“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Non-Spoiler Review!

The eagerly-anticipated sequel to 2014’s blockbuster Maleficent has a slow-paced, sluggish story that rarely, if ever, matches the splendor of beautiful visuals bursting in rainbow hues on the screen. Having strayed so far from the original fairytale that the occasional name-drops of “Sleeping Beauty” are actually jarring, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil lacks a clear narrative purpose, but makes up for that with stunning beauty, fabulous world building, and the power of Angelina Jolie’s knife-edged cheekbones.

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Never underestimate Jolie’s ability to carry a scene, or even an entire movie, with the sheer force of her presence alone. She commands any scene she walks (or flies) into, and her physicality conveys the depths of her emotions far better than any of the rather poorly-written dialogue she is given. She’s still not really the Maleficent that most Disney fans are familiar with, and she’s never likely to be, except in those behind the scenes photos and videos that somehow give off more classic Mal vibes than anything in the actual movie: but what we get from Jolie is just as good – a raven-dark persona with a heart of gold, wielding height, severity, and an impressive wardrobe. In short, she’s the witch-mood, without actually being a witch. Jolie is only rarely able to make much use of the CGI wings her character is burdened with, but does achieve some form of composure when she’s in flight or descending with the force of a small helicopter (on the other hand, her “hovering” scenes leave much to be desired). Nonetheless, she’s still able to do more with them than her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who fights a losing battle with the wings of his troubled Dark Fae character, Conall, for most of the movie. While it’s Conall who carries Maleficent to safety early in the film’s run-time, it’s Maleficent who returns the favor and carries the entire movie in her clawed grip, though she has so little competition until Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ingrith heats up the forges of war, that it’s hardly a surprise.

In the first half of the movie (the weaker half), the script leans heavily on the “romance” between Elle Fanning’s Aurora and Prince Phillip of Ulsted (Harris Dickinson), two of the most boring and frustratingly naive people to ever step foot in a Disney movie. Fanning has her moments, but the role is so underwritten in this movie that she doesn’t get much time to do anything in particular: almost at once, she is forced to neglect her only duties as Queen of the Moors when Phillip proposes to her, and so we never get to see her develop a close relationship with her subjects – as the leader of an entire nation, she fails spectacularly, attempting to have peace for peace’s sake, without considering any of the subtleties involved with aligning oneself with a foreign and possibly hostile power. As for Phillip, he shows up every so often in a loose-fitting shirt to stare dreamily into the camera, as Disney princes so often do: his only concern in the movie is Aurora’s safety, and he too is thwarted so many times, and so dramatically, that he’s an almost laughably pathetic addition to the cast. There is no chemistry whatsoever between the two, who spend almost every scene together talking wistfully about fairy politics – hardly romantic material.

Then, Ingrith gracefully steps onscreen, haughty, cool, calculating and formidable in a pair of diamond-encrusted high heels and a pearlescent gown, and for one brief, shining moment in the faux Camelot constructed for the film, the violent, power-hungry Queen appears to be one of Disney’s best villains in recent history. She handles a loaded crossbow with ease and assurance, goes through extensive costume-changes that showcase her wealth and luxury, keeps a collection of creepy mannequins, and is accompanied by a black cat: a more classic formula for a villain could not be imagined. But it’s the execution of Ingrith’s power-play that causes things to fall apart: while the heartless queen (speaking of heartless, I give it a couple of years before Ingrith shows up in a new iteration of the Kingdom Hearts Disney video game franchise) should have been an easy parallel to the caring mother that is Maleficent, the movie largely misses the mark with Ingrith, never quite using her (admittedly vicious) ambition to the full potential, never quite exploring the depths of her hatred for fairy-kind. She nearly gets there! She has a striking visual style, looking for all the world like the White Queen off a chess-board of death, and an intricate plan to establish total control of the fairy realm. She is certainly an active character, driving much of the plot, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty with the blood (or magical dust) of innocents – and yet the film establishes her as so aloof, so high and mighty, that she never actually seems involved in the action she’s causing: not until she’s threatened, and in a place of weakness: and, well, who wants that? She could have made for an incredibly fun villain, one operating from the topmost pinnacle of the impossible heights of her CGI cathedral – but to achieve that, she would need effective servants, loyal to her cause. And the only one who fits the bill is her henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray), who is in absentia during the third act due to a sudden fit of musical ecstasy that sees her transform into a crazed, sadistic prodigy of Mozart. The scene in which this happens is one of the most memorable in the entire film, just for the absolute craziness of the scenario, but it does rather undermine Ingrith’s own control over the hearts of her servants (the rest of whom might betray her at the drop of a hat).

