Welcome to the Marvel Universe, Maleficent.
Hold your tweets and e-mails, please; I’m not telling you Angelina Jolie’s winged and horned and awesomely powerful Maleficent has literally become a part of the greater Marvel Universe (though it would be great to see Maleficent travel in time and meet up with, say, Captain Marvel).
I’m just saying the sequel to the 2014 dark fantasy hit telling the tale of “Sleeping Beauty” from the viewpoint of the fairy who laid the curse on Princess Aurora often feels like a superhero movie.
We get a classic buildup establishing heroes and villains; gorgeous, screen-popping visuals featuring beautiful and mysterious worlds; a bounty of colorful and magical creatures, and a lengthy, CGI-laden, climactic battle sequence, complete with flying creatures and PG-rated carnage on both sides.
There are even a couple of scenes in which combatants fall from the sky and skid across the terrain, leaving deep grooves — just like when superheroes and villains rip up the pavement when THEY experience rough landings.
In the hands of director Joachim Rønning and thanks to an ambitious and clever script by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, “Mistress of Evil” is an entertaining thrill ride with a sly sense of humor and some admirable albeit obvious political and social commentary, with messages along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters who you love.”
As the title character, Angelina Jolie conveys a collision of mixed emotions, whether it be through a pithy line or a withering glare. Michelle Pfeiffer puts a venomous twist on her line readings as the duplicitous and quite simply awful Queen Ingrith, and the great Warwick Davis from “Willow” and “Return of the Jedi” is the fantastically named Lickspittle, who is a kind of mad scientist for Queen Ingrith.
As is often the case in these fairy tales, the princess and the prince are perhaps the least interesting characters in the story. But at least Elle Fanning’s Princess Aurora has quite a bit of spunk and fight in her, whereas Harris Dickinson’s well-meaning but bland Prince Phillip is usually the last person in the room (or should we say the castle) to figure out what’s really going on.
Quick refresher: By the end of the first movie, the curse-inducing Maleficent has undergone quite the transformation and has grown to love the human Aurora like a daughter. But as we learn from voice-over narration at the outset of “Mistress of Evil,” stories painting Maleficent as a malevolent threat continue to permeate the human kingdom. She is still considered a monster.
The human kingdom is just across the water from the Moors, the enchanted forest world populated by fairies and giant walking trees and all sorts of other mostly adorable CGI creatures.
I say “mostly,” because Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville return as the fairies Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle, respectively, and (through no fault of the actresses) they’re just as creepy and disturbing as they were in the original. Their too-large heads are digitally attached to the tiny flying fairy bodies, and it looks as if they were all subjected to some horrible scientific experiment out of “The Fly.”
The inhabitants of the Moors and the humans across the water keep an uneasy peace by never interacting. Each kingdom regards the other with fear.
Ah, but when Prince Phillip proposes to his beloved Aurora, a human who lives in the Moors and is for all intents and purposes the daughter of the feared and misunderstood Maleficent, their union opens the door for the two kingdoms to finally unite.
Cue the “Meet the Maleficents” sequence, in which Phillip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Pfeiffer), have Aurora and her mum over to the castle for dinner.
Suffice to say the evening does not end in hugs and kisses and Maleficent telling the royals next time they’ll have to come over to the Moors for a barbecue. Battle lines are drawn.
Queen Ingrith engages in Shakespearean-level deceit to facilitate war. The aforementioned Lickspittle concocts a potion for a chemical agent that will be fatal to all types of fairies. Chiwetel Ejiofor swoops in as an ally for Maleficent (and a convenient vehicle to provide some important back-story plot exposition).
Oh, and we also get a flat-out crazy sequence in a church, involving a mad organist using her keyboard as a weapon of mass extinction.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” careens about in terms of tone. One moment we’re witnessing an impassioned, dramatic speech, or the demise of a sympathetic character —and the next, there’s a hocus-pocus sight gag straight out of an episode of “Bewitched.”
At times the shift in moods can be jarring, but it’s also kinda fun to see a “Let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach to a big-budget, star-studded, Disney production.
Beneath the sharp cheekbones that cut could glass and the horns and the wings and the Met Gala red carpet-worthy wardrobe, Angelina Jolie delivers a charismatic, movie-star performance as Maleficent, who can still be terrifying and destructive and intimidating, but has developed something of a sense of humor about herself, is at least open to the possibility of compromise and change, and is no longer motivated by revenge but by her fierce and powerful instinct to protect Aurora at all costs.
All things considered, Prince Phillip is actually getting one heck of a mother-in-law.