Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Disney has found yet another formula at milking money from the movie box office. Aside from its cash cows in Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar/Disney Animation, recent years have shown that live-action remakes of their previous animated fare have great demand. This year alone we’ve seen the highest number of these remakes with Dumbo (2019), Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019), and now Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019). However, this last film is entering new territory of this remake craze, as it is the first sequel of a remake; in this case to Maleficent (2014), Sleeping Beauty’s (1959) villain origin story.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the continuation of the new perspective of the Disney villain. At the end of the first film we saw how the powerful fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) was actually wronged by princess Aurora’s (Elle Fanning) father. Having bonded as princess and a fairy god-mother of sorts, the two have lived in the forest with fellow magical beings until the beginning of this film. Aurora is to be married to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), whom she is very in love with. However, Maleficent, having had tough experiences with love before, is hesitant of the union. It is nothing compared to Philip’s mother, the queen (Michelle Pfeiffer), who seems to have her own grudge and plans.
The feminist and environmental themes of the first film carry on to this film. I was happy to have two empiric actresses pitted against each other like Jolie and Pfeiffer. It is certainly nice to have a calculating female villain, not ruled by emotion as much as greed. This sequel seems to check all the boxes of what a sequel should do: expand the universe, deepen the character and their relationships, and throw new challenges into the plot. However, the film never rises above feeling like an industrially manufactured product. The budget assures impressive visual effects and prosthetic make-up, but there is little risk or boldness to be seen. Returning director Joachim Rønning toes the line, which is a pity given the freedom that a sequel like this had; unshackled from the expectations of the source material. But Mistress of Evil seems to corner itself by rerunning the same symbols and messages of environmentalism as before.
The method of carrying this allegory of climate change and human’s exploitation of natural resources is completely unoriginal. The issue at hand might be an emergency in the real world, but the way that Mistress of Evil goes about telling it – of natives fractured between pacifists and those wanting to take the fight to the exploitative humans – has been done in Pocahontas (1995), Avatar (2009), Aquaman (2018), and even the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The way that Mistress of Evil goes about this form of interpretation brings nothing new to the table, and as such makes its message seem redundant and dissipates.
However, I was more curious about an underlying analysis of memory in Maleficent. The first film sought to show a revisionist perspective of the “Sleeping Beauty” tale, analyzing how a deeper look at someone’s past can change the entire narrative of a story. Mistress of Evil seemed intent on following through with this theme, especially regarding Michelle Pfeiffer’s queen. There is a big battle towards the end of the film, which might be trying to allude to the quote: “history is written by the victor, all you need is one good lie and a pool of blood,” which would be a surprisingly bold lesson to teach children. However, given the age of misinformation and the adaptability of truth these days, it would seem to be a necessary lesson. But the film seems to do an about-face, tying loose ends and ending the film with a ridiculously happy wedding on a battlefield.
For a film entitled Maleficent, we surprisingly get little of the eponymous character this time around. Angelina Jolie, so impactful in the first film, is relegated to looking interested and menacing while exposition is dumped on viewers. We rarely get to see her relish lines with her drawling-modified voice. However, when Jolie does get to speak, viewers remember what made the first film such an enchanting breakout.
In the end, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a sequel that played it too safe, making its message redundant, shying away from powerful messages, and basing its’ creative endeavors off a checklist. A slightly sidelined Jolie is somewhat made-up for with an enthusiastic Elle Fanning, but it is not enough to waft away the cookie-cutter aura from this sequel.