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But craziness is what keeps Mistress Of Evil aloft for as long as it does, right up until a predictably average ending. Whether we’re watching Gerda tickle the ivories and take down waves of innocent fairies (there’s a surprising amount of death in this movie!), or witnessing the rituals of the Dark Fae with their vast, multi-colored wings and distinctly unique cultures, there’s always something to look at – occasionally so many things at once, such as when Maleficent first soars through the realm of the Dark Fae – that it’s hard for one’s eyes to focus, there’s just so much. In terms of visual spectacle, the film outdoes itself time and time again, culminating in a final battle that is actually surprisingly engaging and emotional, and sees humanity pitted against the Dark Fae in a war for peace.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in Mistress Of Evil, and thus a lot of themes and messages that the story tries to get across, with varying degrees of success. One line of dialogue delivered at the end of the movie attempts to sum everything up by saying that “we’re not defined by where we’re from, but by whom we love”. But in my opinion, no dialogue from the imaginations of scriptwriters Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue can achieve what is already being said countless times throughout the movie, without a single word spoken: that the entire story is focused on the mother/daughter relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. War rages around them, and this time between them, they are parted and reunited, but they endure. And the vividness with which their relationship is realized is a stark contrast to the flimsy connection between Ingrith and her son, which is nothing more than a shapeless concept that goes nowhere: as I previously noted, there was plenty of potential for a parallel there, but the film loses its one and only chance to demonstrate this parallel by not having Ingrith ever try to kill her son or even hinder his actions very effectively, despite how many chances she gets, and how much motivation she would have for doing so: yet it seems like such an obvious choice, in light of what else happens in the movie, that I can’t imagine that it was never discussed.

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One of the most interesting elements of the entire Maleficent franchise is its focus on femininity, and a different kind of strong female character than is usually seen in modern film: the three women at the heart of Mistress Of Evil are diplomats and politicians rather than warriors – even Ingrith, unabashedly a warmonger, only bears arms under dire circumstances; for most of the film, she exercises her power either from behind or atop a throne. Maleficent, meanwhile, moves in the shadows, preferring wars of wit to open conflict: and as for Aurora, she is sunny, optimistic and gentle, ruling with kindness and tender compassion. Yet all three are rightly considered powerful forces in the world they inhabit, as queens and unchallenged guardians of their respective plots of land. And there is one female character (no spoilers!), who has only a small role throughout the film, but a critical part to play in the third act: the culmination of her arc has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality that is at once startling, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.

With so much progressive, forward-thinking messaging going on, there is one notable instance that stands out to me as either a bad – and unintentional – decision on the filmmakers’ part, or a conscious decision with a third film in mind (a third film that will only happen if Mistress Of Evil takes off at the box-office): and that decision is putting humans in control of fairies. It screams of colonialism every time it gets brought up, and the film outright denounces it, but never actually does anything about it when it’s Aurora, our heroine, doing it. Queen Ingrith has a point when she tells Aurora that there’s more to ruling a kingdom than running around barefoot with flowers in one’s hair – but, well, Ingrith is evil, so obviously Aurora doesn’t actually heed her warning or do anything to remedy the glaring problem. She’s simply not a very effective queen, and she spends probably ten minutes (at most) with her own people – but we’re supposed to trust that she’s the best person for the job because…she left the fairies in the lurch while she went off to plan her wedding? She angered Maleficent and caused her to leave the moors unguarded against human threats? She did basically nothing for the rest of the film? The film never adequately explains why a human should be allowed to rule fairy affairs, and the open hostility from the Dark Fae makes one wonder if everything will really be fine and dandy after Aurora’s marriage to Phillip firmly establishes that more, not less, human interference is on the horizon.

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However, unlike some films, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil successfully stands on its own, requiring no previous knowledge of the franchise to follow along with its plot and leaving no cliff-hangers or unresolved storylines to torment the viewer afterwards – all in all, this movie is not what I would call necessary viewing, but it is fun, beautiful and spectacular. And it has got Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer together onscreen, which is itself worth the price of admission.

