Disney rarely puts out unsuccessful movies; almost all of their films please fans and maintain box-office success. Often, the movies do well in the box office because fans can expect to enjoy a Disney film, but that doesn’t mean that all the films are necessarily amazing. Most Disney films fall somewhere in a neutral middle ground — not bad, not great. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” directed by Joachim Rønning (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), fits perfectly in this category. Overall, the film’s not a bad watch, especially with kids who would love the fairytale aspects and the special effects, but it’s still a film with a lot of issues, especially in how the plot unfolds.
“Mistress of Evil” picks up five years after its 2014 predecessor, “Maleficent.” Aurora, played by Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), who now rules over the Moors as their wide-eyed, barefoot, fairy-like queen, accepts a marriage proposal from Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, “Trust”). Their union has the potential to link their respective kingdoms, the Moors and Ulstead, but Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Batman Returns”), has other plans. The premise of the plot, though a little derivative with its fairytale aspects and evil mother-in-law, is tolerable.
Despite the plot not being unique, the film has some really high points. Where the movie succeeds is in its stellar understanding and explanation of two major characters and their bond: Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and Aurora. The two talented actresses do a fabulous job of making their relationship seem real; little details like Aurora being the only one who was able to calm Maleficent down, Maleficent practicing how to smile to avoid make a bad impression on Philip’s parents and their nicknaming of each other (Godmother and Beastie), all contributed to a believable mother-daughter-like relationship. Disney’s attention to detail makes for wonderful world-building.
However, the amount of plot holes in the movie make it difficult to follow and frustrating to watch. One of the most confusing parts of the movie is understanding the motive that Queen Ingrith had for wanting to hurt Maleficent personally. Ingrith’s grudge against the fae kingdom in general makes some sense after hearing her backstory (though told too late, in the last 45 minutes of the film), but the feelings of resentment and hatred that she harbors against Maleficent alone seem unfounded and unbelievable.
The other plot hole, this one even harder to ignore, is the reveal of an underground society of Maleficent-like creatures. We get very little background on them as a group, just that they were driven into hiding by humans. We miss out on learning the extent of their history, and more importantly, why Maleficent doesn’t know they exist when she seems to play such an important role in their hierarchy. With the addition of these creatures in the movie, it feels like too much was going on at once, with not enough detail or time spent on anything.
“Mistress of Evil” is a nice escape from midterm stress and 40 degree October weather in Michigan, but not a must-see. It’s one of those trademarked Disney movies that you know you’ll enjoy and you know will have a ‘happily ever after,’ but not necessarily worth spending ticket money on. In a world of Disney live-action remakes and in the era of sequels, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” falls exactly where you would expect it to. It doesn’t have the nostalgia of the original cartoon “Sleeping Beauty” nor the novelty of the 2014 film — the live-action remake that started the trend. It feels obvious that they dragged out a sequel to make money, and while it wasn’t an unenjoyable film, it didn’t feel necessary. I think it’s safe to say that this probably won’t be a trilogy, and that’s OK.