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"MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL"
(2019) (Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy: When a goodhearted, young princess wants to marry a prince and peacefully unite their two kingdoms, the prince's mother schemes to stop them, framing the princess' notorious godmother in the process.
PLOT:
The goodhearted Princess Aurora (ELLE FANNING) agrees to marry her long-time love, Prince Philip (HARRIS DICKINSON), in a union that will peacefully unite their two kingdoms. But first they must tell their respective families. Aurora meets considerable resistance from the godmother who raised her, the powerful Maleficent (ANGELINA JOLIE). Philip, meanwhile, gets the blessing of his father, King John (ROBERT LINDSAY), and mother, Queen Ingrith (MICHELLE PFEIFFER).

But Ingrith only pretends to bless the union. At a palace dinner, she provokes Maleficent by telling her that Aurora will finally have a "real mother" and a "real family." When Maleficent flashes her considerable powers, Ingrith seizes the opportunity to incapacitate King John and blame it on one of Maleficent's spells. Maleficent and her faithful assistant, Diaval (SAM RILEY), are cast out, and Ingrith takes control of the kingdom vowing to wage war against Maleficent and her kind, who have been hiding for years after being hunted to the brink of extinction.

It's up to Aurora to unravel Ingrith's lies and deceits, including secretly employing a scientist named Lickspittle (WARWICK DAVIS), who is building an arsenal of weapons from seized fairy dust. Aurora has the support of her three fairy aunties Knotgrass (IMELDA STAUNTON), Flittle (LESLEY MANVILLE), and Thistlewit (JUNO TEMPLE), but is otherwise surrounded by treachery. A severely wounded Maleficent, meanwhile, is taken to a secret cave where her kind have survived in hiding. She must eventually choose between the group's peace-loving leader, Conall (CHIWETEL EJIOFOR), and his war-mongering right hand, Borra (ED SKREIN).

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
As I prepare to write the review for "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," I also prepare to answer the question that is on most of your minds I'm sure. "Uh what the heck happened in the first 'Maleficent' movie?" Hey, I had to look up the summary on Wikipedia so that I didn't go into this sequel lost. I mean, it's been five years. And while the first movie was a commercial success, it's not like it really entered into the fantasy movie pop-culture pantheon as flicks like "Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "Harry Potter" have.

The original was a spin on the "Sleeping Beauty" tale with an evil witch casting a spell on a goodhearted princess -- that she be in a permanent state of nocturnal slumber to be awakened only by true love's kiss. Of course, the first film painted Maleficent in a much more sympathetic light than ever before. She was a woman scorned (and scarred) by King Stefan and came to know redemption by the maternal love she developed for his child, the kind Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning).

But in the years since, Maleficent has apparently been the victim of the fantasy movie equivalent of "fake news." The story that has been promulgated throughout the kingdom of the humans, and the kingdom of the Moors where all of the magical creatures of the land reside, of a powerful being not to be trifled with who's capable of casting dastardly spells against even the people she loves. When we find Maleficent (once again played by Angelina Jolie), she's in a sort of semi-retirement and doesn't give a dang about her bad reputation.

But she has to reemerge when Aurora agrees to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), and the two plan to bring unity and peace to both their kingdoms. But evil forces are against them. Look, anytime you live in a land with castles and fairies and magical spells, you pretty much have to assume that evil forces are against you somewhere. But Philip and Aurora never imagine the threat is coming from their own circle. In this case, Philip's mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), is secretly plotting to incapacitate her husband the king (Robert Lindsay), frame Maleficent, and attack the unprotected Moors to claim all of the land for her own.

"Maleficent: Queen of Evil" is a mostly paint-by-numbers fantasy flick that will be about as memorable to much of the masses as the first "Maleficent" movie was. If you have young kids, and you have the first film on semi-permanent play in your Blu-Ray player, this will be a fun follow-up. For the rest of us, it's a diversion that doesn't quite measure up to any of the Golden Age of Disney animated fantasy adventures even though Disney has clearly thrown a heck of a lot of money into the production.

It has the scale of a James Cameron movie a la "Avatar" movie. But it's over-stuffed with characters and subplots. And worst of all, Maleficent herself gets lost in the mix! She's has about the amount of screen time as Batman in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" when the Caped Crusader had to share the screen with Catwoman, the Penguin, and Christopher Walken. And like in that film, Michelle Pfeiffer actually steals the movie from her. "Mistress of Evil?" Not Maleficent. She has too much of a heart and a conscience. Pfeiffer's Queen Ingrith is absolutely ruthless, with no care for life human, fairy, pixie, or otherwise.

They should have really called the film "Ingrith: Mistress of Evil." But it just didn't have the same ring with the Mouse House Marketing Department. Ingrith sounds like Mike Tyson trying to say "Ingrid." But Pfeiffer overcomes all. The only thing missing in her performance is a throaty evil laugh.

By contrast, Jolie is mostly just too cool for school. She lets her cheekbones do a lot of the acting here, and she's just not in the film enough for my tastes. Everybody else is bland and two-dimensional, although they all look fantastic in front of green screens and interacting with busloads of CGI creatures. I wasn't bored. But I wasn't enthralled either. This is a warm-up for bigger, better Disney films on the way, methinks. I give it a 4.5 out of 10 (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 14, 2019 / Posted October 18, 2017


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