Movie Rating: 5.0/10

“Eternals” Begins Filming: “Thena” Revealed!

We’ve all been waiting for a glimpse, however brief, at one of Marvel Studios’ most tantalizing and mysterious upcoming projects – Eternals, the story of a race of human/alien gods created by the Celestials to protect our earth from prehistoric threats. Today, we’ve been given a glimpse, but it raises more questions than answers.

Angelina Jolie, one of the stars of the film (the others being Gemma Chan, Kit Harington and Richard Madden) has been spotted in the United Kingdom, filming some very interesting and unusual scenes for the superhero movie. Jolie has been confirmed to be playing the immortal warrior Thena, but, well…she doesn’t appear to be playing the character here: or, if she is, then her outfit has been dramatically altered since we saw it in the D23 Expo concept art last month.

I won’t post all of the photos, since they might be considered spoilers by some; but the few that I’ll show certainly seem to imply that Jolie’s take on the war-goddess is definitely very different from how she’s appeared in the comics, dressed in Greek-inspired armor.

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The first image shows Jolie, sporting the character’s white-blond hair, in what looks at first glance to be a Greek gown of some sort, wading through water, holding some sort of little black pot. The general consensus among internet theorists is that she’s scattering ashes, for whatever reason.

But the next photo made me start wondering…

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Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a depiction of ancient Greek women wearing such modern footwear. And that inspired me to start looking more closely at the rest of the outfit: those long sleeves certainly seem out of place in the ancient world, for instance…and then I found this image.

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Ignore the modern coat that Jolie is wearing over her outfit to keep warm, and look at the front of the dress: it’s very clearly a modern or 20th Century button-up dress, rather vintage-inspired by the looks of it. In fact, it gives off some serious Indiana Jones vibes, to the point where I almost began wondering whether Jolie was playing some sort of similar adventurer, or…archaeologist.

Oh, wait. Remember all those rumors from months ago that a “female archaeologist” was the lead of Eternals? But everyone dismissed them because Jolie was confirmed to play Thena, and nobody else seemed to fit the description of the character. That female archaeologist, after all, was said to be Margo Damian, from the original Eternals comics published back in the 70’s, a character who wore her hair in that decade’s trendiest styles (because archaeologists are paragons of fashion: everybody knows that), and dressed like a female Indiana Jones.

And now we have Angelina Jolie, the lead of the film, doing the same.

But Jolie is playing Thena, right? How can she also be playing Margo Damian? Well, there isn’t any precedent for this in the comics, but it is an established part of recent Eternals lore that the Eternals’s minds were once wiped by the trickster Sprite (who will also show up in this movie), and the gods were forced to live as humans, suffering from amnesia and fragmented memories until they remembered who they were. In the original comics, it turned out that Damian’s partner and love interest, Ike, was in fact the Eternal Ikaris (shocker, I know).¬†We don’t know for sure what’s happening here, but Marvel might be updating the story and having Margo be the one to discover that she’s the long-lost embodiment of an ancient goddess – since, in the comics, she sort of just…died. This¬†would also help to explain why the Eternals didn’t show up in Avengers: Endgame to help in the fight against Thanos – because they don’t remember their powers yet.

So what do you think? Is Jolie playing Thena or Margo Damian in this scene? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Gemma Chan’s Return To The MCU!

Marvel Studios had a few unspoken, but solid rules that rarely, if ever, got broken: until this year. For instance, main characters didn’t die in Marvel films – or if they did, their deaths weren’t permanent: Loki could die over and over again, but he never had to actually die. Avengers: Endgame changed all that. Marvel heroes didn’t get more than three solo films: then, Thor 4 (Love And Thunder) got announced. Actors didn’t get to play more than one character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – if you signed on for a specific role, you were going to play that role and no other. Marvel president Kevin Feige was even pushing boundaries by allowing Paul Bettany to voice Tony Stark’s robotic assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., and also play Vision, the living, breathing embodiment of J.A.R.V.I.S. But today, apparently, all of Marvel’s rules have been thrown out the window.

Actress Gemma Chan, best known for her work in Crazy Rich Asians, had a supporting role in this year’s billion-dollar blockbuster Captain Marvel, as the trigger-happy Kree sniper Minn-Erva. Near the end of the film, (Spoiler Warning!) Minn-Erva’s spaceship gets blown out of the sky, and the assassin – presumably – dies in a billowing inferno. But while that might be the last we ever see of Minn-Erva, it might not be the end of the line for Gemma Chan in the MCU.

