Review: Soulless sequel 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' does no good

Angelina Jolie makes a rare screen appearance in this dreadful sequel to the 2014 original

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," the maleficence is all committed on the viewer. 

This frantic, clunky, misbegotten "twice upon a time" sequel has almost no reason for being other than cashing in on its hugely successful predecessor (which itself, in true modern Disney fashion, was a spin-off of another beloved Disney property, "Sleeping Beauty").

Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil."

Even its title is a misnomer: By the end of the 2014 original, Maleficent had seen the error of her ways and had turned toward the good side, or had at least been vindicated from her maliciousness on account of it was all a big misunderstanding. Either way, it was agreed that she's not that evil. But "Maleficent: Mistress of Pretty Good!" doesn't have quite as strong a ring to it.

Maleficent is played by Angelina Jolie, who has appeared in only one other film — 2015's lousy "By the Sea" — since the last time she donned her character's glass-cutting cheekbones. And how much we're even seeing of her here is in doubt: With her horned head, giant wings, pointed shoulders, sharp cheeks and eyes hidden behind colored contacts, that leaves her lips as one of the few features that aren't in some way altered. And it's hard to get much from a pair of lips, even Jolie's. 

Jolie vamps and gives off 'tude where she can, but strangely, she's not called on for much here anyway. The evil torch has been passed to Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is about as subtle in her villainy as a "Scooby Doo" bad guy. Her supposedly sneaky misdeeds are telegraphed so deliberately she might as well announce them via press conference. (One of her weapons is spreading fake news, which is fast becoming a lazy screenwriting go-to attempt at topicality.)   

Ingrith is the soon-to-be mother-in-law from hell to Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent's goddaughter. Her son, Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), has asked for Aurora's hand in marriage, setting up a truly unholy meeting of the parents. 

A knock-down, drag-out Jolie-Pfeiffer showdown would be worth its weight in celluloid. Put these two in a room and let them rip! But their royal battle is cut thin by the needs of the wonky script (from "Maleficent" co-writer Linda Woolverton and two cohorts) and the film's insistence that any human interaction be filtered through multiple layers of digital enhancement, exploding bursts of color and special effects. Joachim Rønning, the Disney yes man who brought "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" to the screen, directs this thing like a Coldplay video run amok. 

Ingrith is dead-set on waging war with fairy creatures and wants to use the wedding as a backdrop. Sheesh, and you thought your in-laws were a drag. The narrative pieces are put in place without any sense of emotional investment and the film goes through its required motions, getting louder and more busy as it tick-tocks toward its finale. Large, CG-rendered armies and dizzying scenery reduce the entire experience to a screensaver. The Disney magic must have been locked away in the company vault on this one. 

Fanning, for her part, gives a committed, believable performance as Aurora, and her pale skin and delicate features make her an ideal Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately, "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" is the stuff of nightmares. 

'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil'


Rated PG: for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images

Running time: 118 minutes

Twitter: @grahamorama