As soon as I sat down to watch this movie I regretted not re-watching the original 2014 film Maleficent to refresh my memory of the plot (as it stands, I actually remembered absolutely none of it). But as I got to thinking, I realized it was actually okay that I hadn’t done this. I assume that most people don’t really remember the plot of Maleficent, and that they too would be going in relatively blind.
If you’ve read any other film review I’ve written for this site, you’ll know they all largely follow the same basic theme: I don’t really care for the movie and think it has a lot of poorly executed elements, but in the end, it’s at least mildly entertaining. So it should be no surprise that I think Maleficent: Mistress of Evil really fits that mold too.
In passing I’ve definitely said previously that the original Maleficent was my favorite live-action remake. I feel like I need to clarify this. I don’t like the original Maleficent very much either, but I liked what it attempted to be – something that wasn’t just a 1:1 remake of an animated movie from several decades ago. It had its own perspective and take on the original story that could’ve made for something very compelling. Ultimately though, personally, I don’t think that idea was seen through very well at all.
My issue at this point is that all of these movies are extremely safe and marketable. The ‘live-action’ remakes yes, but even Disney’s seldom seen original IP are stale and worry-free. An avid viewer of such movies would be quick to point out something like The Nutcracker and The Four Realms; a unique take on a classic with a bold choice in design and fresh new elements. But this too sees the shortcomings of Disney’s safe/marketable rules. A new idea like Nutcracker is heavily constrained in its budget, and ultimately can’t do very much other than simply play it safe. Now, do I think that if Nutcracker hadn’t been so constrained it would’ve been good? No, but that’s beside the point.
Obviously it’s within Disney’s best interests to play to their biggest markets and try to make as much money as possible. They can’t necessarily do that if they were to make one-off films with a unique plot that breaks the mold – it’s way too risky. They’re in the business of making money, and every movie that has left Disney’s production team for at least the past five years has been well crafted to be perfectly safe.
Maleficent: Mistress of Confusing Art Design
I assume you can begin to gauge my opinion of Mistress of Evil from that alone. It took no risks, had no groundbreaking plot, made no profound statement.
I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to just criticize every aspect of the movie though – there were some things that I really did enjoy. I thought a lot of the art design was VERY good. Locations like the homeland of the Fae (from which Maleficent herself originates), felt straight out of Pandora: The World of Avatar – and ironically made me really look forward to Avatar 2.
But it would seem that no good deed goes unpunished, because I absolutely could NOT stand the design of the fairies/creatures of the Moors. Looking at them made me want to turn the movie off. I seriously wish that a photo of them had been publicly released or sent to us. For those who do see the movie, I’m talking about the strange hedgehog girl and the bizarre mushroom boy. For those who don’t see the movie, I’m sorry that I sound crazy right now. Those two examples are just so odd looking that I hated them, but people who’ve seen the first Maleficent may remember the incredibly uncanny valley Fairy Godmother characters. Be advised that the first 10 minutes of this movie are dedicated to full CGI establishing shots that are teeming with more and more of these weird and uncomfortable creatures that I did not very much care for.
Character-design-rant aside, I also happened to enjoy the soundtrack. It fell into the background a bit more than I would’ve liked, but there were some moments when I thought it was used in a very compelling way. In a similar vein, the sound design itself was actually pretty notable. There’s a lot of odd creatures in this movie but they all manage to sound exactly like how you’d expect them to.
I had never heard of the director before, and looking at his work again now, the only notable thing he’s made was 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Again, I enjoyed that movie – a bit more than Mistress of Evil – but it really just stayed the course of safe-bet movies.
Maleficent: Mistress of Unnecessary
So what do we take away from this? If you’re Disney, apparently nothing. I saw yesterday that on October 18th (opening day of the movie), my local theater is showing Mistress of Evil 28 separate times. It will definitely make money, unfortunately. Disney has placed all of their filming-eggs into one very safe and secure metaphorical basket.
Sure, Mistress of Evil was yet again moderately entertaining. But to me personally, so much of the movie felt poorly executed or lazily done that I came away from it not liking it at all. Even down to the structure of the plot, it felt like a direct-to-DVD sequel from the late 90s. The only difference is that this one had a massive budget and was shown to me in an IMAX theater.
I think lazy is the best way to describe Mistress of Evil. When asking around to my friends, over half of them didn’t even know that the movie was being made, let alone coming out in two days. Before the film started we were greeted with a few short promos of upcoming Disney productions to look forward to. Of these, Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2, a Disney Channel Original sequel to a movie I’ve never seen, made for an age group I’m way too old for, piqued my interest far more than any part of Mistress of Evil did.
I’ll end it off by saying this: I don’t think Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is worth seeing. Normally I would add, “but that’s just me”, but this time, I really don’t think it’s just me. The Disney formula is growing old, and sure, it’s a profitable one, but for how long? Mistress of Evil probably would’ve worked better as a Disney Channel Original Movie (and from the production of it, it would’ve fit right in stylistically) or even a Disney+ Original. Especially given that it’s an unnecessary sequel to an unmemorable movie from five years ago.