Mitchell Shaughnessy ‘21
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” directed by Joachim Rønning, is yet another film in a slew of live-action adaptations of classic properties under the Walt Disney banner. The movie is a direct sequel to “Maleficent” (2014), with both starring Angelina Jolie as the titular title character. In a narrative that draws evident parallels to “Romeo and Juliet,” we find ourselves revolving around the complicated lives of two young lovers who get caught up in the middle of a ruthless conflict between their respective feuding kingdoms. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), better known as Sleeping Beauty, happily rules as Queen of the Kingdom of Moors. Aurora’s godmother, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), rules alongside her as her caretaker and guardian. After Maleficent learns of her daughter agreeing to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), a royal family member of a rival kingdom known as Ulstead, she finds herself feeling equally reluctant and incensed by the news. In spite of her being wholly against the idea, Maleficent agrees to accompany Aurora at a dinner hosted by Phillip and his parents: King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). In an ugly turn of events, the banquet that was meant to unify the two kingdoms turns south, and tensions culminate in an explosion of war between humans from Ulstead and fairies, like Maleficent, from Moors.
After having viewed the picture, I can say with certainty that the cinematography, environments, and costume designs are remarkable in terms of scale, beauty, and creativity. The filmmakers utilize an abundance of well-done aerial shots above vast, breathtaking landscapes, which are reminiscent of the unique vantage points Peter Jackson showcased in footage of New Zealand for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Even though I prefer practical effects, the CGI that makes up the majority of the green, foliage-infested fairy kingdom of Moors is still competent enough to look rather impressive. The cutesy, fantastical creatures presented throughout the film are undoubtedly there as a marketing ploy by Disney to sell toys and merchandise. Regardless, the presence of these enchanting fairies, mushrooms, and hedgehogs still bring spiritedness and energy to this mystical world; they are a welcome edition for the film’s younger target demographic. Older audiences, however, have aspects of their own to enjoy: Angelina Jolie’s look as Maleficent is perfect. It is respectful to the source material and is a stunning example of gothic imagery done right. Her pale skin, sharp cheekbones, devil horns, and expansive wings are all very aesthetically pleasing. Her overall look reminded me of something that came off the front of a Black Sabbath or Judas Priest album cover. However, these aspects of glamour aren’t the only intriguing elements of the film. The story explores cumbersome grown-up concepts, which for a children’s movie, I thought was unexpected, but welcome for adult audiences. The plot beats of the film, surprisingly enough, act as allegories for discrimination, genocide, war, and political corruption. Some scenes of combat during the climax even resembled a PG, kid-friendly version of “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones.”
Unfortunately, this element of the film ultimately comes off as a detriment, as the final battle devolves into a giant CGI mess that conveniently ties itself up in a perfect knot, with both kingdoms forgetting about their grudges and becoming best friends – a typical, boring, vanilla fairytale ending. Other gripes I have with the film include bland and underdeveloped characters, less than stellar dialogue, a predictable plot, and average-to-mediocre acting from most of the cast. Prince Phillip, in particular, is a prime example of a weak, poorly written character who doesn’t have much to do. He shares a lot in common with other Disney princes in that he has the personality and charisma of a dry piece of toast. The filmmakers don’t give him enough screen time to flesh out his character, which is a shame because Harris Dickinson doesn’t seem like a bad actor. I think with better direction and the right script, he could potentially shine as a promising performer, but we don’t see him deliver in this film whatsoever. It certainly doesn’t help when we have pretentious, hammy, cringy dialogue that sounds like a ninth-grade theater kid wrote it: “Mother, could you try kissing him? True love and all that?” – Prince Phillip. The bad writing is also apparent in the vapid, paper-thin plot points that I saw coming from a mile away. I wish the writers could’ve put more thought into the script to make things more interesting, like perhaps not taking a tonal nosedive by ending the film with a happy wedding directly after a brutal, violent war that everyone immediately forgets ever happened.
All in all, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is another blooper to add to the pile of substandard live-action Disney adaptations that pale in comparison to their animated counterparts. The film sports some intriguing concepts, along with stunning visuals and entertaining, albeit over-the-top and corny performances from the likes of Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer. However, sparse writing, schlock dialogue, flat characters, and an average story are what give the film, for me, a score of 5/10. Maybe rent it or watch it when it eventually arrives on Disney+, but only if you quite literally have nothing else to do with your spare time.