Maleficent: Mistress of Evil movie review: mistress of what now?

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Maleficent Mistress of Evil red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

An apparently unfairly maligned “wicked witch” has to be redeemed again. Anyway, bitches be evil, crazy and traumatized, or sweet dumb personality-free near-morons. You know, for kids!
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): hated the first movie
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female coscreenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

It’s been five years since Disney’s revisionist Maleficent set the story straight on the (we’re told) unfairly maligned “wicked witch” of the Sleeping Beauty legend… which, of course, *checks notes* Disney itself helped to perpetuate, the monsters. Now, life is fine and grand for the self-proclaimed Queen of the Moors, home of the fairies, and today Maleficent, Mistress of Evil–

*record scratch*

Wait. What? Wasn’t Maleficent redeemed in Maleficent? Weren’t we assured that the “Dark Fey” sorceress was, in fact, a good person? *checks notes again because WTF* Yes; yes, we were. So how is that Disney is now doubling down on her terribleness, what with all this Mistress of Evil nonsense for the sequel?

Maleficent Mistress of Evil Angelina Jolie
She’s not evil, she’s just drawn that way…

I mean, yeah, I guess it’s pretty much necessary for Disney to revoke Maleficent’s redemption if a sequel was going to work… and in Halloween season, at that! Not that Mistress of Evil does. Work, that is. Mistress goes out of its way to contrive a mechanism by which Maleficent is subjected to a sort of backslide in standing among the humans who hate fairykind or whatever the hell metaphor for bigotry this heavyhanded and yet also unsurprisingly unconvincingly movie is trying to sell us. There is definitely room for a fairy-tale exploration of how unfair the world is to women, how women’s reputations are weaponized against us… but it ain’t this mess.

This time around, Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie: Kung Fu Panda 2, The Tourist) “goddaughter” Aurora (Elle Fanning: The Beguiled, Live by Night) — the human girl she once condemned to sleep until “true love’s kiss” awoke her, as a punishment of her father, which makes no sense unless you buy into the fuck-this-shit patriarchal notion that women should rightfully compete against one another instead of turning on the men who wronged them, and sure, that is indeed some kind of evil brilliance, not that these movies recognize that…

May I recommend the Amazon Prime series Carnival Row, which appears to be a vicious shiv of a subtweet of these movies?

Anyway, Aurora, who is now Queen of the Moors even though she is human and not fey, is going to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson: The Darkest Minds), as bland a white-boy human as they come, and this is going to unite the fairy and the human kingdoms. Even though Aurora is not fey. (What kind of human-savior nonsense is this?) Even though the first movie five years ago ended by insisting that that union had just been achieved. *argh*

Maleficent doesn’t like this plan, and neither does Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer: Avengers: Endgame, Murder on the Orient Express), about whom it is no spoiler to say has clearly nefarious motives for, apparently, everything from getting up in the morning and beyond. Bitches be evil (Ingrith), crazy and traumatized (Maleficent), or sweet dumb personality-free near-morons (that would be Aurora, no shade on Fanning, whose usual delightfulness is ill-used by this movie). And yet Mistress is, I’m certain, going to be embraced as somehow feminist and empowering and positive, when it is just some more shit that needs to be fucked.

FYI: We still don’t understand what the supposed beef between the human and fey societies is. (May I recommend the Amazon Prime series Carnival Row, which appears to be a vicious shiv of a subtweet of these movies?)

Maleficent Mistress of Evil Harris Dickinson
LOLsobbing at the modern idea of “Prince Charming”…

Norwegian director Joachim Rønning’s last feature (and only previous work for Big Hollywood) was 2017’s appalling and listless Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and this movie suffers from many of the same problems as that one. Most notably, it is overstuffed with the supernatural in the same way that George Lucas’s sequel-trilogy Star Wars films were jammed with CGI “sci fi,” too many spaceships and aliens and space vistas and the like to even take in; damn you, Lucas. Yet it is shockingly lacking in any sense of fantasy or wonder; the cram-packed fairy creatures and fey “magic” are more thoughtless set dressing than anything else.

