Two out of four live-action Disney remakes have been on my "miss" list of this year's films, but thank goodness Maleficent: Mistress of Evil definitely wasn't one of them. I recall writing a somewhat brief and concise review on the first Maleficent without going into a whole lot of detail and it was a pretty positive one to say the least: https://hamonlord.blogspot.com/2014/07/my-review-on-maleficent.html
I seriously wasn't expecting too much of a sequel five years later at around this time of the year, but there it was. After seeing the end of the first movie with King Stefan plummeting to his death and having taken the up-and-coming princess Aurora under her wing as the protector of the Moors, I was curious to see what the second installment would truly bring to the table in terms of storytelling and what type of story would be conceptualized with a magical character like Maleficent existing among a kingdom of humans next. As we should be familiar by now that the two live-action adaptations of Sleeping Beauty marks the distinction of applying great amounts of revisionism to Maleficent's character making her take on a more shrouded and complex role of a supernatural figure who only superficially exhibits any passing traits of an evil person in the eyes of commoners and plays a more sympathetic role to the main protagonist of Aurora in deep contrast to the purely vengeful and evil personality of her original animated counterpart wanting to simply just curse and slay Aurora and nothing more. And like the first film, swapping the roles of both Maleficent and the human royalty really provides a whole new perspective for us to explore the world of Disney fairy tales with. It steers the audience away from the stereotypical anthropocentric view of "Humans good, Non-human creatures bad" and makes us perceive the humanity in both sides and revealing that the "Other" is not so different from who we (humans) are in a fantasy world.
The story takes place in the setting of the kingdom of Ulstead and Prince Philip proposes to Aurora and then Maleficent are invited along with Aurora to a nice feast with the royal family to discuss plans for their marriage and the future of their kingdom, which clearly ends pretty well (yeah no sarcasm there indeed). For obvious reasons of instant fearmongering by Queen Ingrith, Maleficent is deemed public enemy number one by the kingdom and the typical plot of a fairy-like being being wrongly accused by a human queen of cursing their king and being a threat to their kingdom's well-being starts to develop into a tragedy where she deals with being dragged into a war declared against her and it all starts to grow and intensify from there. Maleficent soon learns she isn't the only being of her kind and that she is in fact a member of an endangered mystical species threatened by humanity as well as other mind-bending truths and revelations previously unknown to her and the one behind all this chaos and destruction is orchestrated by someone close to the future prince that would be wed to Aurora.
What I really enjoyed from this film was the true scale of action and climax of the tensions and conflict between fae and humans. I really thought that the classic moral struggle between the human race and beings of non-human origin is always a nice brand of touch to any fantasy story and it illustrates the true gap between how we view morality in the terms of the group we belong to and how in-groups and out-groups are always locked in our pursuit of desire and order. But in terms of character development, what truly shines is Aurora herself and as a young princess, it's just kinda schmaltzy in every way to see her grace and innocence stand out throughout most of the film, especially during the First Act, and the romantic interaction that progresses between her and Prince Philip and the fact that she tries to bond with her and Maleficent and seeks peace and reconciliation in a time of war and chaos amplifies the overall sentimentality of her character and the nature of a run-of-the-mill Disney film's tone. I like how she is portrayed as someone who starts off as naive and idealistic to being more bold and heroic trying to act as the voice of reason in a sea of hate and mistrust between the opposing parties at war. And Maleficent is shown to be even more misunderstood and persecuted than in the first film, which gives us a glimpse as to how she chooses to take matters into her own hands as she tires to defend her own kind and Aurora, and clearing her own name, giving her a more Magneto-like feel as a character. Queen Ingrith being the true antagonist of the story is what really completed the functioning triangle of character dynamics between her, Aurora, and Maleficent and how they just seem to compete for being the most integral part to the events of the main plot and conflicts. I really enjoy how Michelle Pleiffer depicts the role of an suspicious human queen who tries to present her public facade as a bold and efficient ruler who only wants the prosperity of her kingdom, but hides under such a guise to seethe in her prejudice and carry out wanton genocide against Maleficent and all of her Fae kind making her a convincing villain with a despotic tyrant attitude and the way the writers try to add a layer of depth to her role as the primary antagonist by making true motives and worldview seem more complex and sophisticated with undertones mirroring that of real-world politics and philosophy is also fire and intriguing. The way she shows her true colors as a corrupt ruler really showed how well a surprise villain can work (though we kinda saw it coming with the spindle).
In conclusion, the acting of Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie, and Michelle Pleiffer were pretty excellent and together formed a successful combo in this department with the rest of the actors being that extra icing on the cake, the casting choice was decent, the visuals were very great, the action and thrill is nothing short of fantastic, the storytelling isn't exactly the best I've seen but still meets reasonable expectations, the pacing went with the characters and plot pretty well in several ways, but the CGI and special effects were moderate at best and nothing to write home about and the idea of Maleficent meeting other members of her kind was a nice additional concept to introduce. It was a great film, it's one of Disney's much better live-action remakes and it can leave you pretty satisfied with an open mind.
I will give this film a score of 4.15 out of 5.
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