On my way out of theater, entertained yet unsatisfied, I overheard a father and son discuss the Maleficent character. The young boy deserves credit for identifying the problem with the Disney sequel: “I’m not sure who Maleficent was in this movie actually.” Following the first Maleficent film, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil finds Aurora (Elle Fanning), Queen of the Moors, concerned about the missing fairies from her kingdom along with her godmother Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) poor reaction to her engagement to Prince Philip, played by Beach Rat’s Harris Dickinson. Maleficent’s sincere effort to be cordial to Philip and his royal parents, particularly his petty mother Queen Ingrith played by Michelle Pfeiffer, turn sour. When the mistakenly evil witch is framed for cursing King John (Robert Lindsay), the film becomes a surface tale about identity, family and the danger of intolerance.
Mistreated in the human world, Maleficent meets her fairy species, Dark Feys. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Conall teaches her about their people’s oppression at the hands of humans that lead to their hidden life in a vast cave. It may be fun to see a distinguished actor like Ejiofor dressed like a horned fairy, but he’s completely wasted in this film. His character serves as a useful plot device to inform Maleficent of her ancestral connection to the mighty Phoenix and posing the question of what she will do with her unmatched abilities. But his impact stops there. For a film titled after its powerful, feared protagonist, Maleficent spends almost the entire second act doing nothing other than think and listen.
The film gives the titular character an intriguing conflict to grapple with: will she use her disdain for humans (war) or her love for Aurora (peace) to free her people from the outskirts? Where it gets muddled is the film’s heavy-handed attempts to create inner conflicts for Maleficent its predecessor already established. It’s effective to put the protagonist in a somewhat complicated situation such as wanting to protect her people while not wanting to damper Aurora’s dreams at the same time. The constant question of whether or not Maleficent is Aurora’s mother is redundant from the start since the majority of the first film portrayed how the dark fairy mothered the young girl. So, with previously answered questions raised and Jolie’s Maleficent removed from the film’s active conflict, we’re left to wonder what her character’s role is until the very end.
Many people who might not typically be interested in Maleficent will probably give this movie a chance for one reason—Angelina Jolie versus Michelle Pfeiffer. This audience will be disappointed in the icons’ too few scenes on screen together, but it’s not the reason Pfeiffer’s role falls flat with the rest of the movie. Pfeiffer playing a ridiculously wicked queen with a vendetta against fairies gives the film a delightful boost. Unfortunately, it can’t last long. The queen’s motive revolves around severe intolerance without a sufficient reason explained, her devious plot to abolish all fairies inevitably becoming repetitive.
At the very least, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, but there’s little substance to warrant its existence. There are pieces of a story that could actually be an exciting avenue for the Disney film to explore, like a mother and daughter of different worlds, oppression, and attempted extermination. It fails, however, in taking big ideas and undermining the audience by making surface-level arguments about the topics.