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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Movie Review

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil  (2019) movie poster Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Theatrical Release: October 18, 2019 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Joachim Rønning / Writers: Linda Woolverton (story & screenplay); Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue (screenplay)

Cast: Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Elle Fanning (Aurora), Harris Dickinson (Prince Phillip), Michelle Pfeiffer (Queen Ingrith), Sam Riley (Diaval), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Conall), Ed Skrein (Borra), Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Juno Temple (Thistletwit), Lesley Manville (Flittle),


In the history of movies, no studio has ever experienced the complete, thorough, and enduring commercial dominance that Disney has over the past few years. This year has seen the Mouse House utterly decimate the competition. Five of 2019's top six movies domestically and worldwide hail from Disney. The only one of those billion dollar global grossers that doesn't -- Spider-Man: Far From Home -- has a well-known link to their industry-shaking Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That powerhouse web of comic book properties has given Disney two of the year's smash hits (worldwide champion Avengers: Endgame and high-performing Captain Marvel). The other three came from revivals of three of the most potent brands of the '90s: Pixar's Toy Story 4 and the remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King. While other studios only hope and dream of making a killing with their year-end offerings, Disney has another two guaranteed behemoths on the way in November's Frozen II and December's Star Wars episode.

But although virtually every new Disney movie today boasts the budget of a tentpole, not all of them come with excitement and box office certainty. For instance, this week gives us Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. It's the sequel to 2014's live-action Sleeping Beauty reimagining. That Angelina Jolie vehicle cost around $200 million to make, but earned that back domestically and abroad with a $759 million global haul. That robust number, rather than any evident demand or a gem of an idea, seems directly responsible for this sequel, which puts it in a class with Universal's The Huntsman: Winter's War and Disney's own Alice Through the Looking Glass. Like those, Mistress of Evil seems to arrive a little late and destined to generate only a fraction of the original movie's earnings.

After disappearing for much of the film, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) resurfaces looking like this, with a costume change likely to be reflected in new merchandise.

Jolie is back in the title role of the iconic forest fairy who in 2004 ranked as the #1 Disney villain in a fan-voted countdown I conducted. Despite the title, Maleficent disappears for large stretches of this sequel, leaving us to focus on the drama befalling Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) after she gets engaged to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites).
Maleficent, Aurora's godmother and essentially mother in this universe's telling, is not thrilled at the prospect of her marrying a human prince. On the other hand, Phillip's parents (Robert Lindsay and Michelle Pfeiffer) are only slightly hesitant to extend a dinner invite to their future daughter-in-law and her guardian, whose reputation is marred by legends and curiously selective memory.

The dinner starts tensely, but soon devolves into a full-on disaster, when King John falls ill by an apparent Maleficent curse. Maleficent is nearly killed by iron, her kind's Kryptonite, allowing hostilities between mankind and fairy folk to fester.

At this point, Maleficent is saved by one of her kind and taken to a gathering of similarly horned, magical flying beings (including one played by a bearded Chiwetel Ejiofor, who would appear to need a new agent). They speak with passion and purpose about this age-old clash of the fairy world and the human world and you expect -- and quite possibly dread -- that some inevitable war is coming.

Maleficent goes missing for much of the middle of the movie, her kind getting represented on the fringes by some other horned fairies you don't really know or care about. Jolie's absence creates an empty spotlight that is filled by Pfeiffer, whose character's evil intentions are not kept secret from us. She wants to rid the world of fairy folk and enlists a tiny chemist (Warwick Davis, of course) to derive a toxic potion from some stolen fairy flowers. Pfeiffer is no novice at playing villains and does what she can to try to entertain us. Unfortunately, the story by live-action Alice and animation veteran Linda Woolverton (returning) and screenplay credited to her and the duo of Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (the upcoming Mr. Rogers flick A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) is deathly devoid of creativity and intrigue. The obvious allegorical value of the conflict between the two feuding races is as good as it gets here and that isn't at all very good.

Director Joachim Rønning, who co-helmed the Oscar-nominated Norwegian film Kon-Tiki, has now delivered two subpar costly English language extravaganzas for Disney. (The first was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, on which he shared the director's chair with Espen Sandberg, who has enough sense to stay away here.)

Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is all smiles at the prospect of her son marrying Auora (Elle Fanning), but she has less jovial intentions at heart.

It is tough to argue that anyone involved on this production, whose budget is curiously undocumented online but clearly substantial (scarce but still-hideous Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather variations not withstanding), is here for art and not a big payday. Jolie made $33 million for the first film including profit shares and her advance salary on this sequel already placed her second only to Scarlett Johansson among the highest-paid actresses of 2018. That's money you'd be crazy to turn down for a couple of months' work at any age, let alone as a woman in your mid-forties (with six kids) in an industry that typically considers that past expiration date. While Jolie's presence here is entirely understandable, it's not commendable artistically. But maybe she'll use some of the proceeds and increased visibility on another passion project, like First They Killed My Father, the 2017 movie she wrote, directed, and produced.

Disney has enough recent hits to endure years of misses and they are determined to prosper even more with their forthcoming Netflix-rivaling subscription streaming service. Besides, even with critics' anticipated dismissal, the superfluous and spectacularly underwhelming Mistress of Evil is still expected to gross $50 million domestic in its opening weekend, which would likely be enough to best both Joker in its third week and the even less timely sequel Zombieland: Double Tap.

Related Reviews:
MaleficentSleeping Beauty
Now in Theaters: AbominableThe Addams FamilyJokerAd AstraJudyGemini Man
Written by Linda Woolverton: Alice in Wonderland (2010) • Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Directed by Joachim Rønning: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesKon-Tiki
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

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Reviewed October 15, 2019.

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