VOD film review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jun 2020
Director: Joachim Rønning
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Michelle Pfeiffer
Watch Maleficent: Mistress of Evil online in the UK: Disney+ / Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
“As the tale was told over and over throughout the kingdom, Maleficent became evil once more…” So begins Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Disney’s sequel to its rewrite of Sleeping Beauty that switched the focus to the sinister sorceress who put the original fairytale’s curse on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). The first film recast the villain as a misunderstood hero, an appealing push back against conventions, presumptions and myths. But by turning that revisionist flourish into a franchise, Maleficent 2 has to find new ways to stoke tension, and to stop its enigmatic hero becoming, well, too heroic. The result, as its misnomered title suggests, isn’t exactly enchanting.
We pick up five years after Aurora’s father, King Stefan, has passed away, and as Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora. That brings us into the orbit of Philip’s mother, Ingrith, the Queen of Ulstead (Michelle Pfeiffer) and King John (Robert Lindsay), who have long-standing beef with the Moors, the land where Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) hails from.
The resulting clash of mothers and myths is a tantalising prospect, with Pfeiffer going toe to toe with Jolie’s winged outsider. But our focus soon shifts from these two excellent performances – Pfeiffer is visibly having fun with the cruel mother-in-law role – to Ingrith’s plan to wipe out all fairies. Pushed out by Ingrith, she winds up in the company of a group of Dark Fey, creatures long since outcast, and an uprising begins to battle the queen’s army and save the magical kingdom.
If that sounds like a generic CGI climax waiting to happen, you’d be right. The likeable cast – including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Conall, the Dark Fey’s leader, Sam Riley as Maleficent’s ornithological sidekick, and Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville back as Sleeping Beauty’s trio of fairies – are swallowed up by a generic plot that’s determined to go bigger, rather than double down on the interesting characters and dynamics set up by the first outing.
The surface-level spectacle is not to be underrated, from Ellen Mirojnick’s gorgeous costumes, which are full of tiny character touches, to director Joachim Rønning’s handling of the main showdown, which bursts with vibrant colours and sweeping scale. But the attempt to squeeze in more back-story for Maleficent amid the action-heavy script means that Jolie’s central figure – a commanding, confident, compelling presence – loses the emotional stakes required for the final moment’s attempt at catharsis. How do you give a revisionist fairytale a happy ending? In its move to grow Maleficent into a franchise, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil doesn’t quite know the answer.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.