the kind of stock villains and side shows we see in every one of these films.

     Famed Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton returns along with newcomers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, providing a by the numbers family integration story that sees Aurora (Elle Fanning) proposed to by Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), thus meaning her villainous godmother must make nice with her goddaughter’s new family to be.  That includes Phillip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), the later of which supplies the nefarious intentions designed to play against Maleficent’s anti-hero persona.  I could almost hear Chekov saying “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” in “Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country” when the King and Queen’s royal subjects nervously and hesitantly prepare for the arrival of Aurora and Maleficent for a celebration in honor of the impending nuptials.

     A returning character from the first film, Diaval (Sam Riley) injects a welcome sense of humor into the initial scenes that see Maleficent just as hesitant to attend the dinner as her adversaries are of her.  She’s a Disney Villain you see?  And smiling and making small talk with people whose company she doesn’t enjoy isn’t exactly her strong suit.  In the lead up to the gathering, as well as the early stages of the meal, Ronning takes full comedic advantage of the fish out of water scenario, emphasizing the difficulties Maleficent has even smiling, while also playing up the brewing tension between her and Queen Ingrith whose ulterior motives begin to become clear as the dinner quickly goes south.

     Because these Disney stories seem to take place in what often appears to be the same world, the overall design of these settings are now also looking the same across a sampling of several films.  The castles, forrest, and indigenous life when you consider recent movies such as the aforementioned “Beauty and the Beast” and “Alice in Wonderland”, but also “Maleficent”, “Oz The Great and Powerful”, and “Cinderella”, all share very similar visual characteristics and unfortunately all of them seem to have taken those cues from “Avatar” in much the same way every science fiction film of the last 35 plus years did from “Blade Runner”.  Whether in day light or night, the lands occupied by the various fairies, elves, and magical creatures look nearly identical to Pandora, which detracts from any hope of originality these films can realistically have. Particularly when we are seeing so many of them.

     A sprawling action set piece occupying the majority of the third act boasts an impressive mix of live action choreography with CGI, as Maleficent and a flying army of horned fairies, very similar to her own species, take on Queen Ingrith’s army, exposing a plot to kill all life in the Moors in an attempt to ensure humans will rule the land once and for all.  The tactical ambitions displayed by both sides isn’t exactly what you would expect to see in a PG rated Disney film, but is welcomed nonetheless.  

     The main issue here is a screenplay lacking any complexity, remaining straightforward from start to finish.  It’s almost as if the filmmakers dropped the characters into a stock story in order to show off all of the neat things they can do with a computer.  The dark fairies, who may hold the secrets to Maleficent’s ancestors, are introduced midway, but are presented as nothing more than revenge hungry warmongers who want to rid the land of humans.  Characters among them played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein are left underdeveloped in favor of the Queens political maneuvering and autocratic vision which is a story told countless times before.  

     There are no surprises within the characters’s motives, no changes of heart, and very little in the way of a twisting arc as the story unfolds.  There are two sides, both well defined, and they fight out their differences.  The story ends exactly the way you think it will, though the idea of humans and the various species of the Moors coming together as one, while putting their differences aside, is an obvious plot inclusion designed to make “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” appear more thought provoking than it actually is. GRADE: C