Fun fact about the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale: It has a whole lesser-known second part, where the marriage of the princess and prince is threatened by the prince’s mother. That largely forgotten piece of folklore, which touches on the same cannibalistic beats as Snow White in some accounts, has certainly contributed to the writing of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
Sequel Mistress of Evil came out of nowhere. It’s been five years since the release of the original Maleficent, a live-action re-imagining of the animated Disney classic, which shifted the story focus to the cartoon’s striking villain. While far from perfect, 2014’s Maleficent was full of surprises, and has aged unexpectedly well. Instead of a stiff shot-by-shot remake, viewers were treated to what could be described as a fairy tale put through a feminist filter. Edgier than expected for a Disney movie, Maleficent featured a date rape-esque origin story paired with restorative female friendship, and anchored by a charismatic performance from Angelina Jolie as the title character. That said, Maleficent wasn’t a story that really called for a sequel. Yet, here we are.
As it turns out, this second outing is as much a welcome surprise as its predecessor. Again, it’s not without its flaws but Mistress of Evil is a tonally perfect continuation of Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty’s story, and it’s now completely liberated from the chain of narrative familiarity. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is also possibly the most beautiful-looking film of the year, with phenomenally intricate costumes, make-up and production design that will set cosplayers drooling and have a lasting impact on any fantasy-loving children who watch it.
Plot wise, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is set five years after the end of the original film. With Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, who replaces Brenton Thwaites) finally proposing to Queen of the Moors Aurora (Elle Fanning), a happy ending looks on the cards for the couple. However, the engagement brings Phillip’s royal parents into the picture and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is vehemently anti-fae, clashes with Aurora’s prickly fairy godmother Maleficent. Tempers flare, bringing the human and magical worlds to the brink of war. Events also facture the unconventional bond between princess and dark fae sorceress.
While most of Maleficent’s 2014 cast has returned – including Sam Riley as Maleficent’s shape-shifting raven sidekick, and Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville as the trio of bumbling pixies who raised Aurora – notable newcomers to the series universe include Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Both actors play a part in expanding Maleficent’s origin story, and, as a side note, Skrein’s character will remind any WarCraft fan of Illidan Stormrage.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil could have been a cold, perfunctory cash-in like The Huntsman: Winter’s War was in relation to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. There are, after all, a lot of similarities between the Maleficent and Snow White films: two dark fairy tales, heavy on special effects, and intent on lumbering off into fresh plot territory beyond the stories as everyone knows them.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, though, has managed to retain a heart under all its slick visual magic. Key to it is the relationship of Maleficent and Aurora, which shatters conventions and feels authentic at the same time. Although both women are trapped between two worlds, they couldn’t be more different. On the one side you have the distrustful, distrusted “monster” and socially-awkward scapegoat whose old hurts haven’t healed, and on the other an enchanting, rosy-cheeked heroine who is easy to love and eager to please. The moments in the movie that really stoke your affections are small and unassuming. It’s the way Maleficent’s austerity gives way and is replaced by her unpracticed smile when she greets Aurora tenderly as “Beastie.”
The returning actresses do excellent work, reining in any urges to go over the top, while Michelle Pfeiffer enters the ring as a more socially acceptable mother figure for Aurora – the picture of beauty and respectability but rotten beneath her regal surface. Essentially combining her characters in Stardust and Hairspray here, the veteran actress seems to have found her later-in-life niche playing conniving, matriarchal villains. Pfeiffer too keeps her character dialled down to a sinister simmer, although comparisons to Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones will be natural here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
For the record, with three big-name actresses to share screen time, title character Maleficent isn’t as predominant in Mistress of Evil. For considerable chunks of the film, she’s either off-screen or a passive observer. That’s a loss as Angie remains the highlight of the film, energising every scene when she gets to explore Maleficent’s unsteady position on the line between benevolence and furious cruelty.
The screen time split also means two-hour Maleficent: Mistress of Evil rushes some of its quieter scenes, skims over supporting character development and resorts to a couple of back-snapping plot contortions to get back to the action.
To be fair, the high-stakes battle that takes up the last quarter of the film is expertly wrangled by director Joachim Rønning, one part of the duo responsible for Kon-Tiki and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Bouncing between all the film’s characters, the finale manages to be traumatic, exciting, inspiring, touching and even humorous.
And that makes Maleficent: Mistress of Evil a fairy tale movie done right. I kept imagining how I would respond to the film if I were a little girl, and I know I would be captivated the same way I was with something like Willow and The Neverending Story back in the day. Mistress of Evil is definitely one to watch on the big screen to feel the full impact of its magic.
Last Updated: October 16, 2019