It's been over five years since fans last saw Angelina Jolie in the role of Maleficent, and in that time, Disney has brought more and more of its icons to the big screen via live-action remakes. Maleficent was one of the films that kicked off that trend, though it took a different approach at the time, and the sequel follows suit. Maleficent showed us a whole new side of the villainous character, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil reveals yet another undiscovered side, but one that has further-reaching implications for the character and this world she lives in. So, the question is, was the five years worth the wait?
One thing that becomes quickly apparent is that, despite the gap between films, Disney expects you to have seen the first Maleficent. Now, to be fair, enjoying this film doesn't rely on seeing the original from a narrative perspective, but character-wise, you are expected to know who these characters are, and the film doesn't really reintroduce them to the audience. Again, not a big deal, but worth noting.
Your familiarity with the narrative really doesn't matter the second Jolie's Maleficent steps on screen. Jolie is absolutely sensational as the Disney icon, even more impressive once you consider she actually doesn't say much throughout the run time. Jolie's expressions and actions do most of the selling here, and there's a lovely unpredictability to the character here that wasn't as present in the original, with a surprising amount of humor balanced out with moments of awe at just how powerful and impressive Maleficent is.
Also surprising is the amount of heart in this story, though it's a bit more spread out here than in the original. Director Joachim Ronning finds ways to bring out the Moor-folk's endearing qualities throughout the film, and it's hard not to love this oddball crew who provide laughs early and have you on the edge of your seat in more tense moments, and all of that is once again done without much dialogue outside of Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle. That lightheartedness is grounded by Maleficent's side of the story, and that mainly falls on the shoulders of Chiwetel Ejiofor's Conall, who provides the prism through which our lead character discovers a whole new side of her heritage and history, but also captivating new layers of vulnerability.
This element is essential to why Maleficent: Mistress of Evil works even with its most glaring flaw, and that's less screen time for its main star. To see the character of Maleficent progress you need the story and richness Conall and the Dark Fey provide, and you definitely need the delightfully evil foil of Michelle Pfeiffer's Queen Ingrith as well. It's also important to establish Aurora and Prince Phillip, otherwise, you don't really believe Aurora's inner conflict. That said, there's some of that latter interaction that could've been cut to make for time for Maleficent to shine because she is unquestionably the thing that makes this all work.
That's not to belittle Pfeiffer's performance though, and it truly does feel like Pfeiffer had some fun with this role. The third act features a rather epic action sequence that's been building for a while by that point, and while it definitely delivers, Pfeiffer and Jolie's dueling performances keep you invested in their very personal war, which is impressive when you've got a battle of this scale. That's also what makes one particular scene hit even harder, and you wouldn't have had that if these characters hadn't grounded this tale.
Visually speaking, this film is simply gorgeous, and while that applies to the effects themselves, it's more in how they are used that is most impressive. The shots themselves are framed elegantly and with an eye for impact, and action sequences also benefit from this lens, leaving a memorable impression of just how powerful and awe-inducing Maleficent can be.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil features everything you loved about the first film but finds new ways to explore its cast of classic characters. Mind you we would've loved to see more of the film's lead character, but when she is on screen your eyes are absolutely glued. Mistress of Evil is a delightful tale of humor, heart, and that trademark Disney magic, and you won't regret returning to this world once more.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil lands in theaters on October 18th.