Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil may appear to be the next in the long list of Disney’s live-action remakes, but don’t let that scare you away. This tale of revenge and horns is the rare case of the corporate giant taking a risk, for better and sometimes for worse.
The saga of the unending Disney reboots first began in 2014 with the reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the villain, Maleficent. My horror-loving heart grew three sizes at that screening when it turned out that the franchise not only had a stong, flawed female at the center of the tale, but that the plot was essentially a retooled rape/revenge structure, with extra emphasis on revenge. This also gave me hope for the forthcoming Disney remakes, and a wish that each of them would tell its tale through fresh eyes and with an investment in character respect and innovation. Unfortunately, after the puzzling Beauty and the Beast and the atrocious Dumbo, it became clear that Disney was not even casually interested in exploring any additional perspectives in its other properties.
Mistress of Evil carries the torch of the previous Maleficent for the most part. It picks up a few years after the end of the original film. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is living in the fairy world while Aurora (Elle Fanning) serves as queen and has fallen in love with Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) from a nearby human kingdom. The two young and beautiful lovers are engaged to be married just as soon as the opening credits clear, and all seems right with the world. That is, until they realize that they need to tell their parents. Maleficent is quite upset with Aurora (she has a bad history with humans), but is willing to grin her way through a cordial dinner when she’s invited to dine with the future in-laws.
Well, things don’t go so smashingly and the dinner ends with the king (Robert Lindsay) in a magical coma, the queen (Michelle Pfeiffer) swearing to protect her kingdom and family, and Maleficent needing to be rescued from nearly drowning in the sea by a startlingly familiar yet wholly unfamiliar creature. Here’s where it starts to get good. Murmurs of war between the three (yes, three) kingdoms begin in the days leading up to Philip and Aurora’s hastily planned wedding, and it’s clear that there will be action soon.
It’s a good thing that this summit of tension has such a satisfying payoff, because without a stupendous battle, the rest of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil would have been a bit of a letdown. While the fairy folk are adorable (and clearly taking notes from baby Groot), and the visuals of all three worlds are a delight of magical escapism, the emotional notes are a little hollow. The film jumps from arguing in favor of refugee rights to anti-war sentiment to decrying genocide and chemical warfare, but never fully commits to showing a deep understanding of any of these issues. In the end, unlike the nuanced and layered Maleficent, it just gears up for a big battle between good and evil.
The creatures are a sight to behold, as are each of the kingdoms. The fighting is tense and exciting. All of that is nearly enough to craft Maleficent: Mistress of Evil into a wonderful fantasy film… but only nearly.