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.
(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.
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.
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.