According to multiple outlets, Chan is making a return to Marvel, in the form of a completely new character who will appear in next year’s Eternals, a film which already stars Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Richard Madden as immortal space gods enlisted with protecting Earth from the Deviants. While very little is known about the film’s plot, it would appear to be a prequel spanning thousands of years of human and alien history, documenting a time when even the Titan warlord Thanos was still an infant. So, unless Minn-Erva is much older than she appeared, it doesn’t seem likely that we’re going to be seeing a younger version of her – and why would we, anyway? In Captain Marvel, Chan’s character was significantly…insignificant. Certainly not the type of villain that audiences are going to be waiting to see again on the big screen. Unless it turns out that she was an alien archaeologist in her spare time or something, it seems bizarre that Minn-Erva would appear in this movie.

But then…who is she? There may be at least three major female characters who have yet to be cast: the human archaeologist Margo Damian, the sorceress Sersi, and the possibly villainous android Elysius. If I had to take a guess, I’d wager that Chan is playing Elysius: not only because she looks much like the character, but because the comics version of Elysius actually has a small, but important link to the Kree aliens – the character first appeared in Captain Marvel #59, long before Carol Danvers possessed that title: instead, the Captain was a Kree male known as Mar-Vell, who became Elysius’ lover for a time before dying, at which point Elysius gave birth to their children, Genis-Vell and Phyla-Vell, two very important characters in the Marvel comics. It’s a lot of stuff to keep track of, but it’s an important link that could be exploited if Marvel Studios feels the need to explain, in some way, the reasoning behind this casting choice. Minn-Erva could be another daughter or descendant of Elysius (though the identity of the father might need to change, since the name Mar-Vell was already used in Captain Marvel to refer to a female Kree character: unless Elysius is the Eternals‘ touted LGBTQ character?)

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Chan isn’t the only person joining the cast of Eternals today – Barry Keoghan of Dunkirk will make his Marvel debut in the film as well, in an unknown role: possibly as the god of love, Eros “Starfox”, or, as some have suggested, a young version of Thanos.

What do you think about Marvel breaking their own rules like this? Who do you think Chan and Keoghan are playing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Eternals” Filming Begins?

With Marvel’s Eternals now officially confirmed for a November 2020 release date, and assembling an impressive all-star cast, it seems only a matter of time before cameras actually begin rolling and we start seeing behind-the-scenes photos, footage, etc. There was even some hinting at San Diego Comic-Con over the weekend that filming had already begun, a little earlier than anticipated. Now, we might – possibly – have a clearer idea of what’s going to happen in the film, and which characters might have yet to be cast.

According to one source, sets are currently being built for the Eternals film over at Pinewood Studios in England, where production is slated to begin in September. The set, which appears to be a large pyramidal temple with ornately-carved statues, was initially believed to be intended for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker reshoots set on the iconic Yavin IV planet from the original trilogy, but closer examination shows that the site, and especially the statues are probably intended to look Aztec in origin, rather than…Yavini? Yavinese? Yavinish? I don’t know. I mean, ignoring the basic fact that any Aztec site built in England is going to look very different from a Mesoamerican jungle until CGI and fake tropical plants are used, the set does look like an Aztec temple.

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Why, though, would an Aztec temple be built for Eternals? Well, there’s one very good reason I can think of: the entire Eternals comic book history begins in one such temple, all the way back in 1976. In Jack Kirby’s The Eternals #1, archaeologists Daniel Damian and Margo Damian traveled to Central America to uncover ancient Aztec ruins, only to discover that they had actually stumbled upon the Tomb of the Space Gods. Naturally, the Tomb was opened, a whole bunch of extremely weird stuff happened, and eventually Margo Damian was turned into a Deviant and killed, because that’s what tended to happen to female characters in old comic books. I highly doubt that a modern adaptation of the story would allow Margo to die off so quickly, but it does seem that she (or, at least, a fully fleshed-out character loosely-based on the cardboard cutout that previously held the name) will appear in the upcoming Eternals film: though she wasn’t one of the characters revealed at San Diego Comic-Con, there are still reports going around that the film’s lead will be a human female archaeologist with the codename of “Karen”. These new images, possibly unveiling a first look at the Tomb, give credence to this theory.

