Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil
"An interesting side to this film is how Disney continue to stick two fingers up to the reactionaries." | Photo: © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Oh, Magnificent Maleficent!

(OK: it's obvious. But also deserved and accurate!)

Copy picture

Because Maleficent 2, aka Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Disney's sequel to the box office success of the original, is tour de force, bringing together a cast of stellar women to fight over the future of Maleficent's fairy realm.

The film sees the return of not just Angelina Jolie, as the fearsome Maleficent, and Elle Fanning as the increasingly mature, self-assured Princess Aurora - it also introduces Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil Queen Ingrith.

Also returning, though in slightly reduced roles, are Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville as the three pixies/bumbling godmothers to Aurora, here this time to generate one or two moments of slapstick comedy as well as a single instance of serious self-sacrifice.

And then there is Jen Murray, mouth-wateringly androgyne in the role of Gerda, Ingrith's murderous right-hand woman. There is a lot of gender reversal in this film, which no doubt the sort of people who don't like that sort of thing will be along in a moment to condemn.

(Most of) the blokes don't shine. As far as Ingrith is concerned, they are wet, incapable and...well, that is why they need a powerful woman like her around to do their thinking for them. There is the youthful Prince Philip, last seen wooing Aurora at the end of the first Maleficent film.

Perhaps the worst one can say of Philip is that he is largely absent, deferring first to his father,the equally ineffectual King John (Robert Lindsay), then his mother, until the dying moments of the film. And...awkward! Aurora is in love with a totally different Prince Phillip from last time round (here he is played by Harris Dickinson) and...she hasn't even noticed.

There are three guys who do make a difference, plot-wise: Borra (Ed Skrein) and Connall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) represent opposite poles of Maleficent's own people, the dark fey. Whether, in a world whose diversity is being destroyed by humans, to take up arms and by opposing to, er, end the threat: the Borra pole. Or whether, as Connall urges, to make peace. Also returned is man-crow Diaval (Sam Riley), a worthy foil to his Mistress, Maleficent, and provider of welcome wit, wisdom and light relief.

The plot is straightforward. The first Maleficent broke with Disney tradition by foregoing the “happy ever after” ending - there was no wedding. More a sort of “meh!” moment in which the most important outcome was Maleficent handing over the keys to her kingdom to Aurora. But, but....there must be a marriage! There must!

So Maleficent 2 begins with a proposal from Prince Phillip, eagerly accepted by Aurora and...the nuptials are on. Despite the fact that neither Maleficent, for the bride, nor Ingrith, for the groom, seem very keen.

And besides, Ingrith has a cunning and diabolic plan to frame Maleficent, convince Aurora to betray her Godmother and, wickedest of all, to genocide the fey folk. Since this is Disney and aimed at a youthful audience, no prizes for guessing how it ends. Though my lips are sealed on how we get there. My only objection - at times I was bouncing in my seat at the ludicrousness of it - was how easily two-faced, nasty Ingrith duped everyone else. Like, c'mon, guys. Can't you see she's playing you.

This film reprises tropes set up earlier in the franchise. Namely, that the character with horns and dressed in black is not necessarily the baddy. This time the trope is reinforced by making blonde and white-clad Ingrith the true repository of all that is evil. Perhaps also by the fact that the two stand-out good men are black actor Ejiofor and the black-clad Diaval.

Also, because Maleficent is far and away the most powerful piece on this fairy-tale chessboard – a super-Queen, if you like, capable of sweeping all before her – a major part of the film focus is on which side she will eventually come down. Will she opt for evil or, as most of us guess, for good?

An interesting side to this film is how Disney continue to stick two fingers up to the reactionaries. For starters, this is one more film in which the plot is driven by strong women with men coming along as passengers. We just know that there are guys out there who will hate that.

But then, Maleficent 2 ticks a load of extra liberal boxes. Species Extinction? Tick. Whether to opt for going “bare foot” and “with flowers” to protest about it or...to go down in one last battle? Tick. Whether peace is better than war? Tick.

And there is more than a little here to excite the queer community. Did I mention Gerda? As my companion watching the movie observed, it looks like the lesbian community just got a new pin-up. And not just the L: for in the closing moments of the film – you need to be watching out for this – there is a look between Borra and one of the castle guards that pinged every gaydar in the house.

But just a look! After all, Disney learned the hard way with Beauty And The Beast, when the mere fact of two men dancing together was enough to enrage reactionary politicians the world over.

This is a great film. Exciting, maybe not quite the tear-jerker that its predecessor was. Still, there are tears. And at its climax we get to see Maleficent in all her power and it is...well, there can only be one possible word for it, and that is....Magnificent!

Reviewed on: 16 Oct 2019
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Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil packshot
The Disney villain battles to save her realm.

Director: Joachim Rønning

Writer: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Linda Woolverton, Linda Woolverton

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, Robert Lindsay, David Gyasi, Jenn Murray, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Judith Shekoni, Miyavi

Year: 2019

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK, US

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