WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, in theaters now.
A consistent criticism of the recent spate of live-action Disney remakes has been their general uninterest in becoming their own individual films instead of just repeating elements from the original animated movies. Even when they do go in a unique direction, it's typically only in small ways that don't alter the overall narrative.
That's not the case for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the second movie featuring the re-imagined Sleeping Beauty villain Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). For better or for worse, the film goes in a number of different directions that help it stand out as one of the most unique films put out by Disney in recent memory.
Oddball Mistress Of Evil
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil starts simply enough. After Phillip (Harris Dickinson) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) become engaged, Aurora convinces Maleficent to come meet her soon-to-be in-laws. The disastrous dinner between the two families is only exacerbated when Phillip's mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), frames Maleficent for putting the King into an unnatural sleep. Because the events of the original Sleeping Beauty were more or less completed by the conclusion of the first Maleficent, the new movie is free to take this set up and turn it into something unusual.
Instead of showcasing more of the relationship between Aurora and Maleficent like the previous film, the characters spend most of the film apart. Aurora is busy dealing with palace antics and trying to escape Ingrith once she learns the truth about her genocidal plans for the magical creatures of the Moors. Meanwhile, Maleficent is taken to the home of the Dark Faeries, the last standing home for fairies from all around the world. There, she learns more about her origins, the uniqueness of her powers and the importance she could have to her people. It's all original to this movie, which is a strength of the film.
It's important to note that Maleficent: Mistress of Evil isn't a perfect movie. The narrative is more focused on the questions presented to Maleficent rather than Maleficent herself. The plot throws some easy deus ex machina at the heroes to keep the story going at times. And the broad scope of the movie limits the symbolism in a way that wasn't a problem in the original messy but earnest film. However, the movie is also more enjoyable to watch than almost anything Disney has put out in the last few years, especially when compared to its other live-action fare. It's a strange film that uses fantasy imagery to explore the concept of institutional control coming up against a more liberated ideal of feminism.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is an undeniably bizarre film. Given a certain amount of free reign to explore the world created in Maleficent, the film doesn't feel like it's beholden to another story. Instead, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil creates its own narrative. This benefits the movie, allowing it the freedom to build on the characters in original ways. This is how the movie is able to shift gears to become about an attempted genocide of magic creatures with the question of war being personified by shirtless Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein screaming at one another.
There's a sequence where a fairy is forced to kamikaze into an organ that's shooting deadly anti-magic powder and another where a character turns into a crow-bear to beat up a bunch of soldiers. The film is delightfully committed to being a far-out fantasy epic that adheres to the rules of its own world and no others. It doesn't borrow too heavily from outside sources, instead it goes big and strange in its own way. After the disappointing retreads that have been many of the Disney live-action remakes, it's exciting to see the studio greenlight something strange and unique.
Superficial changes or minor tweaks aren't enough to make a remake feel singular to its predecessor. Mistress of Evil broadens its world by making questions about it central to the narrative, all building to a bonkers third act that features an entire extended fantasy battle that pays off for all all the characters and story beats.
Directed by Joachim Rønning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein, Jenn Murray, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Juno Temple and Brenton Thwaites. The film opens Friday nationwide.