'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' is a glorious goth fairytale in search of an actual story

Is it possible to turn the film’s sound down and cue up some Bauhaus instead?

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

2.5 out of 5 stars

Rated: PG

Run Time: 118 minutes

Directed by Joachim Rønning

Starring Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Sam Riley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein and Robert Lindsay

Opens Friday, October 18

click to enlarge All hail the dark queen Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), destined to inspire scores of cosplay creations for years. - Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios
All hail the dark queen Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), destined to inspire scores of cosplay creations for years.

It should be cause for celebration, the glut of fantasy films that have packed multiplexes of late, going back to 2010’s "Alice in Wonderland."

In the preceding nine years, there’s been a sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, plus "Snow White and the Huntsman" and its sequel, "The Huntsman: Winter’s War," and 2014’s "Maleficent" and now its own, inevitable sequel, "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil."

While those films have attracted a slew of A-list talent (Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain), and raked in millions from box-office receipts, the five movies leading up to "Mistress of Evil" also had something else in common.

They were instantly forgettable, which is a travesty considering each franchise is based on a well-known and beloved character or an iconic children’s story.

In fact, I would argue that other than Theron’s wonderfully fetishized outfits in both "Huntsman" films, most people would be hard-pressed to name something they remember fondly about any of those films.

In that regard, it’s difficult to critique "Mistress of Evil" because once again, apart from the spot-on casting of Jolie as Disney’s preeminent femme fatale from its original 1959 animated feature, "Sleeping Beauty," the new film lacks a good story to support its iconic leading actor.

"Mistress of Evil" is basically Disney’s take on "Meet the Parents" with Maleficent subbing in for Ben Stiller’s Gaylord Focker and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith playing a decidedly more vengeful version of Robert De Niro’s Jack Byrnes.

click to enlarge Aurora (Elle Fanning) doesn't have a lot to do in "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," but she looks happy wandering through a fantasy forest. - Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios
Aurora (Elle Fanning) doesn't have a lot to do in "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," but she looks happy wandering through a fantasy forest.

Maleficent and Ingrith butt heads after Ingrith’s son, Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), asks Maleficent’s goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) to marry him.

Aurora is the queen of the moors, meaning she rules over a kingdom of fantasy creatures, including fairies, sprites, walking trees, trolls and more.

Ingrith wants nothing more than to destroy all those creatures, and she hopes Philip’s proposal will provide the opportunity to do so.

Along the way, viewers get bits and pieces of Maleficent’s backstory — she is a dark fae, the last of her kind, from the bloodline of a phoenix — but there’s not nearly enough time spent to provide the necessary dramatic heft to the inevitable “war” that erupts between the real world and the fantasy realm.

Sadly, that climatic CGI battle, which comprises the bulk of "Mistress of Evil"’s third act, looks and feels just like every other fantasy CGI battle that preceded it. You aren’t worried about any character’s fate because this is a Disney movie, and the resulting tumult is so frenetic that it robs the audience of a defining "wow" moment.

So, what does that leave?

Well, for one, I’m betting every school-age kid (and some adults) that still shop at Hot Topic will gobble up any tie-in merchandise, especially if the clothing company wisely recreates some of Maleficient’s more striking looks from the film. And the litany of fantasy creatures on display includes at least two or three standouts destined to become plush toys that younger fans will covet.

Secondly, "Mistress of Evil" does insert a few jokes that land as intended, including a nice sequence where Maleficent, her familiar Diaval (Sam Riley) and Aurora arrive for a celebratory dinner with Aurora’s soon to be in-laws. As they stroll toward the castle, Maleficent remarks about some of the villagers thrusting weapons in her direction.

“Pitchforks,” she says, smirking. “Humans are hilarious.”

And, finally, there’s the tantalizing promise of watching Jolie and Pfeiffer square off for the first time on-screen. The two icons seem to relish the moment, gleefully trading icy stares and razor-sharp retorts, but their shared screen time is so limited that ultimately the top-billed prize fight feels overhyped and underwhelming.

Personally, I didn’t love "Maleficent" when it was first released, but compared to "Alice in Wonderland" and "Snow White and the Huntsman," it’s definitely aged better than its contemporaries.

"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" isn’t much better, and it’s longer by 20 minutes, but it’s still enjoyable and entertaining enough to warrant going to the theater to see it.

After all, no one can make being bad seem so much fun as Jolie, and Maleficent, with her sumptuous dark gothic aesthetic, is definitely a role that the actress was born to play.  

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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