By Marc S. Sanders

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil has a strong cast and a serviceable approach for the sequel to Disney’s 2014 live action hit. Yet, the film falters anyway.

First, and this is always something that irks me, the sub title is completely inappropriate. (Like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace where the only menace was Jar Jar Binks, who was never my first choice to be a phantom.). The film carries a bait and switch title. Did the marketing department at the Happiest Place On Earth even watch the film? Angelina Jolie returns as the title character, still dressed in stereotypical evil black. However, the script penned by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue offer up an adoring struggle for her to keep up appearances. Never does the film imply that Maleficent returns to her evil impulses. Rather, she’s only characterized by Michelle Pfeiffer’s evil queen as such. So there’s a betrayal of advertising going on here.

The film directed by Jochaim Ronning is a Meet The Fockers variant. When Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who was unofficially adopted by Maleficent, gets engaged to the Prince, naturally the in laws have to become acquainted. As expected, dinner does not go very well and the King is spellbound, leaving Maleficent as the scapegoat forced into running underground where she meets up with her fellow fairy community ready to wage war against the human kingdom.

Pfeiffer’s queen uses this as an opportunity to convince the kingdom to wipe out the fairies. Yeah. You’ve heard this story a hundred times before.

I can forgive the redundancy of the storytelling. However, Rollins can’t get his film right. The cinematography is annoyingly murky in darkness and clouds and mist. Doesn’t matter if it’s the fairy kingdom, the castle or even the forest in daylight. Rollins serves up murky, dramatic effect for the sake of murky dramatic effect. It’s hardly visible. This film has Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer. If I want to emit drama, I’m gonna rely on them to bring their game.

As well, and disappointingly, Jolie is hardly in the film, at least not enough to justify the title. Rather, Pfeiffer is here to chew up much of the scenes. There are long periods of storytelling where Jolie is nowhere to be seen. She actually doesn’t appear for at least the first 15 minutes. Again, like the title itself, the film under promises what it sells. I have no problem with Pfeiffer or Fanning. They’re really good. Yet, there’s just too many opportunities for them to exchange dialogue and threats, and not much else. Yes, you get to see the fairy kingdom, but they really are a miserable angry bunch for a family oriented film. The 3 fairies led by Imelda Staunton? Yup. They’re here…hardly though and they were the most fun of the last film. Maleficent’s sidekick, Diaval (Sam Riley) – the half man/raven? Well he’s only there when Maleficent is there (literal sidekick) and tell us he wishes he could be turned into a bear. What do you think happens? Incidentally, the CGI bear is nothing great, an uncolorful blur of roaring with a raven beak.

All of these elements present themselves but never follow through with any humor or fun or eye opening surprise. Instead we get a lot of Pfeiffer and Fanning.

The third act is straight out of Lord of the Rings with swords and shields and marching and charging. Meh. I was bored with all of this and the CGI of fairy flights and swoops looked blurry.

Clearly, Disney prioritized preparation of the film for IMAX and 3D. Can we let this go for a change, and just make a movie, please? It’s apparent, watching a 2D standard presentation of this film, where the 3D pops were to occur. Yet, it’s a lousy sacrifice for a simple view.

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is a shameless, opportune cash grab on Disney’s behalf. Crank out the sequel, prime it for 3D, get Jolie back for whatever time she’s available, and make sure to slap on a title that amps up the darkness that audiences relish and surefire goosebumps.

I like the story. The execution however fell very short however. No one will remember this sequel in a year from now.

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