Twice upon a time, in the land of unnecessary live action Disney remakes…
Five years after the events of Maleficent, the titular character continues to rule over the Moors, while looking after her goddaughter, Princess Aurora. Their peaceful life together is suddenly interrupted when Aurora’s love interest, Prince Phillip proposes marriage, which Aurora accepts. Their union promises to unite the Moors and the neighboring Kingdom together, despite Maleficent’s unflattering reputation. When a gathering results in the King being put under a spell, Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart by their respective sides, while war is threatened between their two opposing sides.
Right off the bat, one has to understand that these Disney live-action remakes will never live up to the quality of their animated counterparts. 2014’s Maleficent, however, is in a different boat. Sleeping Beauty, while considered a classic, is not exactly the most compelling of Disney’s animated features. The villain of the picture, Maleficent, is easily the most interesting part, with her mysterious background and commanding presence. So it almost makes sense to have the live-action remake be told from her point of view. The end result, however, removed all of the intrigue that the animated version had, and made her more about antihero than a villain, similar to what Sony did last year with Venom. Nevertheless, the film was a major success, and spawned a sequel.
In regards to the sequel, it contains a combination of improvements, downgrades, and ignored criticisms. Some of the latter include aspects like the three fairies who looked after Aurora in the first film, who are back and more annoying than ever. The previous film’s inconsistent CGI is also prominent here, in which some objects look beautifully rendered, while others look like something out of a video game cut-scene. Prince Philip, previously played by Brenton Thwaites, is now played by Harris Dickinson, but his performance feels more or less the same.
Some improvements given to the sequel include new characters like Phillip’s royal mother and father, played well by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay, respectively. The film also features a brighter color scheme, Some shots at night are rather dimly lit, but the daytime shots are more vibrant than the first film. In addition, Princess Aurora has more personality in this film than she did in both the previous film and Sleeping Beauty combined, but that is mostly due to Elle Fanning’s performance. Another slight praise in this film’s favor is that the lighter moments are handled better here than they were in its predecessor, in that they don’t feel as forced.
This praise, however, also magnifies to the big problem with this film; its tone. The film will have light and corny moments, and then suddenly cover grounds such as genocide and war. There is nothing wrong with a film containing such big shifts between light and dark, especially in a dark fantasy film, but there still needs to be a sense of flow, and the film does not have proper flow. The director of this sequel is Joachim Rønning, who two years ago, co-helmed the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel which, suffice to say, did not win over critics. This film more or less displays his same level of talent in directing action, and not much else.
The climax of the film is where things get interesting, because for all of the preaching about keeping peace, some scenes in this film are downright savage. There is an especially dark scene involving a chapel involving an organ that is a strange combination of both corny and horrifying. Scenes like this would make one wonder if they are watching the last season of Game of Thrones again. Speaking of which, the ending of this film, without giving away anything, does not feel satisfying, and adds to the uneven watching experience.
The only thing that truly works in this film is the same that was in the previous film, and that is Angelina Jolie as the titular character. As much as these films reimagined Maleficent as a character, and removed all of her intrigue, Angelina Jolie does an excellent job portraying her, and you can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Four years since appearing directing herself in the forgetful By The Sea, Jolie shows that she still has charisma and presence on screen. Her performance is so good, that the film drags when she is not on screen, which unfortunately occurs a lot.
It is hard to say whether or not Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is better or worse than the its predecessor, but one thing that can be said is that it is an awkward experience. It wants to be light and have corny jokes, but then wants to be dark and borderline traumatizing. It is possible that people who liked the first Maleficent would like this one, but overall, there is almost no true reason for this movie to exist. At least it wasn’t like this year’s The Lion King, which was a literal remake in everything except its animation style. With Maleficent, anything goes!