Mistress of Sequels
I recall enjoying the first Maleficent movie well enough. I remember Angelina Jolie’s wings being ripped off as a metaphor for rape. It was a feminist film that turned the idea of fairy tale evil on its head.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Joachim Rønning
Written by: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeffier, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harris Dickinson, Sam Riley
Running time: 118 min
The second installation in Disney’s Maleficient series is similarly feminist and also enjoyable. The plot centers around the impending marriage of Aurora (Elle Fanning), Queen of the Moors, and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), Heir to Kingdom with Forgettable Name. We see his awkward proposal in the Moors, aided by the faeries. Neither mother-of-the-bride or groom is happy about the news, but Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) pretends to be overjoyed. In actuality she is preparing for war, overseeing the production of weapons and ammo in a forge in the bowels of her castle while her husband, the king, dreams of brokering peace with the Fae.
The couple invites Maleficent to dinner to celebrate the engagement. It goes poorly. Everyone makes threats and breaks things. The king collapses into a deep, unwakeable sleep. Everyone assumes this is Maleficent’s doing, because, well, history, and she makes a hasty exit through a window. The Queen’s emotionless henchwoman, Gerda, played by the chilling Jenn Murray, shoots Maleficent down over the river. Gerda watches her plummet into the sea…and then witnesses another Maleficent-like creature plunge in after her and fly her away into the clouds.
With her husband handily unconscious, Ingrith proclaims that the wedding will happen in three days time and all are invited, human and Fae alike. It’s a trap, of course.
Meanwhile, Maleficent awakens, and finds herself recovering in a hidden place that houses all that are left of the Dark Fae. She learns that she has better powers than all of these other Dark Fae, and that she is the last in a line descended from the Phoenix. Her people are hell-bent on destroying the humans and reclaiming their rightful place in the world. Well, OK, many of them are hell-bent. Connal, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, would prefer an alliance and coexistence with the humans.
On the wedding day, the Fae come across the river. The humans lock them in the church and ambush them with a deadly toxic iron dust. But they mistake Maleficent’s entertaining sidekick, Diaval (Sam Riley) for human, exclude him from the trap, and thus he’s available to do some heroing. This is fortunate for Aurora, because, though she’s figured out her soon-to-be mother-in-law’s plan, she’s having a little trouble rescuing her people.
The Dark Fae arrive and Queen Ingrith launches her attack. Philip is outraged by his mother’s betrayal, calling her war a massacre. Then there’s a big battle scene, everyone ends up friends at the end, and Maleficent turns Michelle Pfieffer into a goat, the end. I mean yes, there’s a wedding, and some dramatic turn-arounds, too.
Here’s what I liked: The art direction in the Moors is fantastic. The faeries are imaginative and Disney has designed all things Light Fae beautifully. Jolie is great, with help from some excellent CGI on her irises. Pfeiffer can be evil all day, as far as I’m concerned. She’s really good at it. Ejiofor is good-but-underused, and Riley somehow manages to be creepy and endearing at the same time. The costume design is sumptuous, but Aurora’s best dress is the one we see her in first, and the wedding dress that the Fae make for her the first time is far lovelier than any subsequent dress she wears later.
What I didn’t like: Prince Philip is about as exciting as a potato. Why do fairy tale princes have to be such dullards? At the end of the battle, the King, finally up from his spell-induced coma, tells Philip, “Two kingdoms united at last and it’s because of you.” All I could think is, Why is this dude getting all the credit? He kinda stopped the fighting, but one could also argue that Maleficent actually stopped the fighting. It’s one of those Mediocre-White-Man-Does-One-Small-Thing-and- Gets-All-the-Credit moments. For the most part, both films take the patriarchy to task, but this moment was a disappointment. Aurora is pretty, but also a bit dull.
The movie also doesn’t give Elle Fanning much beyond a good wardrobe. Angelina and Michelle have the juicy, vengeful roles. I wished there were as many complex and fanciful Dark Fae creatures as there were Light Fae. Instead the Dark Fae were all winged and humanoid, well-designed but underused. I wanted the art direction to be as good for the whole film as it was in the first 15 minutes.
Also, since there was such a vivid metaphor in the first film, I anticipated one in the sequel. At first I thought the human’s destruction of the Moors might be an allegory for climate change. Ingrith sure felt like a femme Saruman rip-off, overseeing the destruction of the forest people. But as the film went on, it felt like a smash-up of political allegory: war versus diplomacy, protecting borders from outsiders, women working against their own interests. There were moments that called out to much of today’s political landscape, but not consistently. One might not see it, if one wasn’t looking for it.
Anyhow, it’s pretty. It’s entertaining enough. You can take the kids, and there’s good messaging for all genders. It’s not earth-shattering or exceptional, but it’s an excellent way to get the kids out of your hair for a few hours, or escape the oppressive news cycle if you’ve had the good sense not to bog yourself down with children.