The first Maleficent movie was one of the better Disney live action adaptations because it was one of the few that did more than slavishly recreate the animated movie. I mean, a version of the story where the bad guy is actually the good guy is not the most original thing, but at least it’s something. (I know I didn’t like Dumbo which did the same, but it was bad for other reasons). This sequel had the potential to be something really good and at times its seems poised to realize that potential, only for it to be kind of muddled and distracted. Early on, the movie, when Maleficent is preparing to meet her daughters new in laws, practicing small talk with her raven companion, hints at a much better version of this. A movie that builds to the conflict between Maleficent and fey against the humans. A comedy of manners that spirals out of control. Instead, the movie jumps right to a brewing war.
The problem is the movie has so much to get to that it can’t let any of it land. There is the marriage plot, the people kidnapping fairies, the dark fey, like Maleficent, who are itching for a fight with the humans. Much of it needs to be explained. But in the midst of all the explaining, there is little time for anything else. It also renders the heroes alternately moronic and inert. The connection between Aurora and Maleficent was established in the first movie, it doesn’t make a lot of sense how quickly she believes the worst of her. Maleficent has to get all of the history of the dark fey and their current situation in a quick dump, with no time to process finding a whole world of people just like her. Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith is plotting a war, and the movie has to walk the viewer through it.
All of these plots could be interesting, if the movie either handled them with a lighter touch or had a little more time to work through them. It almost feels like the last two parts of a trilogy smashed together. Maleficent’s journey doesn’t quite work. She goes from distant, but loving mother, to spurned and hated, to prophesied hero over the course of this movie, but none of it really lands. No one else really has much of an arc. Aurora learns something she already knew. Everyone else learns that racism is bad.
At least the movie looks good. The magical creatures don’t exactly look real, but they look appealing. The fey are really well done, with their wings looking and acting like real appendages most of the time. It also has some awe inspiring castles and vistas. The movie simply looks good.
Angelina Jolie is pretty great as Maleficent. And Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be having fun as the evil Queen Ingrith. Elle Fanning has precious little to do as Aurora, and Prince Phillip spends most of the movie being ineffectual. It is just short of being a waste of a great cast, only saved by how much the actors seem to be enjoying themselves.
As messy as it is, I still largely enjoyed Maleficent Mistress of Evil. I don’t think it’s good, but there are enough interesting things going on that I don’t regret seeing it.