Say what you will about “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” It may be joyless, pointless and soul-crushingly dull, but it also provides the best cheekbone showcase of 2019.
How could it not with both Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer chewing as much digital scenery as possible? Both actresses’ cheekbones are typically stunning to look at and acquit themselves well here.
The rest of the movie? Not so much.
The film, like most of Disney’s recent output, feels more like a financial transaction than a film – an attempt to capitalize on nostalgia for a previous film. The only difference between this and something like “The Lion King” or “Aladdin” is that I don’t think the nostalgia was there in the first place.
The original “Maleficent” from 2014 was something of a mixed bag – a campy revisionist take on “Sleeping Beauty” enlivened in places by Jolie’s scenery-chewing as the evil-but-not-really-evil fairy. There are people who love it and a lot who don’t.
I fall firmly into the latter camp. The first “Maleficent” was a bit too revisionist for my taste, and I felt it lost a lot of the heart and charm of Disney’s original animated “Sleeping Beauty”. But I at least appreciated its narrative briskness – At just over an hour-and-a-half, it moved quickly enough that I never realized I was bored.
No such luck with “Mistress of Evil”. What this film gives us is a two-hour slog through Fantasy Plots 101. Evil queen? Check. Romance that could unite two warring kingdoms? Double check. Interminable “epic” battle sequence? Triple check.
The opening sequences do point to the fun that could have been though. As the film opens, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning, making a solid case for best cheekbones herself) accepts the marriage proposal of Prince Phillip (the blandly handsome Harris Dickinson).
Maleficent (Jolie), naturally, isn’t happy, and her visit with the in-laws, including Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith, doesn’t help matters. The neighbors are after her with pitchforks, she is allergic to the iron silverware in the palace and the queen’s pesky cat keeps trying to eat her raven friend Diaval (Sam Riley).
These scenes are light and amusing and work well enough thanks to some exceptional hamminess by Jolie and Pfeiffer. Think of it as “Meet the Fairy Godparents” or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (It’s a Witch)”.
Things go downhill from there as the film descends into a plot filled with genocide, homicide and racism. Things get pretty grim for a Disney fantasy, and I imagine young children might get scared if they weren’t so bored.
The script is more two-dimensional than the original “Sleeping Beauty” and half as fun. In case you’re wondering how many writers it takes to craft a by-the-numbers fantasy plot, the answer is three: Linda Woolverton, who wrote Disney’s original animated “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” along with the “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” screenwriting team of Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue. All three can, and have, done better.
The cast, like everyone involved with this enterprise, seems a little bored. Jolie and Pfeiffer liven things up as best they can. Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor pops in to deliver exposition dramatically. The great Warwick Davis appears in heavy makeup as one of the queen’s minions.
The special effects, at least, steal the show, with a host of lovely creature designs by the folks at the Moving Picture Company. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick also does some lovely work. The film is as beautiful to look at as the script is by-the-numbers.
In the end, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” (rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images) never makes a case for its existence outside of being another Disney cash grab. It’s not going to bring any new fans into this franchise, and even fans of the original “Maleficent” may be tempted to ask, “Why?”
But the more important question is this: Who wins the great cheekbone-off of 2019?
I’m inclined to give the title to Pfeiffer personally. But really, if you’re watching “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”, nobody wins.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.