“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a follow-up to the 2014 film simply titled “Maleficent” starring Angelina Jolie, serves as a sort of character study into the motivations and inner workings of the wicked witch. It’s a tale of fear, betrayal and looking deep into one’s self in order to make tough decisions. However, this tale is marred slightly by a seemingly wonky pace, especially in the second half, which will likely stand for most as the film’s biggest flaw.
First thing’s first, the actors on display here do give perfectly sound performances; which is a must for any film. Special props in this case have to be given to Elle Fanning’s Princess Aurora, Harris Dickinson’s Prince Phillip and of course, Jolie as Maleficent, all of which do a fantastic job at portraying their respective characters’ emotional reactions to the various twists and turns the plot puts them through. Supporting cast members also do their jobs perfectly well, and many actors who are placed in relatively small roles put on very admirable performances, which absolutely adds to the overall feeling of a well-acted and well-produced film. Unfortunately, I feel as though the weakest role on display here by quite a distance is Michelle Pfiefer’s Queen Ingrith. It’s not so much that the acting is technically bad or that the delivery itself is especially poor, she simply failed to leave much of an impact on me as the film’s main antagonist. Whether this is a result of the script, Pfiefer’s portrayal itself or simply a subjective matter on my part is somewhat hard to say, but the fact is that it was the only performance in the film that stuck out to me as a notch below the others in terms of quality.
Moving more into the plot, what begins as a somewhat overdone story of a forbidden love coming together quickly takes some unexpected turns, introducing several questions and opportunities for twists early on that kept me invested and wanting to figure out how things would be resolved by the end. There were quite a few pleasantly surprising twists thrown in to what I initially feared would be an ultimately underwhelming and forgettable love story. As I mentioned earlier, most of these plot points revolve directly around the evil witch herself giving movie-goers a more inward-focused view of Maleficent than ever before. The second act of the movie being devoted almost entirely to the character after she suffers a (perceived) betrayal and a near-death encounter gives time for the audience to learn more about what makes Maleficent tick. The inner battle that is going on between Maleficent’s feelings of being lied to and betrayed and her care for Aurora makes for an interesting narrative, and the script does a fantastic job of not making it to obvious to the viewers which side will win out in the end.
Compare this with Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith and it almost feels like the characters are from different films. Ingrith is one of the most one-note villains I have seen in a film in recent memory. She’s the very definition of “evil for the sake of being evil.” It’s not that the film doesn’t make an effort to give reasoning for her actions, it certainly does. However, most of the time these points are portrayed through very short monologues, visual cues and not given nearly as much time to be fleshed out as the other. There are much more satisfying developments and arcs that take place in the other characters such as Maleficent or Princess Aurora. In fact, this rushed feeling is noticeable throughout the entirety of the film’s final act, as numerous plot points and conflicts seem to either be wrapped up in a quick and jarring manner or just disappear entirely without a clear resolution. Considering the incredibly well done first act that hints at developments and reveals that would come later, and the equally fantastic second act which explores all of the characters’ motivations, (except for, once again, Queen Ingrith’s) in a very compelling manner, the way the pace accelerates to such a breakneck speed in the final act is jarring to say the least.
This somewhat wonky pacing will undoubtedly be the main reason why some viewers may leave the movie with a sour taste in their mouths. While the story itself remains compelling despite these flaws, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the writers were desperate for 30 more minutes of screen-time. However, “Maleficent: Mistress of Darkness” as it stands now is still a fairly enjoyable watch, if a tad uneven in terms of its performances and the fleshing out of the plot. Overall, I would say that for anyone who is interested, it’s certainly still worth a watch. Just be prepared to possibly leave the theater with a small, nagging feeling of “Wait, how exactly did that happen?” in the back of your head.