Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Joachim Rønning
Writers: Linda Woolverton (story and screenplay), Micah Fitzerman-Blue (screenplay) and Noah Harpster (screenplay)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Harris Dickinson, Robert Lindsay, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Ed Skrein
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil  will be released on October 17, 2019 and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 

Following on from the 2014 film about one of the scariest, if not the scariest and most infamous Disney villain of all-time, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues the live action fairy-tale with a new story in the Sleeping Beauty universe that speaks to the world we live in. With it's spectacular visuals and seemingly simplistic story that will delight children and entertain adults, the film by Joachim Rønning is deeper than it would have you believe with it's themes of inclusion and gender equality, and obvious parallels to current world events.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues the tale of the misunderstood Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning) by keeping the re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty a story that is gloriously drenched in feminism, something the Disney 1959 absolutely was not. While the original animated film had a large number of female characters and outnumbered male characters, the clear message of the film was that women are the weaker sex that are there to raise and nurture (as seen by the fairies), but are also to be feared (Maleficent) as they are easily tempted by evil (Aurora and the spinning wheel). In the end, it is the man who will save the woman from herself.

2014's Maleficent was Disney's opportunity to undo this injustice and they did not waste this. While Jolie's Maleficent took on maternal qualities, she was also the one to save Aurora while the men in the film took the role as the villain (Sharlto Copley's Stefan), the follower (Sam Riley as Diaval) and the prince who did not have the power to break the spell and save his princess (Brenton Thwaite's Prince Phillip). It was about realising that our true love is not always a romantic love, but rather the love of a family member or friend. The film also presented a more sympathetic side to Maleficent by providing her origin story and making her far more likable and the hero of the story.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues with it's feministic retelling of the beloved, but flawed Disney classic with it's strong female characters who drive the story. Much to her godmother's dismay, Aurora finally says yes to marrying her Prince Philip (recast as Harris Dickinson) and two kingdoms are set to be united. However, it soon becomes evident that her new mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith's (Michelle Pfeiffer) intentions are not quite as honorable as her son's and she is not prepared to be at peace with Maleficent and the Moors.

It is true that these three lead characters are not quite as fleshed out as they could be, with Jolie's Maleficent being restricted by the screenplay and being not be able to truly showcase the thrilling and charismatic character she has made her own. Fanning's Aurora is also subdued and controlled, but also quietly unflinchingly strong. Pfeiffer is also a brilliant addition to the cast with another strong female character, but again wavers on the edge of giving her character true depth because of the whimsical nature of the screenplay. Her character of Queen Ingrith is not interested in the joining of the two kingdoms, but rather the destroying of a race which she believes is not equal to that of the humans. She exhibits qualities that are not unlike that of a dictator and in particular, that of Hitler and his attitude towards the Jews. Her views and actions in the film are similar to those of his and other current world leaders when it comes to those who are deemed different on the basis of race and religion. Along with gender equality, the message of inclusion and acceptance is a much talked about topic in society today and comes through in the film.

However, Maleficient, Aurora and Queen Ingrith are not only strong characters, but also strong leaders and the male characters merely take to shadowing these three. The fact that these three are leaders rather than the male characters (despite two of the main male characters holding royal titles) shows how gender equality has been worked into this extended Sleeping Beauty universe.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil's screenplay, which is written by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, is deceptively flimsy and whimsical. While this is an inherent trait of the large majority of Disney fairy-tale films, it is commendable how it says so much while it appears to be simplistic and a typical family tale of good and evil. What the film also does so well is deliver incredible cinematography and breathtaking visuals, specifically those of the Moors and the Kingdom (especially in the later scenes). The costume design by Erin Mirojnick is absolutely exquisite with entrancing variations of Maleficient's costume and breathtaking gowns worn by Aurora and Queen Ingrith.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil may not pack the same punch that 2014's Maleficent did by way of it's lead character being as charismatic, but it continues with a story that is helping to bring to light issues that exist in the world today and promote the idea of inclusion as a way for us all to have a happy ever after.



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