Courtesy of Disney
The Disney machine is hard at work pumping out fresh content that’s going to look good on their upcoming Disney Plus streaming service. Because why else would the studio pour $180 million into a sequel that looks and sounds as bad as “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil?” This is a lackluster adventure where the title doesn’t even make sense. After the first “Maleficent” the title character had a redeeming arch and, in the end, saved her goddaughter. So why the filmmakers decided to name this atrocity “Mistress of Evil” when, in fact, she’s supposed to show a semblance of a changed heart is beyond me.
“Mistress of Evil” does have its heart in the right place - preaching messages of inclusiveness, and dissecting the bonds between mothers and their children - but those good implications can’t overshadow a cartoonishly looking CGI fantasy blunder that steals many elements from “Avatar.” “Mistress of Evil” never feels like a movie, rather, it comes across like a product being pumped out for mass consumption. Did “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” have that feeling too? Absolutely, but they weren’t sequels and they did just enough to feel fresh.
As the new film begins, “Maleficent” (Angelina Jolie hitting a new low in her career) is worried about her daughter, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) plans to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). But first, the disgruntled Maleficent must have a sit down with Phillips parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) - a man who only wants peace - and his scheming wife Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). A dinner that ends in a declaration of war against the humans and the fairies, and one that puts Maleficent's relationship in jeopardy with her human goddaughter.
Whereas the 2014 movie presented a sympathetic origin story for “Sleeping Beauty’s” villain, throwing the Oscar-winning actress in heavy makeup which resembled the character from the cartoon. That’s a tough novelty to replicate five years later in “Mistress of Evil” and director Joachim Ronning (co-director of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) struggles to build an intriguing fantasy world and in the process is devoid of any creative influence or solid artistic vision.
Instead, Ronning throws so much in your face in an effort to help you forget how terrible the script and pacing is (the film runs a headache inducing two hours). Which is a shame when you consider this is the first instance where two powerhouse Oscar winners, Jolie and Pfeiffer, are on screen together, and instead of letting the two duke it out for total supremacy, the grueling CG rendering of pixies, sentient trees, and woodland critters are granted more screen time. (There’s also a subplot involving Maleficent discovering that she isn’t the last of her kind, and the film casts an unrecognizable Chiwetel Ejiofor as the groups valiant leader to no emotional avail).
It doesn’t help that Maleficent disappears for long stretches of the film, coming and going in spurts as to remind the audiences we’re in the right movie. I’d like to say the final battle that features about 600 CG characters and shots was exciting and intense, but it’s hard to keep up with all the frantic energy and is a total eyesore. In fact, you feel bad for Jolie who has to contend with a film so doused in effects that it diminishes her overall performance. She gets credit for plowing through till the end, but she can’t save a film that’s lacking anything worth investing in.