Darke Reviews | Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Yeah I know this one has been out a bit, sadly travel prevented me from seeing it on release. I was tempted to see it last weekend, but I wasn’t up for writing three reviews. Where’s the Zombieland Double Tap review? I’ll get to it…eventually. The other deciding factor on this one was having my Dark Court with me, who always make movies better.  They weren’t able to attend on the weekend so instead of either of this weeks releases, Black and Blue (not at my theatre :( ) or Countdown which may still be on the docket, we see Maleficent Mistress of Evil. Now when Maleficent came out in 2014 I was one of the voices saying this is good. This is better than folks are giving it credit for. I stand by that even now, where while it may not have been the box office success of some of the later remakes, I still think it was one of the more successful ones as it went and changed the story so dramatically and dared to be different from the formula. Just like the high points in Aladdin were where they did something new, the entirety of Maleficent was a new take. So five years later we get a sequel, because Disney really can’t help themselves.

Should you see it or prick your finger on a spindle and take a nap?

Linda Woolverton (The Lion King 1994, Beauty and the Beast) returns as a story and screenplay writer for the Mistress of Evil. Joining her on screenplay duty is Noah Harpster (Transparent, the upcoming Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). The story is not nearly as complex or fascinating as the original here. Everything the trailer showed you is the basic premise and there is very little else to expect beyond that. Philip proposes to Aurora, Maleficent disapproves, they go to dinner with Philip’s parents, things go bad, things get worse,….then get better. Happily ever after maybe? I mean it is Disney so it’s hard to say that’s a spoiler. If anything the screenplay is the weakest element of this movie, the dialogue is about as upfront and in your face as it is going to get without a bullhorn screaming at you going “Do you see what we are doing here?” There are some significant flaws in the screenplay and story that would require me to hit actual spoiler territory, but after some of the elegance of the original one this one pales in comparison.

Thankfully director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Carribean: Deadmen Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) is able to salvage most of it. While here some of the choices don’t work, the majority do and he does treat the audience to some wonderful set ups and payoffs as well as far more subtle acting and nuance than you typically get in a film like this. What seems odd is Rønning  as a directorial choice. I feel, and I could be wrong, that Disney has him in a three movie contract since Pirates 4 and there’s a better director inside trying to get out. There’s an attempt at a vision in here that holds and does it’s best to elevate the movie, but hampered either by screenplay or producers I can’t say it never quite lands where it needs to. That isn’t to say he doesn’t salvage it, because he absolutely does as this would have been a straight to DVD or straight to the bin with a lesser director. Even here though there are some choices made that left me feeling sour with the movie and only mostly redeemed by other moments.

Acting wise? Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning are still some of the top tier actors of the decade, they could have done this movie in their sleep and didn’t. They put the effort in and this is where some of the real positive directorial choices happen as well. Rønning, Jolie, and Fanning know enough about their craft to make moments work that bring you back into the world of the movie and invest you in the outcome. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) makes Philip more than one note, barely, but he does. Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Free Fire) returns as Diaval and puts heart in where its needed and good characterization.  Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor are wasted, but do what they can with what they have. Michelle Pfeiffer on the other hand has decided that she is hungry for scenery. She didn’t quite hit Jeremy Irons levels of over the top, but she was reaching for it.

Visually the movie is a treat. It brings the magic back from the first and generally speaking looks great through out with only a handful of shots not quite holding up. There’s a magnificent shot of Maleficent at one point in the film where you get to see her wings as they attach to her body and there’s a level of detail to it you cannot deny.

TL;DR?

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a Disney sequel. While I did enjoy myself and was engaged in the story, there are enough elements into it that detract that I can’t say it’s of the same quality as the first. When I consider the writers on the movie I think I can see the problem at its core.  There is something just ultimately unsatisfying through the movie. It’s not that it was cheap, that no one tried, or anything like that. There’s just a lack of clear vision on the movie, it does tell a coherent story but takes no action to elevate it or the characters.

Should I see it?

Well if you haven’t already you have about a week or two to try. Matinee at best.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatres no.

Buying it?

Yeah I am pretty sure I am. I know I really talked the movie down, but I was expecting and wanting more than I got from it. That’s on me I suppose.

You do seem conflicted on this one…

Not so much conflicted. I am calling out the flaws in a work that I still enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I could have. There’s real effort put into it, but it doesn’t amount as high or as much as it could have. It’s visually very pretty, the characters are fine if a bit over the top at times, but there’s all this build up and so little pay off through the various stages of the movie. It could have used another pass on the script maybe or another trip through the editing room. There was a lack of fang to the movie I suppose.

