Angelina Jolie … Maleficent
Elle Fanning … Princess Aurora
Michelle Pfeiffer … Queen Ingrith
Sam Riley … Diaval
Harris Dickinson … Prince Phillip
Ed Skrein … Borra
Chiwetel Ejiofor … Conall
Imelda Staunton … Knotgrass
Juno Temple … Thistlewit
Warwick Davis … Lickspittle
Lesley Manville … Flittle
Warwick Davis … Lickspittle
Directed by: Joachim Rønning
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil elevates the most interesting aspects of the 1st film’s new mythology in a visually mesmerizing fantasy adventure. Yes, the first film was a departure from Maleficent being the Mistress of Evil from the Animated classic and here we have a play on that very title that expands the Disney Live-Action alternate universe canon in a whole new way.
Picking up on Maleficent and Queen Aurora years after the events of Maleficent, we learn that despite Mal being an anti-hero, the narrative around her was that she killed King Stephan–who died a martyr and not the corrupt tyrant he had become. Raising the question of “Do we become who others say we are?”, the film doesn’t soften Maleficent and Jolie relishes in playing dark-fairy-doing-good despite the world denying she’s changed. She’s dramatic in the best way and doesn’t hold back her powers while defensive over her actions. She’s still who she is but aligned with the shared goals of uniting kingdoms with Aurora–no matter what it takes.
But when Aurora becomes engaged to Prince Phillip and Maleficent is invited to meet his parents, things escalate quickly.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s casting as Queen Ingrith, Prince Phillip’s mother, who immediately instigates a feud with Maleficent is pitch-perfect casting. This film’s worth the price of admission by bringing together Jolie and Pfeiffer to duke it out. Two of our generation’s greatest actresses going to war in a fantasy film makes the movie instantly iconic. Every frame they square-off in sizzles with their chemistry and might. The passive-aggressive battle of words over dinner will have you sweating like you’re there with them. Both Elle Fanning and Harris Dickinson look like they want to just melt into their chairs from the flames going up around them. Pfeiffer brings us a holier-than-thou self-righteous Disney Queen that would make all the other Disney Queens and even Cersei quake.
From a technical standpoint, it’s so refreshing to see inspired choices in set design instead of the CG landscapes from past films that were hard to tell apart. No, really–Oz, Wonderland and the Moors all looked the same. Thankfully Ronning’s take on the realms in Maleficent was rooted in practical set designs that would be enhanced later. There was a surreal texture that looked tactile in scenes like the proposal and nest sequence that breathed ethereal life onto the screen. Fun was had with the creature design that harkened to more of a Miyazaki and even Labyrinth vibe in some of the new characters. The makeup done on the dark fairies and costuming on the ensemble was all award-worthy.
There never seems like Aurora has much to do in these films outside of her moments with Maleficent. Fanning is a luminous counter to Jolie’s darkness and their scenes always deepen the richness of their characters. Dickinson’s wonderfully receptive take on Phillip also doesn’t get as much time to shine but mostly it seems this way because both Aurora and Phillip are core support but not the main perspective in the film. And this doesn’t quite work because, in the end, they’re ultimately the ones who step into leadership roles. It’s just challenging to be engaged in their subplot when it only exists in their two big romantic moments and fleeting references to their love of their people. How that comes together in the last act feels clunky but earned mostly. The film is about relationships and how those who love you help define you. Ingrith and Maleficent are defined by their relationships with their children but instead of crafting a political family drama around this that could have been weaved with magic, they opt to introduce another layer to the story.
The Dark fairies storyline dives right into an even bigger world. While it’s there to literally unleash a new race of all the races previously not seen in Disney Live-Action–it becomes more of a distraction. Sure, it emphasizes that Maleficent isn’t alone and has tribes of others like her to unite with other likeminded humans like Aurora and Phillip in the face of the evil Ingrith represents. It just doesn’t quite stick the landing because we spent the first act digging into a thrilling family drama we could have stuck with for one movie. However, we’re suddenly thrown into the society of Dark Fairies and why they hide from the outside world. There’s an even an additional feud with Ejiofor and Skrein’s Dark Fairy leaders who a clash over how to fight for their kind’s place in the world. (Magneto and Prof X vibes) Also, they’re both clearly attracted to Maleficent and honestly don’t hate the implications of what we didn’t see go down in the nest.
It’s a lot.
There’s full of regal grace Aurora and soft boy Phillip’s romantic subplot, Ingrith’s plot for kingdom domination , Sam Riley realizing he’s gone from Mal’s crow companion with benefits to the friendzone, the mystery of the savage redheaded maiden, and whatever Warick Davis is doing in the dungeon lab to other magical beings. They’re all ridiculously engrossing storylines.
Maleficent Mistress of Evil was a wildly wicked good time. It could have been two movies or a limited series on Disney+. We’re given a lot of the worlds we have been wanting to see in Disney fairytale live-action but trying to tie this mythology together in a couple of hours made the movie go off the rails. What’s incredible is that at some point, the film realizes this and doubles down on the drama. There is a wedding scene that leans in and fully commits to outrageous heights so much so– that the last act becomes a riotous ride.
Jolie versus Pfeiffer provides the main event experience Disney Fairytale fans didn’t know they wanted but by Walt’s frozen head it’s the one we deserved.
It’s Disney Game of Thrones y’all, and we want more of it. And next time directed and written by more women, please.