Released: 16th October
Seen: 18th October
In 2014, Disney (the dark overlord of entertainment that will one day consume us all) released Maleficent. Maleficent was their version of a “What If” story that featured one of their most iconic villains of all time and asked the question “What if the Mistress of all evil was good?” Asking that question netted them over $750 million worldwide and an Oscar nomination, though it received mixed critical praise. This was a film I saw long before I started reviewing so here is a short version of my thoughts of the original film… I hate it with every fibre of my being and cast it into the fiery pits of hell where it belongs.
See, Maleficent has always been my favourite Disney villain. I wore my copy of Sleeping Beauty on VHS down to the point where it almost broke, it might be my favourite Disney film of all time and Maleficent is a part of that. She was everything you want in a great Disney villain. She was exquisitely drawn with a voice that could terrify a biker, she knew how to make an entrance, was sarcastic as hell and possibly the pettiest Disney character of all time. I’m pretty sure we can agree that it’s petty to go “Fine, I’ll just kill your baby” when you don’t get an invite to a party. Point is, Maleficent as a character was amazingly evil in every possible way and then the Maleficent movie turned her into a wood nymph who had one bad day then spent the rest of her life protecting the very princess that she’d cursed.
It was painful to witness such a degradation of a character I enjoyed so much, I almost walked out of the cinema before it was even halfway over but I’ve never walked out of a movie before and I was damned if I was going to let a subpar Disney live-action movie be the one to make me do it. So, you can probably guess that I did not go into the sequel with the highest of hopes. I went in prepared to hate it with the fire of a thousand suns and finally use my tiny platform to scream to the heavens about the wickedness of what has been done to this iconic villain… and then they just had to go and make a film I actually like. What the hell Disney? Can’t you let me hate you for one damn minute?
For Maleficent: Mistress of Evil they start with what all good sequels need, a random wedding proposal. Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) asks Aurora (Elle Fanning) to marry him and she says yes. To celebrate, a feast is planned so that Phillip’s parents can meet Aurora… and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who has effectively become Aurora’s godmother afte the events of the previous film. When the feast begins, King John (Robert Lindsey) seems quite open to the idea of the union but his wife, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is far from OK with is. During dinner, the two families begin arguing which culminates in King John being cursed, seemingly by Maleficent. With everyone against her, Maleficent has no choice but to flee and in doing so may end up finding her own family.
What this film does better than the film before it is that this film actually plays with perception better, namely I can believe that people look at the actions of Maleficent in this film and go “Oh, yeah, she’s evil”. I honestly never had that in the original, mostly because it seemed so clear to the audience that Maleficent was the sympathetic character who did nothing wrong. There was never even an inkling that she was acting out of malice, but that’s certainly implied in this movie. This time they actually play their cards right and don’t let the audience in on if she did the evil thing she’s accused of, at least not right away. They also give Angelina a lot more to play with, including a genuinely great scene where Maleficent tries her hardest just to learn how to smile in a way that isn’t terrifying.
They also give Maleficent a much more interesting antagonist in the form of Queen Ingrith who wants to treat Aurora as though she was a daughter which puts Ingrith in direct competition with Maleficent. She’s already a deliciously formidable foe, played to perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer, who is not only there to remind Maleficent of all the foul things she did to Aurora but also to show just how much power can corrupt a person. I may have hated the mad king from the first movie because I knew that king in the original film, it felt wrong seeing him like that… but Ingrith? Oh please, please give me more evil queens. We get several scenes of Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer verbally dismissing each other in the most cutting of ways and it’s glorious… and that’s before we even get to the genocide that Ingrith would very much like to do.
This film really is trying to open up the character of Maleficent, which means we finally get to find out just where she came from and why she is so insanely powerful. Some scenes are admittedly a little clunky, with more exposition than anything else, but it’s kind of nice having little scenes where Maleficent gets to have other people like her around to help lift her up. Putting all these moments where Maleficent is mostly just nice and subdued into the scenes where she’s with others like her lets us get to know the character better and it’s finally the moment where I actually got on board with this interpretation of the character.
Where this film shines brighter than anything is the final battle, a gloriously shocking war sequence that’s a great mix of elaborate colours and shocking violence. I don’t know how they got this stuff into a Disney film but there are moments I was open-jawed and horrified by what they were doing but in the best way. Hell, I’ll call it, it’s the second-best big battle scene of the year after the ending of Endgame. This one just blew me away with emotional beats and shocking moments that made me sit up straight and pay attention.
I still have some problems with it, I can’t even begin to accept what they’ve done to the three good fairies. They’re still incredible idiots who I’m amazed didn’t accidentally kill Aurora several times in Maleficent just by accident and they’re no better here. They’re mercifully in less of the film (even though, considering the main evil plot, they would’ve been perfect candidates for kidnapping and raising the stakes… just saying) but the parts they are in just made me sad, especially during that final fight when their dumbness hits 11. I also wasn’t a fan of some of the elaborate CGI and I still don’t like that Maleficent’s crow can turn human. It’s extra weird in this movie because it’s implied that Maleficent’s magic goes away for a moment and the crow remains a human even though he only becomes a human when Maleficent turns him into one… it’s weird, I don’t like it, I never liked it and I doubt I ever will like it, but I guess I can learn to tolerate that character. Everything also wraps up far too neatly, I can’t explain it without spoiling the ending but suffice to say this one’s ending isn’t as poignant and profound as the original movie’s ending was, and keep in mind how much I hated that movie because even while I hated the movie I can admit the ending was actually quite good.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is like the first movie with a lot of the problems sorted out. It gives us a lot of great moments of evil Maleficent, still makes her sympathetic and has some more fun. If nothing else, the performances by the incredible cast and that final action set piece are worth the price of admission alone. It’s far from perfect and I really don’t like this “What if the villains were good?” idea, please don’t let them do this to the other big villains in Disney history, but at least this one gave me a good time and entertained me, which is really all I want at the end of the day.