And just because we got a whole bunch of casting announcements at Comic-Con doesn’t mean there’s not many more to come. If Disney is to be believed, what we’ve seen already is just the tip of the iceberg: the D23 event next month will apparently give us even more food for thought, including confirmation of several more Marvel films, more casting, and possibly some early footage from Black Widow (though we’re also getting a first look at Black Widow on the Avengers: Endgame Blu-Ray release at the end of this month, so stay tuned for that!). It wouldn’t be shocking if more people joined the Eternals ensemble cast at D23, considering that there are a whole bunch of roles which might still need to be filled – including Sersi, the Damians, Elysius, Zuras, Druig, Eros and maybe Hercules. Some of these roles might have been written out of the script since they were initially reported early this year, but these new set images indicate that the Damians, at least, are still in for the time being.

“Eternals” Cast!

If there was one Marvel project that we knew virtually nothing about going into San Diego Comic Con, it was Eternals – Chloe Zhao’s upcoming movie about immortal alien gods trying to protect the earth from other alien gods called Deviants. This was all partially due to the fact that nobody really knew anything about the Eternals comics (not surprising, considering they haven’t been in print for quite some time), and because there were a whole bunch of rumors about the film that ended up becoming huge headlines from various media outlets, headlines which eventually turned out to be untrue (or, at least, haven’t been confirmed yet).

One such rumor, for instance, was that Marvel’s first openly gay character would be one of three male stars in the film, and would most likely be the Greek God Hercules. Well, last night, four of the male stars of Eternals came onstage – and not one of them was playing Hercules. There’s still a lot of speculation, though, because…well, there’s a lot of chaos going on. First of all, Richard Madden was confirmed to be playing one of the main Eternals, Ikaris – we kind of knew or guessed that already. But the trades have all been reporting that Ikaris was going to be most definitely straight, and in a romantic relationship with the character of Sersi, believed to be played by Angelina Jolie. Last night, though, not only was it revealed that Angelina Jolie is playing a completely different character named Thena – it was also notable that nobody was confirmed to play Sersi. As of this writing, there is no Sersi in Eternals: arguably the only character from this film that even comic-book readers might have a chance at recognizing – isn’t there. So, yeah, in her absence, it’s entirely possible that Ikaris is the film’s gay character – and there’s been lots of (still unconfirmed) speculation that Richard Madden himself is gay, so who knows?

Obviously, the big news was that Jolie would not be playing Sersi, the enchantress and fun-loving witch: personally, that makes me very happy, because the character of Sersi absolutely 100% needs to be played by comedian Jameela Jamil. Oh yeah, and while Jolie takes on the role of the warrior Thena, the actress previously reported for that role, Salma Hayek, will actually be playing Ajak, the leader of the Eternals. But there were many other surprises:

Makkari, the super-speedy Eternal based on the Roman god Mercury, will not be played by Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani – instead, she will be portrayed by Lauren Ridloff, becoming the first deaf superhero in the MCU. The addition of Ridloff to the cast is a welcome surprise. Meanwhile, Nanjiani will be playing master swordsman Kingo, a character I’ve never even heard of before.

Millie Bobby Brown, long speculated to have a starring role in this movie – is not in this movie. The role she was supposedly eyeing, that of the teenage character Sprite or Piper, is instead going to child actress Lia McHugh. So we can finally let the Stranger Things actress take a break from reporters constantly pestering her about when she’s joining Marvel.

Brian Tyree Henry will take on the role of genius weapons-maker and inventor Phastos, in a surprise announcement. There was talk of Phastos being in the movie, but no indication that he would be a star. And, lastly, Asian star Don Lee will be the indomitable god Gilgamesh – a character so powerful that Lee even challenged Marvel’s Hulk, Mark Ruffalo, to a challenge.

Possibly the biggest shock is that this is the full cast: previous reports had stated that there would be no less than five female leads and three male leads – currently, we have four female and four male, perfectly balanced, as all things should be. But this is certainly a downsized version of the cast initially reported early this year, which included characters like Druig, Sersi, a “female archaeologist”, Hercules, Elysius, and Zuras. Whether they’ll be in the film, or simply remain to be cast, is still unknown. But one thing is for certain: despite the fact that a lot was cleared up at last night’s Eternals panel – it’s still just as confusing!