The movie DID make me feel though. That alone keeps it from being purely mediocre or meh and into the solidly Ok category.

So it’s good…I guess?

Not much of a conclusion there I know. Next week though you will get to see if we get the rug pulled out from under us again with Terminator Dark Fate.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Maleficent (2014)

Probably one of Disney’s most anticipated films for some time in the live action genre. While some of their movies have been financially successful, critically they’ve been all but universally panned. Last years Lone Ranger was an abomination that cost them over a hundred million dollars (before marketing costs!!). Before that Prince of Persia, John Carter, three of the last four Pirates movies, I can go on. Some were good, some were garbage. Most of them cost Disney more money than they will ever see from them. Can the Mistress of Evil break the curse?

I don’t rightly know. Disney thinks it can with an aggressive marketing effort that doesn’t try to sell it on previous film “successes” and instead focuses on Angelina Jolie and her embrace of the titular character. Before we get into this too much, I want to point out that two of the people I saw this with have serious issues with the movie, far more than I did. They also had problems with Godzilla. Problems I did not have and appreciated from a film makers design decision. These reviews are my opinion and from my lens and my own tastes.

Where does that leave us for Maleficent?

Angelina is fantastic. Every moment on screen she has is spent acting her heart out.  She covers an excellent range of emotion and delivers a stunningly deep performance that develops her character into something more than is on the page or ever was on the page. She through the majority of the film dominates every single moment she on screen and makes it look effortless. Every choice she makes brings her character to life in a way that might annoy some who want her to be the monster from the original animated, but instead we have a fully realized post modernist Maleficent.

The rest of the cast cannot completely compete. Elle Fanning (Super 8, Twixt), little sister to Dakota, plays the sixteen year old Aurora. She doesn’t get a lot to work with, nature of the character I suppose, but she does sell it when on screen with Angelina. They surprisingly have a bit of chemistry and it makes it work. More on the surprisingly in a bit. Sharlto Copley (District 9, A Team) plays Stefan and was clearly hired for his ability to go dark in the blink of an eye and have some cultivated insanity. Everyone else is wasted in two dimensional undeveloped stereotypes. Some more annoying than others.

Ok, one exception. Newcomer Sam Riley as Diaval is the audiences eyes and window into the world. He’s everything he should be. When he stands in the shadow of Jolie he at least has a shape to himself and that is impressive.

That comes down to directing and story. Story first, Linda Woolverton is the written by credit with ten other based on credits, including the Brothers Grimm themselves. She has some movie credits to her name, but ultimately she has done a lot of TV and written for children, young children. None of her work has been solo until now. Sadly, she needs that help. Nothing here is ever fully fleshed out and the ideas are not developed as fully as they can be. I wish they had been as some of them were amazing. Others that were developed a touch, a touch were actually well done and they had the bravery to do some things. Just not enough.

Some of that goes to the director, Robert Stromberg. Don’t know the name? It’s ok. He is an oscar winner, but this is his directorial debut. What he has been is the production designer, that means he tells everyone else how pretty the setting will be, for Cameron’s Avatar, Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. Well, for the first time since Avatar he got it right. Visually. Directorially, he needs work. His sense of pacing and care for the characters he is trying to develop is horrific. He spends no time on the character interactions in detail, barely showing the development of the characters. The only thing saving him is the cast and for me the visuals.

I find the movie gorgeous. I didn’t see it in 3D but wish that I had for the flight sequences. While the creature design is great and actually kind of unique they do look CGI for the most part. They look crafted with care, but there’s no way you buy them being “real”. I was able to overlook that for the beauty, colours, and whimsy of the world of the Faerie. Froud would be happy. The details in many other sequences were also present and not just glossed over. Magnificent transitions between shots and subtle details in others really made this work. The make up on Jolie and Riley was beyond perfect. Itwas flawless.

TL;DR?

The movie made me smile. The movie made me laugh. I felt joy and even teared up when I was supposed to. In all of this the movie works. I *enjoyed* myself during the film, even if those I saw it with did not. I let myself get wrapped into the world and taken for the ride they delivered. While I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, I can say that I enjoyed most of them.

I am a sentimentalist at heart. A true romantic (why am I single again?) and let the movie in. I didn’t think too hard. I let it bring the emotions in.

If you can do that, watch this movie.

Its absolutely for children of most ages. There is stuff for adults, but not nearly as strong as it should or could be. I do recommend the film and that when you sit down, its not about turning your brain off; but instead letting your own inner child sit back and watch the show.

Will Maleficent break the Disney live action curse? It might take all the powers of Hell, but it just might.