Arts movie review

The sequel to ‘Maleficent’: not so evil after all

Maleficent and Aurora’s relationship is challenged by drama surrounding Aurora’s upcoming wedding

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Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie, and Sam Riley play Aurora, Maleficent, and Diaval in 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.'
Jaap Buitendijk

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Directed by Joachim Rønning
Screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, and Linda Woolverton
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley
Rated PG, Now Playing

Five years after Maleficent first revealed the backstory of our favorite villain, Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning return to the big screen in Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. The sequel continues to explore the peculiar relationship between Princess Aurora (Ella Fanning) and her dark fairy godmother as Aurora prepares to marry Prince Philip in spite of the cunning queen’s icy hatred for Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Maleficent’s deep-seated distrust in true love. As the queen’s loathing for Maleficent evolves into full-fledged warfare between the humans and the magical creatures (Moors), the movie’s overall predictability is offset by a few surprises.

While the title and trailer paint Maleficent as formidable and ominous music accompanies Maleficent’s entries, it’s always clear that the queen (played by the acclaimed Michelle Pfeiffer) is the real villain. We sympathize with Maleficent as she reveals her vulnerabilities, covers up her horns for her daughter’s sake at dinner with the future in-laws, and even occasionally sheds a tear. It’s obvious that Maleficent’s trust issues and protective motherly instincts underlie her violent opposition to the marriage. The film starkly delineates good versus evil, humanizing Maleficent while portraying the queen as one-dimensionally wicked and despotic. 

Despite a largely predictable storyline, Henry Braham’s immersive cinematography makes this live-action film breathtaking. From the beginning, dizzying camera work and frequently zoomed-in shots of the miniature Moors draw viewers into their world. Many extreme close-ups of Maleficent and the queen set up dramatic confrontations. Montages of distinct color palettes and lighting highlight the contrast between various settings: the sunlit bedrooms of the castle, the nauseatingly rainbow-colored Moor kingdom, the faded, black-and-white cave refuge of the fairies, and the fiery dungeons of the queen’s covert operations. The film certainly captivates the eyes.

Thematically, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil somewhat reverses the meek portrayal of women in the original Sleeping Beauty: here, all the prominent characters are women with strong personalities, masterfully played by high-profile actors Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer. Aurora, on the other hand, while more traditionally feminine in her blush pink floral dresses and less aggressive mannerisms, still counteracts stereotypes. Her strong-headedness manifests as she explores the queen’s secret dungeons and leaps through windows to rescue her Moor subjects from the queen’s attack. This, in turn, enriches the feminist message of the film: femininity and will power are not mutually exclusive. Men are side characters — the king is asleep for most of the film, and the prince hardly does anything significant. In fact, men’s roles in the film are so diminished that the character of the prince remains raw and undeveloped. Although on the surface the movie revolves around a wedding, it is really about the unconditional love between mother and daughter. 

As an engrossing and entertaining film that challenges gender stereotypes, the sequel contributes to discourse on the modern fairytale spinoff genre. For its target audience of impressionable children, it attempts to combat harmful fairytale patterns of women being helpless and weak. So, while it may not be a rollercoaster of emotions or unexpected events, it represents a well-intentioned family film that is interesting to watch nevertheless.