“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” the sequel to Disney’s 2014 film about the villain of the classic film and book “Sleeping Beauty,” is predictable, but mildly entertaining. The film’s tired plot is barely overcome by the stunning visual effects and world-building.
Five years ago, Disney released the original film, a twisted take on “Sleeping Beauty.” True love’s kiss wasn’t, indeed about Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) trying to awake his love, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), but of “Sleeping Beauty” antagonist Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) trying to undo the curse she placed on Prince Stephan (Aurora’s father) after his betrayal. Once Aurora awoke, Maleficent crowned her “god-daughter” Aurora the new Queen of the Moors, thus giving up her title.
In the sequel, Prince Phillip has proposed marriage to Queen Aurora, and she accepts, hoping to unite not just in marriage but ultimately to unite the kingdom of the Moors and the kingdom of Ulstead. But uniting the kingdom means building bridges of peace amidst a system of fear and hatred. It’s a worthwhile theme, and a story that could do well in today’s society. Unfortunately, Ulstead Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) does not wish to see the kingdoms unite, and she will go to great lengths to make sure the bride and groom do not make peace, including planning a massive massacre of the creatures of the Moors and intending harm toward her future daughter-in-law.
While trying to attain peace amidst times of hatred and tension is the central theme, the other heartbeat of the film is about the unconditional love Aurora has developed for Maleficent, and thus Maleficent’s deep love for her god-daughter - a love that bonds them despite their frustrations and perhaps even anger toward each other’s choices. While separated from her daughter, however, Maleficent learns more about herself and who she is by discovering the Dark Fey, a group of winged creatures, and ultimately more about the source of her powers and who she is because of them.
Unfortunately, the film’s story does not live up to the expectations set up in the beginning of the movie. The conflict between war and peace was the perfect premise for a story about bridging differences, dispelling rumors, squashing hatred, and calming fears. But nothing about the resolution of the conflict says anything about how that is accomplished or even why it is important. Instead we are left with a path of destruction and a half-resolved ending.
While the storyline is lackluster, the performances by Fanning and Jolie in particular are stellar. However, the screenplay written by Linda Woolverton didn’t offer much to play with for Pfeiffer, as the role of the evil queen is terribly scripted and notably predictable.
One of the highlights of the film is the visual production. The special effects and CGI of the fantastical land of the Moors and the new nest and cavernous kingdom of the Dark Frey are exceptionally visually appealing. Both were vibrantly colored and uniquely textured, everything that Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” couldn’t offer in its 1959 production. In addition to the special effects, the costuming and makeup is exceptional, especially that of the Dark Fey and Jolie.
Lastly, Emmy Award-winning composer Geoff Zanelli created an intricate score, masterfully performed by a 102-piece orchestra at London’s Abbey Road Studios, that embodied both the tension and utopia scenes of the film, woven together by a theme fit for a royal.
Despite some of the production’s accomplishments, the film is neither perfectly suited for adults nor children, and thus what is left is nothing more than a blundering mess of mildly layered plot points, none of which seem to land. For a generic Disney flick, it’s entertaining, despite being predictable in every way.