Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

You know, I haven't really loved these movies - this one especially kind of bored me - but you've kind of got to respect a series made for kids based on a Disney animated classic whose first entry is basically about a woman who has been traumatized by an awful physical violation by her boyfriend while the second features a genocidal queen who doesn't just aim to kill all of the fair folk in the neighboring kingdom, but plans to use a gas chamber. There is something dark as hell but inside both of them but I can't say I'm against giving the young girls their made for a chance to build their armor and their outrage against such things early.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I can't say that I exactly loved Maleficent when it appeared a few years ago, but it was at the very least interesting, and grew in relative stature as Disney followed it up with less daring live-action takes on their animated library. Maybe the sequel will follow a similar path, but its ambitions seem less impressive and interesting, a mere building out of the fairy-tale world that the first attempted to turn on its head.

It's been five years since the events of the first film, and Aurora (Elle Fanning) has become Queen of The Moors, where the magical creatures live, rather than ruling her father's kingdom (the castle is said to have been given to the people, so maybe they are experimenting with democracy). Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) has just proposed, a development that pleases Aurora's dark fae godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) not at all, and that is before a disastrous dinner at the castle where King John (Robert Lindsay) seems genuinely proud of his son and eager for peace between these neighbors but Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is eager to provoke Maleficent and then have a servant shoot her with iron when she storms out. She is rescued by another of her endangered race, Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who would coexist with humanity but is losing ground in fae society to the likes of Borra (Ed Skrein), eager for a fight before humans develop even more dangerous weapons.

There are the germs of interesting ideas in here, and some of the same topical darkness that made the first film interesting, perhaps enough ideas that the film cannot truly give them their due - in the dark fae, there is an indigenous population trying to survive in the face of an expansionist, technologically-superior foe, with Maleficent presented as an orphan making the first attempts to reconnect with her roots. Ingrith is a familiar sort of villain, the leader whose own early misfortune leads her to see the world as a zero-sum game and be willing to destroy her neighbors in order to win it, although it's a rare movie for kids that goes down the road of biological weapons and what is probably one of the more bizarre evocations of a Nazi gas chamber ever put on film. It's impressively heavy stuff, but there's so much of it that new director Joachim Rønning and returning co-writer Linda Woolverton never take the chance to lean in these themes: The fae's cavern is a neat location but not much else, and while it's always tough to figure out how much a movie like this should scare kids, the horrifying parts of the final battle are sanitized a bit too much to make the impression the filmmakers seem to be going for.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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