Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Movie Information

Angelina Jolie reprises her delightfully wry and dark role, while Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning also shine.
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy
Director: Joachim Rønning
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer
Rated: PG

Well, well. Maleficent is back on the big screen in Mistress of Evil, and she’s got a new queen to deal with.

No, I’m not talking about newly engaged Princess Aurora and her descent into Bridezilla mode (though I’d love to see that film). I’m talking about Michelle Pfeiffer’s deliciously wicked Queen Ingrith.

In the sequel to Maleficent, Disney’s 2014 live-action dark fantasy retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the titular character, the magnificently frightening but secretly good-natured fairy queen, and she does so with unsurprising ease. With her looming ebony horns, massive wingspan and slick raven-colored gowns, she’s effortlessly cool, calculated and cunning, but her impossibly graceful magic-making and surprisingly sly wit are what have catapulted her to cult power-queen status.

Mistress of Evil picks up five years later with the news of her daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) becoming engaged to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats), a development that Maleficent fiercely resists. In her words, “Love doesn’t always end well” — an understandable position, seeing as her wings were literally cut off by her ex-boyfriend in the first film. After some consideration, Maleficent begrudgingly agrees to meet the parents of her future son-in-law and, with help from her man-turned-raven-turned-trusted-confidant, Diaval (Sam Riley), she practices her human-friendly smile “with a little less fang.”

The story quickly veers from the shiny bliss of fairyland nuptials to a battle between the overprotective, lavishly costumed and furiously cheekboned mothers-in-law-to-be. It’s a dark, Disney-fied version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, bubbling over with conflicting human-versus-fairy dinner table customs and painfully awkward small talk that soon cuts right to the bone.

Drawing first blood, Queen Ingrith makes mention of her guests’ storied past (namely that time Maleficent cursed Aurora into a “deathlike sleep”), and without giving her the chance to explain (water under the bridge!), she jabs Maleficent in her most vulnerable spot — her role as a mother figure. Ingrith remarks that Aurora will finally have the family and mother she “deserves” once she’s married, a dig that gaslights Maleficent into a truly terrifying eruption of anger. It’s the type of female-on-female crime scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. This isn’t your grandmother’s fairy tale, but an all-out battle between two fiercely fiery moms.

Perfectly cast in each of their roles, Jolie and Pfeiffer are the dark heart and soul of the film. Pfeiffer’s Ingrith is armed with a gloriously sparkly pearl capelet and that special brand of condescension only a mother-in-law can deliver. (You get the sense that she not-so-secretly delights in the agony of others.) Finally, we’ve found a foe worthy of Maleficent’s ever-precious attention — unlike the first film’s laughably impotent King Stefan — and their inevitable faceoff promises to be one of the all-time great showdowns.

There’s just one problem: This battle royale takes up far too little of the film’s run time to feel completely satisfactory, at least for those itching to see two Hollywood queens clash as much as possible on the silver screen. Even though these titans are tragically separated from one another for most of the film, there’s enough clandestine evil-queen scheming and glorious costume porn to keep viewers engaged and entertained throughout.

The signature wry humor Jolie so deftly expresses in the first film is on display yet again in the sequel (albeit in a much more limited fashion, unfortunately) and is truly a joy to watch as it highlights the sheer ridiculousness of what being human must look like to a sardonic fairy goddess.

As a fan of the first film and its refreshing revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, Mistress of Evil serves as an interesting enough character study as it delves deeper into one of Disney’s most beloved villain’s backstory. Upon a nearly fatal injury, Maleficent is rescued and cared for by Connal (played with impressive emotional resonance by Chiwatel Ejiofor), a creature who resembles her with his large wings and signature horns. She’s awestruck at the sight; though she’s lived among magical fairies all her life, it’s the first time she’s ever encountered one who looks just like her. This discovery leads to another: There’s a secret underworld ruled by the Dark Fey, Maleficent’s species of fairy. This hidden world is the last refuge where the giant winged fairies can fly freely and live undisturbed, and Maleficent’s physical transformation — from wounded and scared to high flying and ethereal — reflects this much-deserved freedom.

The narrative feels a bit wonky in its multiple diversions as it features two storylines that seemingly have little to do with each other. Both Queen Ingrith secretly plotting the downfall of every magical creature and Maleficent melancholically exploring her ancestry are worthy premises, but each feels a bit muddled in the process. Ultimately, though, the threads come back together just enough to warrant the drag-down fight we’ve been promised.

The motifs of motherhood and womanhood as pillars of unshakable strength are perhaps the greatest takeaways from these films. Each female character is unique, determined and an active participant in her life — a refreshing change of pace from the traditional “damsel in distress” fairy tale tropes.

I particularly enjoyed watching Aurora navigate between the two matriarchs and do much of the rescuing herself. Mistress of Evil gives her much more to do than just flash her kilowatt smile and float around like a beam of eternal sunshine, and Fanning is especially masterful during the film’s more dramatic moments. Her talent for grinning from ear to ear just before a gut-wrenching moment of sheer grief is impressive — one of numerous qualities that make her a worthy equal to Jolie’s formidable on-screen presence. The two complement one another with seamless chemistry and their bond always feels genuine.

Mistress of Evil effectively demonstrates that there is an unmatched strength in vulnerability and kindness, and is careful not to assign labels to it. This kind of strength is not engendered or classified by race, color or creed — it’s possible for all of us to obtain. In this way, the sequel inspires and entertains and is certainly worth the watch, even if it does have a tidy storybook ending.

About Kristina Guckenberger
Freelance writer, avid book hoarder, classic over-sharer, & all-around pop culture nut.

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