Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

By: Kevin Jordan

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I am almost certain I have used that tagline on previous reviews, but can you blame me for repeating myself? The Princess Bride is a brilliant film with eminently quotable lines and that line in particular is just too apropos in the case of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. As I pointed out five years ago in my review of the first Maleficent, Disney rewrote Maleficent to be anything but evil, despite her name literally being a version of the word malevolence, and came up just shy of anointing her the newest Disney princess. Mistress of Evil is no different. If we define evil as “kind of grumpy sometimes,” then, sure…she’s evil.

The basic plot of Mistress of Evil is no different than that of its predecessor. A greedy monarch declares war against the fairies living in the moors, with the goal of stealing the resources of the moors for her kingdom. In this case, that monarch is Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), mother to Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson). And, just as with Stefan’s kingdom in the first film, Ingrith’s kingdom does not seem to be in any kind of duress and certainly does not appear short on any resources. Alas, this is the kind of pathetic writing we’re seeing more and more of from Disney films outside of Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar.

She’ll be fine after her morning cup of coffee.

(SPOILERS AHEAD – you bet I’m going to talk about much of the terrible writing.)

The film picks up some time after the last movie (five years, five days – it really does not matter). The first thing we see are a trio of humans stealing into the moors to kidnap some fairies. Two of the three are killed by a creature that appears to be Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), but the third makes it back to the castle with a fairy and glowing flower in tow. Meanwhile, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is queen of the moors and fielding complaints from various denizens about things that really do not matter to the movie in any way, shape, or form. After chasing a mischievous fairy that has stolen her crown, Aurora is greeted by Philip, who promptly proposes to her. This sets off the chain of events that leads to attempted genocide, but, wait…genocide!? I thought this was a Disney movie. *Checking* Wowwwww. Disney sure got dark.

The newly engaged couple decide that their parents should meet and neither Maleficent nor Ingrith are happy about it. For his part, Ingrith’s husband, King John (Robert Lindsay), is at least willing to give it the old medieval try and invites Maleficent to the castle for dinner. What could possibly go wrong?

Up to this point, I was actually okay with the film. None of the resource bullshit had been cited yet and the idea of fairies being kidnapped seemed intriguing and a really, really good way to piss off Maleficent and showcase her evil. Then, meet the parents happened. While they all are sitting together at the table, Ingrith starts deliberately insulting Maleficent and accusing her of murder, yet Aurora does nothing but stare daggers at her increasingly angering godmother and try to prevent her from murdering Ingrith in a magical rage. Not only is this shitty to Maleficent, but the current queen of the moors (Aurora) can’t be bothered to defend her own subjects. Later, she will lament that she no longer feels like a queen (after spending who knows how long playing dress up in Ingrith’s castle), but I’d argue the fairies are much better off without her.

Dumbass.

Eventually, Ingrith’s goading works and Maleficent storms off into the night. Though, not fast enough, as it turns out that Ingrith’s right-hand woman, Gerda (Jenn Murray), is waiting to snipe Maleficent with an iron-pellet crossbow. Since fairies are burned by iron, the shot takes Maleficent down from the sky. Luckily, another creature of Maleficent’s race just happens to be nearby to rescue her and whisk her off to a secluded island where the rest of their race lives. You read that right – there are more of her.

At this point of the film, a lot of exposition and backstory is crammed down our throats. Unlike the film, I won’t bore you with the backstory of Maleficent’s race, but the crux of it is that most of them want to kill all the humans in revenge of the humans killing them throughout history. Also, Chiwetel Ejiofor, cast as their leader, is absolutely wasted in this film. The exposition part is the revelation that the queen wants to murder all the fairies in the moors for their resources, but explained to us in mind-dumbing detail, and all because the kingdom had a poor harvest one year when she was a child.

Because this film is one giant retread, we get another climactic battle scene during which children in the audience will be scarred for life. This is a good time to mention that this film is rated-PG (again, like the previous film). Not only does the film have a death count rivalling John Wick, it features a group of fairies locked in a church, being massacred by Gerda firing poison balls at them from an organ. Don’t think too hard about that, just accept that I am not making that up. Throw in monsters screaming battle cries into the camera and Ingrith literally shoving Aurora off a tower and you can start saving for your kids’ therapy right now.

Sure. Why not?

