When people talk about film as product instead of, say, art or entertainment, they’re referring to movies like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. This misbegotten sequel to 2014’s not-so-hot Maleficent is a torturous exercise in brightly-colored monotony that chokes on repetitive screenwriting, amateurish directing, paycheck performances and digital hardware for a heart. Kids under five (months) might be fooled, but sentient filmgoers know a scam when they see one.
Angelina Jolie is back in the title role with a performance that’s 90% frosty glare. But how in hell is Maleficent the Mistress of Evil? Yes, she still looks fierce with her dark horns, wolf eyes and vinyl fetish wear. But the 2014 live-action origin story took pains to show us how the fang-toothed villainesss from Sleeping Beauty had reformed and grown to love Aurora, the human child she cursed and then raised as her own. Now Aurora has grown into a teen beauty (blandly portrayed by Elle Fanning) who speaks her mind. Aurora is determined to marry her handsome prince, Phillip (Harris Dickinson, the stud from Beach Rats), against the wishes of his vengeful Queen mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). It’s fun — for about a minute — to watch Pfeiffer and Jolie go cheekbone to cheekbone in a contest of death stares. But that plot.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton brought in two more scribes to jazz up this dull party, but all they do is rip off Frozen and Broadway’s Wicked without capturing a scrap of the fun. How will it delight family audiences to watch the Queen wage genocidal war against Maleficent and the fairies? But chances are they won’t know what’s going on anyway, given the clumsy staging of Norwegian director Joachim Rønning, who co-directed Kon-Tiki and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and seems to have left the heavy lifting to production and costume designers. It’s sad to see the great Chiwetel Ejiofor (Twelve Years a Slave) trapped in the thankless role of a “dark fey” — you’re on your own translating that — out to stop the Queen from killing his bat-winged species with a red powder made of iron, the metal that floors fairies like Kryptonite. (Okay!)
So where’s Maleficent in all this? Unlike cursed audiences, she gets to disappear from time to time, returning for a series of false endings — I counted at least nine — that will bore you so breathless you’ll lose the strength to run for the exits. But there is one part of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil that’s life-affirming: when it’s finally over, you’ll feel like you escaped from being buried alive for two hours.