Angelina Jolie is back as Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, this time directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) in a script by returning screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King). With ambitions as high as the grand dame of evil's cheekbones, the story still doesn't fail to meet expectations.
Aurora (Elle Fanning) has come of age, and a very nervous Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) has asked her to marry him. While King John (Robert Lindsay) is very receptive to the idea of merging the two kingdoms peacefully, both Maleficent and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) have their misgivings. Tragedy strikes at a tense dinner intended as the bridge to this peace, pointing everyone down paths that seem to lead to an inevitable war.
Even with the story progressing in clockwork Disney fashion, there is a lot to enjoy here. The characters we do get to see are engaging and believable. Credit goes to Rønning for bringing out the best in an already very talented cast. However, there is a shortage of development in some small yet vital parts. This leaves the audience wondering what the motivations are for these characters. That is unfortunate in an otherwise magnificently crafted script that also manages to do a few callbacks to the original film without making it cheesy.
Jolie shines as Maleficent, giving her all to the part and then some. Once again, she makes the audience want to root for her character even if they know they shouldn't. Elle Fanning returns another fine performance as the princess who is the perfect blend of innocence and determination. Other standouts in the cast are Sam Riley as Diaval and Robert Lindsay, whose small roles are brought to life by large performances.
The cinematography is breathtaking, with brilliant use of both light and color to embellish the intense action. There are a couple of scenes that get so dark that the action becomes obscured, but these are brief. Both the makeup and CGI are so natural that it is nearly impossible to tell them apart from each other, or even from the real actors. Everything unnatural manages to flow naturally. The soundtrack also rides along freely with the action, enhancing the tale rather than intruding upon it.
There are a couple of violent scenes that might be difficult for small children, but nothing that is remarkably excessive. All of it is in keeping with the theme of the potentially tragic results of mistrust, misplaced anger, and groundless hatred.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil takes the seventy-year-old title character and, like the 2014 film, develops her into someone whose motivations make sense. They give her still more background, and there is even an explanation for those perpetually high cheekbones. All told, it is fast-paced fun that will leave many viewers spinning but won't leave them sleeping.