Joachim Rønning returns to the Disney fold with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” featuring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film is not memorable.
I stared at a blank, white page on my computer for a great, long while as I started to think about how to open my review of “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” Angelina Jolie plays the titular character, a mistress of all-things evil in a Disney tale.
Joachim Rønning, who co-directed “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” takes “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” as his sophomore solo directing assignment. The screenplay by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue is set five years after the events of “Maleficent,” in which Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) presides as Queen of the Moors a realm of fairies and woodland creatures.
Rønning manages to make the forest come alive in a vibrant way as Aurora supports her people. There is a breeziness about Fanning’s performance as she interacts with the CG characters. But the effervescence for which Fanning is known is never more present than when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to her.
That, of course is the crux of this story as there are parties who wish to prevent the marriage; a marriage that threatens the plans of those who think they know Prince Phillip’s kingdom, namely Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer.)
I admit that it was lovely to see Pfeiffer in an evil role. The trouble with the way the story’s concept is that Maleficent is simply along for the ride in her own story. In a way, she is a steward of the peace a token of her “mistress” role, but is also a convenient excuse for the story to move forward. Jolie makes the best of it though I got a sense of boredom from her performance because she is so underutilized.
Maleficent’s trivialized role did allow for Aurora to breathe, something that didn’t help the film. It is clearly Aurora’s journey as she solves the riddle behind why someone would want to stop the wedding and threaten her kingdom. We do get to see Fanning swing into action, earning her ‘Disney Princess’ status.
As Ingrith’s position grows stronger, a faction of Aurora’s people rise up to protect the kingdom. Conall (Chweitel Ejiofor), Diaval (Sam Riley) and especially Borra (Ed Skrein) rise to the challenge, taking to the air to mount an initial attack. Maleficent is brought back in to the fray at this point.
The screenplay allows both Aurora and Maleficent to discover the two pieces of the puzzle, leading to a rousing third act full of flights of fancy, leading to a less-than-cool showdown with Ingrith. The film draws on tropes form “Avatar”/”Ferngully” and its primary message is far too on the nose, even for a Disney live action film.
I appreciated Warwick Davis’s role in the film, harkening to “Willow” type films from when I was a kid. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville all have smaller, supporting roles enhancing the overall story.
Rønning imbibes the film with a darker tone and feel than the film that preceded it. This is probably the one area where I felt the film worked only because it is a catalyst for bringing the Maleficent back in to the fold.
Kids might very well be inspired by the films’ antics; they might question the darker tones that underpin the film. Unfortunately, they won’t remember “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”