Maleficent, the mostly magnificent and occasionally malevolent witch, remains the star of her latest adventure. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues its revisionist take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and features the tawny-eyed and behorned sorcerer with formidable powers as minor misanthrope and major maternal figure. There are new characters, including more winged creatures like Maleficent, many more set pieces, and an enhanced role for Aurora’s boyfriend Phillip, but at heart, the film is an exploration of the bond between mothers and daughters.
At the end of the first movie Maleficent (2014), the witch, played by the perfectly cast Angelina Jolie, released the princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) from her curse of eternal sleep and revealed that something human lay beyond the practised superciliousness and the excessively-concave cheekbones. Aurora was crowned the queen of the forest known as the Moors; a minor prize was the love of Phillip from the kingdom Ulstead.
In the sequel, directed by Joachim Ronning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge), Philip (Harris Dickinson) has proposed marriage to Aurora. The match has the potential of uniting Ulstead with the magical creatures of the Moors. Maleficent is cynical, and her worst fears are confirmed when she meets Aurora’s future mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). The tense dinner-table meeting between the two parties is straight out of a family melodrama, and ends in the only way it can: Phillip’s father slips into a coma and Maleficent is the prime suspect.
Ingrith is, of course, a cross between an environmental polluter and a genocidal maniac, with plans to overrun the Moors and destroy Maleficent and her kind. Maleficent becomes the reluctant leader of the rebel winged creatures like herself, led by characters played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein. Once again, she must choose between her inherent darkness and her love for Aurora.
The new movie adds welcome movement and colour to the proceedings. The island where Maleficent’s community is hiding out is as beautifully realised as the fantastical Moors. A drizzle of tears is added to the dazzle as Aurora and Maleficent renew their vows, as it were. (The effect hopefully won’t be ruined by the temptation to make a third movie.)
The recurring characters include the raven Diaval (Sam Riley) and the trio of fairies (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple). The fairies prove their worth in a tongue-in-cheek sequence featuring a murderous church organ. Ingrith’s evil doesn’t get the comeuppance it deserves, and the humour is scattershot and more laboured than in the first movie. The sequel has bigger things on its mind – racism and the distrust of foreigners, ecological disaster, warmongering, gender stereotyping – but the bit that stays and thrills is the continuing tenderness felt by a witch for her ward. Will you give me away at my wedding, Aurora asks. Never, says Maleficent.