Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Release Date: October 18th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Joachim Ronning Actors: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson, Ed Skrein, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Jenn Murray, Robert Lindsay, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Warwick Davis
eginning with a mushroom-like fairy-person chase sequence, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” boasts a strangely anticlimactic cold open – one of many initial scenes from recent movies that seems to go nowhere. Although it’s a useful device for the easily bored, it’s becoming taxing to sit through these moments that have little bearing on the film that and noticeably fail to spark excitement; surely this sequence could have concluded with more panache, especially since it segues into the title graphics – which also have little impact on the overall project. Maleficent may be visually ominous, but she’s never scripted to be specifically evil, as the title suggests, in this woefully unnecessary follow-up adventure.
“Twice upon a time …” intrudes the narrator, who has no business reiterating the legends that turned Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) into a villain; after all, anyone who hasn’t seen the 2014 predecessor shouldn’t be wasting their time on such a continuation. Previously, the dark fey (or fairy, though curiously avoiding the more appropriate spelling of “fay”) was heroic, but over the years, tall tales have transformed her back into the boogeywoman, haunting the magical inhabitants of the Moors. In reality, she still rules justly and generously, caring for Aurora (Elle Fanning), the human child she raised as her own.
On the other side of a dividing river is the true source of evil – the human kingdom of Ulstead, governed by King John (Robert Lindsay) and his ruthless queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the Prince of Ulstead, Phillip (Harris Dickinson), proposes to Aurora, an opportunity arises for peace between the realms. But Ingrith works behind the scenes to wage a war against the Moor’s mystical denizens, plotting to rid herself forever of the potential power struggle with Maleficent.
Once again, viewers must cope with the unnerving appearances of the flitting fairy aunts (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, and Lesley Manville), who present a grotesque combination of full-sized facial features on oversized heads with miniature winged bodies. In fact, many of the otherworldly creatures share this same uncommon aesthetic, merging notes of cuteness with outlandish distortion. Fortunately, the CG monstrosities are generally convincing in their movements, which cannot be said of Maleficent every time she soars through the air, looking as if clumsily wedged into a stiff CG suit of feathers. Plus, her fake cheekbones are as ridiculous as ever.
“Two kingdoms united at last!” The dialogue is hopelessly trite and generic, maladroitly trying to balance predictable exposition with comic relief – from countless different sources. The three fairies spew horrible one-liners and a Sonic the Hedgehog-type sprite engages in light slapstick, all while many of the supporting roles alternate between ineffective levity and intolerant malice. The only amusing humor comes from the raven man (Sam Riley), though his lines are only about 50% funny.
Refusing to change up the formula, this second chapter continues to dispense with definitions and limits for the magical elements – unless a hindrance, like a Kryptonite, is conjured on the spot. The mythos is expanded to add more characters and details, but it’s still mostly devoid of surprises or prominent creativity. There’s just nothing special about this world, its populace, or the brand of fantasy surrounding them (even down to their motives, rituals, behaviors, costuming, makeup, music, and dances), resulting in a feeling of nonchalance concerning the additional two hours spent focusing on their customs and origins and plights; it’s not unwatchable, but it’s far from entertaining. It appears as if the filmmakers were so anxious to put together a sequel that they didn’t bother to wait for good ideas – let alone a worthwhile story.
Some brief but touching mother/daughter stuff works its way into the third act, but it’s hardly enough to warrant a feature film. And the special-effects-dusted finale itself is a bland mix of spontaneous magic, animated explosions, and non-threatening showdowns, capped by excruciatingly run-of-the-mill speeches. Plus, there’s an inexplicably weird henchwoman/servant/blacksmith/expert markswoman/royal herald/battle commander/orgiastic organist (played by Jenn Murray) who absolutely should not be in this picture.
– Mike Massie