From a creative standpoint, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil feels paradoxically wealthy and destitute. Its story is sweeping in scope, but boring in execution. The visuals look so real that they seem fake. You can practically hear the strain as so much effort and money gets poured into a bloated, unambitious fantasy epic. After 119 minutes, I couldn’t tell whether this film needed a little something more or less of everything. Either way, this Maleficent sequel simultaneously overshoots and falls short.
Set a few years after the first film, everything seems just peachy in the Moors. Aurora (Elle Fanning) serves as queen, while her godmother Maleficent’s druidic magic keeps the peace. Phillip, Prince of nearby Ulstead (Harris Dickinson), finally works up the courage to propose marriage. This sets up a deadly battle of jealousy and warmongering between Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), Ulstead’s Queen. Tensions further escalate when Ingrith displays genocidal tendencies, and Maleficent discovers she may not be the only one of her species.
Jolie’s vampy turn as Maleficent made the first film a surprising amount of fun. Here, her character seems blander, thus draining a lot of the blood from Jolie’s performance. It seems like a sin to give such a talented actress another crack at such a meaty role, only to give her nothing to do. Fans coming back for more might be disappointed at what they see here.
The rest of the cast brims with familiar faces, but many of them also struggle with an undercooked script. Elle Fanning finds Aurora reduced to heaving fits of tears and wandering frantically around castle corridors. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings some Shakespearean force to his part–which I won’t spoil–but he only turns up long enough to be sorely missed later. Even Pfeiffer gets stuck with an icy, one-dimensional bitch.
On the subject of underwhelming, let’s talk about this film’s abundance of CGI. Maybe this will put me in danger of being an Andy Rooney-style crackpot, growling and blathering like an off-kilter curmudgeon…but I don’t get the visual appeal of Maleficent. Every scene sprawls with oversized intent, but there’s also an accompanying sense of diminishing returns. Landscapes look polished and shiny to the point of being plastic. Action scenes feel busy and artificial, and therefore bereft of any actual stakes. Despite all of its sound and fury, Maleficent comes across as totally uninteresting.
119 min. PG.