Secondly, it is “driven” — I use the term loosely — by lackluster characters about whom it is a chore to work up any empathy toward. Aurora and Phillip, to be sure, are among the most insipid lovebirds ever; they barely seem sentient and conscious, never mind evincing any of this “true love” thing we are promised they are experiencing. (They keep using that term. I don’t think it means what they think it means.) I’m not sure if Mistress even knows who its protagonist is; it seems to lack one, in fact. Neither Maleficent nor Aurora — the other likely suspect as the story’s central character — do much to drive the tale: they react more than anything else, remain sidelined while events occur around them, almost in spite of them, not because of them. Neither of them drives the plot; they merely respond to it.

Maleficent Mistress of Evil Michelle Pfeiffer
The only thing that makes me happy about this is the belief — which I cling to — that Disney paid Michelle Pfeiffer a fuck-ton of money to appear in this movie.

There are… other things happening in Mistress of Evil that we critics have been asked not to spoil (even though they’re in the trailer!), as if there’s anything unexpected about them, as if there’s anything provocative or even mildly interesting about them. Suffice to say that this is a movie that relies on massive infodumps — “characters” about whom we learn nothing walking around dramatically intoning speeches about The Way Things Are and Secret Histories and the like — as if this is in any way compelling or gripping. Even moreso than the five-years-ago Maleficent, this is a movie that attempts to shoehorn in a multi-season TV series’ worth of story and character and thinks we’ll be satisfied with that rather than frustrated by the lack of drama or story.

On top of all that, as Maleficent reaches its screeching, empty crescendo, it takes a horrific emotional 180, and expects us to accept that all of its people can instantly forget the horrors they’ve just witnessed — magical warfare! many people dead presumably! urban destruction with visuals echoing 9/11 for fuck’s sake! — in order to celebrate Aurora and Phillip’s fairy-tale Disney wedding. In a smarter, more self-aware movie, this would serve as a shocking refutation of the Disney ethos. Instead, we are meant to join in the brain-dead, no-context happy fun times. It’s revolting.

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Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Wed, Oct 16, 2019 8:35pm

Heh, Queen of the Moors…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Thu, Oct 17, 2019 2:45pm

If only…

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Oct 19, 2019 1:29pm

I remember Disney’s take on Sindbad

They turned it into a Greek-mythology focused story with Brad Pitt as the famous Arab merchant

Sat, Oct 19, 2019 1:21pm

The animated Maleficent was a magnificent villain – she would walk into the room and you could feel her STAGE PRESENCE

I’m very fond of Angelina Jolie (and also Sharlto Copley), but it was a crime the way the Maleficent reboot neutered this character (she didn’t even get to be the dragon!) – how incoherent the film had to become in order to accommodate this back-and-forth – her whole interaction with Aurora made no sense – they should have dropped it and stuck with her poisoned relationship with the king – even on that front, they didn’t even allow her a satisfying, uncompromising revenge

(Watch – 30 years from now Disney will reboot Star Wars and we’ll see how Darth Vader is really just a weird and moody nice guy who’s actually trying to save Luke and Leia all along)

I think it’s sad that great talents like Jolie and Pfeiffer need to appear in such roles to stay front and center – if it has to be tent-pole franchises like this, I’d much rather see them lock horns in another Salt film

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  zak1
Mon, Oct 21, 2019 5:49am

I would love to see another Salt film myself.

Then again, I’m old school enough to still prefer the original Hans Christian Andersen version of the Snow Queen over the new “modern” version we get in Frozen. (And of course, I’m also old enough to remember when one didn’t automatically think of mermaids whenever one heard the name Ariel.)

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Oct 21, 2019 2:00am

Eh, it’s fine, I suppose. Awful lot of plot, not a lot of story. But that was true of the first one. Angelina looks great (Angelina always looks great. Angelina is going to be a glamorous octogenarian). So does Michelle, though she’s as wasted in this as in Ant Man and the Wasp. I appreciate them leaning in to the idea that the fey don’t understand human idioms. Urban fantasy gets a lot of mileage out of that too. At least this time Maleficent gets to turn into the dragon (sort of).

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Oct 21, 2019 5:45am

You realize, of course, Dr. Rocketscience, that a lot of people — okay, just me — are going to want to see this movie now just to find out how accurate that last sentence was…

reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Oct 21, 2019 2:29pm

I remember seeing the dragon at the end of the first terrible movie, though. I’m confused.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  MarkyD
Mon, Oct 21, 2019 3:47pm

There is a dragon in the first one, but it’s not Maleficent. She turns the raven-guy into the dragon.