Angelina Jolie killed it in the original Maleficent (which almost had no business being as entertaining as it was), a film early into the “live action-verse” Disney has been going full throttle on recently.
While the recent shot-for-shot remake concept hasn’t really resonated with a lot of viewers, Maleficent turned that idea on its head (much like a portion of Aladdin), providing a whole new viewpoint for a classic fairy tale: that formula worked so well that Jolie and company came back for a full sequel, Mistress of Evil. A few of the top creative minds have shifted around, and it’s not quite as magical as the first, but it serves as a fine sequel and a decent bookend to this little spinoff that could.
To be fair, Mistress of Evil is completely new territory, so it’s much tougher this time around with a lack of source material to rely on. To that end all of the new characters (Prince Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith, primarily) have to stick, and for the most part, put the effort in to be remembered. You can really tell Jolie relishes this role, and that gravitas rubs off on the rest of the cast. Not that she necessarily needed to, with career professionals like Chiwetel Eijofor scattered about the production.
Alas, much of the enjoyment of Mistress of Evil is derived from Jolie, who gets a fish out of water side story, meeting and interacting with humans in earnest for the first time in ages (figuratively). Watching Jolie crack cringy fake fangy smiles during a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” scene is a hoot (and perhaps the best sequence in the film), and Sam Riley is charming once again as her pet raven/right-hand human Diaval.
Disney once again succeeds in creating a new fantasy world to connect with, but there are limitations. It’s important to remember that this is a PG film. There are off-screen deaths galore, and the writing is at times, fairy-tale cheesy. You’re not going to get Maleficent flying around picking off soldiers in a gruesome fashion, so keep your expectations in check (not that I actually ever expected that).
More importantly, this is a wholly original tale and tries to cram so much in that it becomes distracting. Without giving away crucial points, we explore Jolie’s character a bit more in isolation, as well as Philip’s family, who also get their own mostly isolated side story. It would have been great to see everyone interact together, and that’s partially why it feels like Mistress of Evil is missing that same joyous spark of the first film: where everything was more pointed and contained. With all that in mind, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a great chaser for the original, tying up multiple loose ends while further exploring the lore in some surprising ways. There was a time where you wouldn’t see this same level of care applied to sequels, but we’re clearly past that, so long as you have a strong lead like Jolie righting the ship.