Well, Well… In Disney’s 1959 classic fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty, the supreme villainess of lore, Maleficent proudly boasts of being “the mistress of all evil” seconds before spectacularly transforming into a dragon of nightmare proportions. Her reputation was cemented as the horned Queen of Disney villainy. 2014 saw Disney bring to life the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain to much commercial and critical success. However, in realigning the narrative the antagonist of one tale became the anti-heroine of another, and it worked. The character was given a tragic history, flawed hubris and heart. What was lacking however… was that title she once so gloriously proclaimed. When the sequel was announced one thought they were finally in for the earth-shattering display of anti heroinism. The sequel didn’t quiet soar to those heights, but it did fortify that Maleficent has gone from fairy-tale boogie-lady… to pop-culture’s most gothic and elegant sorceress.
The story continues with Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora where they begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies and dark new forces at play. Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighbouring Moors full of fairy-tolk, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart by opposing sides in a Great War, causing them to question whether they can truly be family.
Director Joachim Ronning wows in moments but flounders in others. The film is epic and beautiful, a visual marvel to rival Avatar. Ronning and the films designers create dense magical Moors that fill the eyes with wonder, grand castles, epic battles and most impressive of all a mythology for a fairy-tale universe only beginning to come to life. While all this is wonderful, it teeters on too much. The story jumps around with vigour and tries to fit too much in that it loses itself and worse still, we lose what small time we have with the lead. Maleficent isn’t in Maleficent enough. She leads the story but lacks the screen time, emotional shades and beats that the film needed. Her presence is felt, but when Jolie/Maleficent is given the stage she’s often reactionary and stoic… two things not harmonious with the thought of Disney’s most revered villain.
Jolie was born to play Maleficent. Her striking figure, imposing presences and elegant evilness fits the character so well that it’s shocking this film underuses her. Where this film tremendously excels over the first is in its villain. Not Maleficent, but Queen Ingirth. The true Mistress of Evil here, Michelle Pfeiffer relishes her role of a human villain, a Trump like figure and does what she does best with these parts, completely chews the scene and it’s a marvel to watch. With the absolute good of Aurora, grey of Maleficent and evil of the Queen, the three lead characters give a robust spectrum of female reactions to power and family. Elle Fanning does the best she can with what is a bright-eyed cardboard cut-out but ultimately her attempt is grating. Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejioforn are fun additions although underused as the kin of Maleficent with differing ideologies. And it’s in this example that the film stumbles, it tries to do too much to stuff a story that could be a three-hour fantasy epic into a 100-minute family film. What it lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in ambition, amazing visuals, stunning costumes and heart.
One of the biggest downfalls of this tremendously fun film is the tonal disruption towards the end. For a story drenched in dark, mature and current issues, the ending is too light and fluffy. The best example is that Queen Ingrith’s evil and genocidal plight doesn’t get the comeuppance it deserves. But the film is so fun and colourful, one truly forgives its grievances. It’s an easy watch and constantly entertaining. This fairy-tale has the heart and humour that Disney’s live action films of late totally lack. This story may not spellbound, but it’ll utterly entertain and gives us a story of warring women, fantastic fairies and humorous heart.
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