Sequels are a tricky thing. Sometimes they are full of wonderful surprises and fun twists and turns. Often they fall flat and don’t live up to expectations. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil had the potential of being a powerful story with compelling characters in a magical place. Instead, it turned into a hate fueled kill fest where the two most interesting characters ended up feeling shallow.
Why the original Maleficent worked
Let’s back up a touch and discuss why the original Maleficent worked so well. For starters, it was a beautiful story of love and redemption slowly revealed as we dig into Maleficent’s character. We see why she struggles with trust and love and it’s believable. A wonderful story needs a fascinating character, and who is more fascinating than the otherworldly Angelina Jolie. This was a role she was born to play.
Throughout the film we are wowed by the beauty and intrigue of the magical moors. We soar through the sky with the powerful Maleficent herself. We witness how power and hatred corrupts in King Stephan. And in the end, we see the power of true love from an unexpected but beautiful place.
We, the audience, are moved because we care. We watched Aurora grow up under Maleficent’s watchful eye. We see the trouble and effort she goes through to keep the girl safe while in the care of the bumbling fairies. We see how someone who was supposed to be heartless, has the biggest heart of all.
And it’s a wonderful thing.
Potential gone wrong
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (MoE) had all the potential to be another moving and magical experience, and it fell flat. Starting with the title, we have expectations that aren’t being met. If anything, the original Maleficent proves that she is anything but evil. She’s complicated, passionate, and deeply caring. Labeling her as “Mistress of Evil” makes her sound like she’s now Satan’s paramour.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie is just as breathtaking and beautiful as the first. It might even be better in that regard, but since we expect it to be, it doesn’t add the same wow factor as it did before.
For the story to work we need a good villain. It can’t be a guy, because the last villain was King Stefan. Enter Queen Ingrith, Prince Phillip’s conniving hateful mother. Choosing Michelle Pfeiffer to play her feels too perfect, especially after the Snow White remakes.
We also can’t have the same villain motivation, which is hate and distrust created by a lack of understanding. This is where MoE fails the viewers. Yes, I realize that there are different flavors of hate and distrust used in both films, but in a nutshell it’s the same emotional flavor. King Stefan hates the moors and the magic because he sees them as a threat to his kingdom. Queen Ingrith feels the same. They both make stuff out of iron and have secret and not-so-secret plans to destroy magic and Maleficent herself.
The last nail in the proverbial coffin comes down to a problem of deus ex machina. A mysterious force that the audience doesn't understand comes to save the day. When the battle needed her most, Maleficent arises from the ashes and turns into a phoenix. The whole business of taking her to the land of the exiled dark fey feels forced so this moment can happen.
One of the movie’s most dramatic sequences is a ridiculously long battle of dark fey vs red fairy-killing dust. It should have been one of those battles where everyone is cheering from their seats for good to win, but since we don’t really care about Queen Ingrith’s goals or the plight of the attacking dark fey, all the fighting and death is pointless.
What could have been changed
The biggest failure is that the central conflict in this movie has everything to do with Queen Ingrith and the Dark Fey, both elements that are introduced in such a way that we don’t care about what their goals are. At the beginning of the movie, there needed to be an introductory montage for both of them that established how they were always part of the story and why this fight is so important. Without it, the audience has to decide to care from what the characters themselves tell us, and as we all know, actions speak louder than words.
The most important characters need to still be Aurora and Maleficent. Aurora is essentially nice looking furniture in this film. She’s stuck between two warring families and unsure. Her discovery of who is behind the fairy kidnappings and the kings mysterious illness doesn’t feel significant enough. Her most important moment is telling Phillip that his mom’s a bit of a megalomaniac — something he simply accepts. She doesn’t save the trapped fairies in the chapel, bumbling fairy Flittle does. She doesn’t stop the battle, Phillip does. She doesn’t save the king, Maleficent does.
Maleficent essentially takes a back seat for the whole movie until the end of the battle. Even in the beginning when Queen Ingrith tries to frame her, she doesn’t really do anything but look scary. In the end when she turns into the phoenix, it’s not because she wants to but what fate has in store for her.
I wanted to like Maleficent: Mistress of Darkness but I got bored. It’s the same kind of bored that happens when there’s too much action without enough substance. It’s Michael Bay bored. Yes, it was very pretty. Yes, there were some incredible actors in it doing a great job. Yes, the world is still amazing, but the poor story fell short of that emotional rollercoaster that I was craving.
I rate Maleficent: Mistress of Darkness a 3 out of 5.