By the end of the film, I was angry for multiple reasons. Obviously, the warmed over plot was a big annoyance, but the film goes further than that to alienate the audience. Aurora herself is about as unsympathetic as a character can be and is a dipshit as well. That is not someone you root for, especially when she isn’t even the main protagonist of the story. The political intrigue is comically juvenile, making Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’s political intrigue seem, well, intriguing. But, most of all, I was angry at myself for actually thinking there was a chance we would get the evil Maleficent that every audience member was clamoring for.

I don’t mean that last part figuratively. I saw this film on a Disney cruise ship with thousands of Disney fans and a handful of them were literally interviewed prior to the screening. Every one of them was asked why they were excited to see the film and every one of them said because they liked Maleficent because she was just sooooooo evil. Like them, I was fooled by a subtitle promising a mistress of evil and getting nothing of the sort. Unlike them, I did not clap multiple times near the end of this putrid excuse for a film. I get that I was surrounded by a bunch of Disney nerds, but COME ON!! Either you all were high from massive amounts of food and Bingo or you don’t know what that word means either.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and a discount on your next Disney vacation.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

By: Kevin Jordan

She’s tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.

ppz

That’s right – I just quoted Jane Austen.  Well, actually my wife quoted Jane Austen because she’s seen Pride and Prejudice approximately 174 times and I’ve seen it once.  And, not the crappy Keira Knightley version, but the long, long, long, loooooong BBC version with Colin Firth.  But, I have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so when she said the line, I recognized it.  Are you wondering if I have a point?  Me too.  I think it’s that I am familiar with 19th century English literature and not just an action movie junkie, but that could just be the zombies talking.  Because what’s better than 19th century literature being invaded by zombies?

It’s been a few years since I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I remember laughing out loud during the first page.  Looking back at it, the book opens with a statement about zombies wanting brains, then moves to a scene in which Mrs. Bennet is trying to discuss with her husband the business of marrying off their daughters while he is cleaning muskets and sharpening blades.  It’s this juxtaposition throughout the entire book that makes it such a fantastic read.  My only hope going into the movie was that they kept that dynamic and didn’t take the zombie part too seriously, lest they follow in the awful footsteps of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.

Based on the trailers and the opening scene of the film, it looked like my fear would be realized.  Rather than open the film with Ye Olde English and the Bennets, then interrupting them with a mild zombie attack, the movie opens with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) identifying and slaying a zombie, followed by the opening credits overlaid with a narration of the current situation in England.  Like I said, this film did not start off well.

(Mild SPOILERS to follow, but only the zombie kind.)

It then moved into that opening scene from the book and I started to relax just a little bit.  The Bennets were delivering their familiar lines and scenes and the plot of Pride and Prejudice took over the film.  Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) reopened Netherfield Park and, with Darcy at his side, threw a lavish party to celebrate.  All of the Bennets attended, with Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) hoping to marry off Jane (Bella Heathcoate), Elizabeth (Lily James) noticing Mr. Darcy and being generally disgusted with him, the three younger sisters – Lydia, Mary, and Kitty (Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, and Suki Waterhouse, respectively) – giggling at all the men, and Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) grumbling that he is more worried about his daughters being Shaolin-trained warriors than being well-married.

What?  I told you I’ve seen the original PBS film; I know their names.

The point at which I heaved a big sigh of relief came during said party when Elizabeth stomps outside and encounters a zombie, the former lady of Netherfield Park.  She begins talking to Elizabeth (we’ll come back to this in a moment) and walking towards her when her head suddenly explodes.  Of all the things I was expecting to happen in the next few seconds of that scene, exploding head was not one of them.  As the rest of the theater let out a gasp and burst of laughter, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the film as I had enjoyed the book.

Getting back to talking zombies, this was another aspect of the film that I was not prepared for.  In the book, there are no talking zombies, nor are they a major part of the plot.  They are just there wreaking havoc and forcing the English elite to practice martial arts in their dojos.  For the movie to be a little more compelling in the plot department (I said I’ve seen the original movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t fall asleep at some point), they added some depth to the zombies.  Some can talk and some can set traps and some can organize a zombie apocalypse to sweep through London.  By the end of the film, this becomes the main plot, but not so much that it completely overpowers the love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  If they had done that, this movie would have ended up sucking.

While not perfect, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came about as close as it could to delivering the heart of its source material.  It never takes itself too seriously and all of the actors are in on the joke (especially Lena Headey as the one-eyed Lady Catherine).  Like Ms. Austen wrote in the book – “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”  Or something like that.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, they did these zombies proud.