Five years after the blockbuster success of the first movie, the Mistress of Evil is back. But is she really the evil witch in this story?
The fairy tale
Taking off from the first movie, this sequel continues the story of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) years after she freed Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) from her curse.
The princess now rules the Moors, governing over fairies and magical creatures. However, while the years have been kind to Maleficent and Aurora, the hatred between man and the fairies still exists. Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighboring Moors, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. But in comes the prince’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart to opposing sides in a Great War, testing their loyalties and causing them to question whether they can truly be family.
Which is witch?
Maleficent is the one dubbed as a witch. Humans are scared of her, cowering in fear whenever her name is invoked, and even the fairies and magical creatures are nervous around her. Yet it is Queen Ingrith who is spreading lies, instigating wars, and harboring hatred in her heart.
The film didn’t shy away from painting Queen Ingrith as the villain. In fact, it was like an open secret that everyone knew but didn’t want to talk about. Even when she was first introduced, there was already a lot of ominous hard-to-ignore clues that yes, this lady is the antagonist of the story. (The queen twisting that mannequin’s head was just menacing, especially with Pfeiffer’s poker face.)
But despite the Queen’s villainy being an open secret, something that would usually turn off viewers, this worked in favor of the film in the sense that viewers are pulled towards the mounting tension between the two mothers. Maleficent and Ingrith are just staring down at each other, barely moving, just giving each other an elegant verbal dressing down across the dining table, but we are all captivated.
Probably half of the draw of this movie, especially for the grown-ups, is the star power of lead actresses Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer. The way the two stars battle it out on screen, even if one only looks at the parallelism of their characters, is a sight to behold. And when they share screen time, even when every other character is there too, it’s Maleficent and Queen Ingrith who will capture your attention with all the subtleties and explosions of their showdown to determine who will come out on top.
In the male-dominated film industry of Hollywood, female-led Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a diamond in the rough.
In her element
As an anti-hero, Maleficent is a wonder. She retains a part of that evil witch stereotype with her menacing wings and horns and prosthetic cheekbones and overall disagreeable personality, but she also brings out a likeable side to Maleficent’s character, which usually comes in with how socially awkward the witch is. Maleficent misses social cues that even her right hand Diaval (Sam Riley) is familiar with. Laughs are abound in the theater whenever he tries to instruct her on what to do whenever they end up in an awkward silence. (Still chuckling over Maleficent saying “never” when Aurora asked if her godmother could give her away in her wedding.)
A new tale
One thing that a lot of viewers said about the first movie was that it took too much liberty in putting a new twist in the original fairytale to the point that it’s so unrecognizable.
And yes, that is undeniable. But Mistress of Evil is relatively safe from this kind of critique because it jumps off from the aftermath of a changed story. The original Sleeping Beauty didn’t really tackle what happened after the princess woke up beyond happily ever after. Mistress of Evil is working with the ever after, with a clean slate, but maybe the film enjoyed this clean slate too much.
The first film took a turn off the usual path when Maleficent was given a back story, providing viewers with a reason for why she turned out to be the evil witch humans thought she was. And this made viewers empathetic with Maleficent, however evil she may sometimes be.
But now here we have Queen Ingrith, another woman scorned and failed by those around her, out to destroy everything she believed had tormented her, but the plot failed her character. She mentions her tragic background, the reason why she harbors so much hatred, but that’s just it. She only mentions it, and it isn’t explored further, seeming too contrived and only making viewers wonder where did that even come from. It just makes Queen Ingrith a no-good villain we’d have no problem about hating, and that feels like such a waste of the caliber of acting skills Pfeiffer is known to have.
But what’s really happening?
Another thing that resulted from the filmmakers enjoying the clean slate too much is how much they ended up packing into the film. Of course, being of the fantasy genre, the film would end up with a lot of elements, but it sometimes felt overboard.
For one, the battle scenes are a spectacle, and maybe the Disney execs enjoyed how everyone going head to toe in Avengers: Endgame. Yet the aftermath felt rather abrupt, with everyone just agreeing to coexist peacefully with just a few words from the princess when just a few minutes ago, they were all out to kill each other.
There was simply too much going on. It started with a marriage proposal turned meet the parents turned wedding planning turned war waging. And between all of that, the dark fae are introduced and it’s a whole new world that wasn’t explored much. Well, there’s the possibility of plans for a next film, but for now, Mistress fell short in tying up its loose ends.
At the core of it
Despite all that, Mistress of Evil is really all about that mother-daughter relationship between the princess and her godmother. If you remove the elements of magic and conflict, this is a story of Aurora growing up, getting married to the prince and moving out of the home she built with the fair folk.
This perhaps is the most difficult pill to swallow for Maleficent as a mother. She would do anything for her daughter, even hide what she truly is to appease Aurora (the scarf broke my heart), but she is not ready to let her go out of the nest yet. And at the core of this film, Maleficent is trying to deal with watching her daughter growing up—just with more flashy story lines.
The bottom line
After the first film paved the way for the resurgence of Disney’s live action films, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues its attempt to subvert traditional fairytales with its all-star female-led cast. While it sometimes loses its way with all the threads tangled together, Mistress of Evil is unrestrained as it moves further away from the original fairy tale, creating a fantasy flick perfect for family movie nights.
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