With its lush cinematography and a vibrant array of colorful creatures and elaborate costumes, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil feels like the cinematic equivalent of a pop-up Instagram installation, with the narrative depth to match.
This sequel to the 2014 fantasy adventure reawakens the erstwhile Sleeping Beauty villainess in a visually dazzling combination of live action and special effects that borders on sensory overload.
Unfortunately, such efforts serve a screenplay that lacks any subtlety or surprise. One pivotal sequence features a phoenix literally rising from the ashes, for crying out loud.
This follow-up finds the titular winged antihero (Angelina Jolie) caught in a domestic dispute that spirals of out of control, placing the future of her kingdom in the balance. It begins when her goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) — a human who delicately rules over the fairies and beasts in the Moors — becomes engaged to Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson).
Maleficent reluctantly gives her blessing before causing a scene at a posh dinner when she meets Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), sensing a threat. Everyone will later discover that her instincts were right. Ingrith is evil, although the incident causes Maleficent to flee into exile and take refuge with a group of oppressed warriors who unlock secrets about her past. With just days before the royal wedding, she becomes energized and devises a plan for revenge.
Along the way, Maleficent becomes the key to a future of peaceful coexistence among species. For her, it serves as both an origin story and a redemption tale, neither of which carry much emotional weight.
The original concept subverts fairy-tale expectations and toys with traditional gender roles in a way that was hardly a breakthrough. Yet this effort does little to expand or advance the characters or the mythology. At least Jolie and Pfeiffer bring some sassy charisma while chewing the scenery in menacing fashion.
Norwegian director Joachim Ronning (making his solo feature debut after co-directing the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean sequel) emphasizes empty big-budget spectacle, perhaps out of necessity. His slick climactic battle sequence is at least impressive in scope.
However, while naturally lacking the freshness of its predecessor, this installment seems to have been conceived more for financial than creative means. Not coincidentally, the color that stands out most in the palette is green.