WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, in theaters now.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a weird film. It goes in multiple directions with random leaps in logic and introduces a number of bonkers plot shifts and twists across its run-time. It all builds to a titanic final battle between the forces of magic and the human kingdom controlled by Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) that finds room to throw every character an action-sequence.
But while the main narrative about Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) isn't the most compelling, it does depict a truly unique setting that's explored throughout the film.
A BIGGER WORLD
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil builds out of the newly created lore for the first Maleficent, which itself deviated from and expanded on the original Sleeping Beauty. Aurora has become the queen of the magical kingdom known as the Moors, ruling in Maleficent's stead. But with her pending marriage to Phillip (Harris Dickinson), the two women are forced to adjust to an expanding world of kingdoms and power players. In the second act of the film, it's revealed that Maleficent isn't alone in the world as the only Dark Faerie.
While she was previously assumed to be a singular figure who was completely unique in the world, it's discovered that there is an entire race of Dark Faeries. They are an ancient line of beings who are descended directly from the original phoenix, now long since dead.
Maleficent is herself directly descended from the last of the phoenix, explaining why the scale of her powers is beyond even the other Dark Faeries. She also gives them a stronger tie to the forces of magic in the world. It's a full-blown exploration of the lore that gave rise to Maleficent, and it's really fun fantasy material. She even eventually briefly turns into a Phoenix-Dragon to end the war. It's all high-fantasy at its most bonkers, and it's genuinely a delight to see it play out on screen.
THE LAST OF THE DARK FAE
Dark Faeries are also revealed to have originally been from around the entire world, with different tribes springing out of different cultures who have all come together to help create a new community on the back of a giant sea creature. It's an inherently cool visual, and raises the possibility of any number of new creatures that could exist within this universe. This also gives the Dark Faeries a number of different appearances and natural colors, allowing a variety of looks to appear throughout their massive home. They're all different while clearly belonging to the same fantasy race. It's a surprisingly tricky thing to do in live-action films, so props to the art team of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil for achieving it.
It's immediately engaging to reveal an entire race of magical beings who could have a strong impact on the rest of the world. It's also revealed that the Dark Faeries were forced to abandon their ancestral homes after human kingdoms went to war with them. This provides the potential for other adventures focusing on the world of the Dark Faeries and their interactions with other threats and kingdoms. It expands the world of this franchise, and could easily set up future narratives.
This all gives Maleficent: Mistress of Evil a sense of excitement and originality that other live-action Disney films of late typically lack. The willingness to go big and create something new allows the film to be weird and unique. The plot of the film isn't too complex or compelling. But the lore around the narrative is genuinely interesting, a dark fairy tale world that could set up a slew of different films exploring other corners of the story universe.
Even the plot developments tend to add to the world in compelling ways, such as the manufactured red dust that can kill magical creatures with a single touch. It's all elements that help flesh out the world of this franchise, making it feel like its own universe. It all helps make the movie more engaging. Like all the biggest and most successful franchises, the world itself becomes the draw almost more so than the characters or plot. There's plenty of room to grow in any number of possible future stories -- the sign of a strong narrative world.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is directed by Joachim Rønning and stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein, Jenn Murray, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Juno Temple and Brenton Thwaites. The film is in theaters now.