“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

Marvel’s Ghost Returning? Thunderbolts Explained!

It’s time for another Marvel theory! (I feel like I randomly make up times for Marvel theories because I don’t actually have a well-defined schedule for anything: well, we’ll say today is MCU Theory Saturday).

For today’s theory, we’re looking at some interesting comments made recently by Ant-Man And The Wasp actress Hannah John-Kamen (star of Netflix’s new series, The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance): the actress hinted coyly that her Marvel character, Ghost, might make an unexpected return to the big screen. Obviously, she can’t reveal too much about details – she mentioned that signing a contract with Marvel is like taking a blood oath not to spoil anything – but her words have already sparked a fair amount of debate among Marvel fans over where the quantum-phasing antihero could show up again.

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Some speculate that John-Kamen could be referring to a voice-acting role in the upcoming animated Disney+ series What If…?, which will explore 23 alternate timelines branching out from each of the 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe films: presumably, the Ant-Man And The Wasp episode will feature at least a bit part for Ghost, who was the central antagonist of the 2017 summer blockbuster. But that’s too easy an answer for me: I like a little more substance to my theories, so I’m going to say that, even if Ghost does show up there, there could be another place for the villain-turned-heroine to make an appearance – and in the main Marvel timeline, at that.

Over and over, for the past year or two, we’ve seen rumors that Marvel is considering a film (or even film franchise) based off the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers comic runs, two relatively similar stories that could easily be merged into one cohesive whole. In Thunderbolts, the one most likely to be adapted, a group of reformed villains and antiheroes comes together, sometimes under the leadership of Norman Osborn, sometimes under Helmut Zemo (who has already shown up once in the MCU, and will return in Falcon And The Winter Soldier next year). to sell their services to government organizations: lots of chaos results, as some of them revert back to their villainous ways, backhanded deals get made, and political mayhem erupts in their wake. The actual team roster has been pretty fluid throughout the years, but one notable iteration (Osborn’s Thunderbolts) included Ghost. Since Norman Osborn is a Sony character, and Sony isn’t sharing with Marvel anymore, it looks like Zemo could take his place as leader of the team, with no problems. Other Thunderbolts members have also been featured in the MCU already, but in bit parts, such as Justin Hammer, and Thaddeus Ross (the human alias of Red Hulk). Yelena Belova and Taskmaster, both of whom will make their MCU debuts in next year’s Black Widow, are also key members of the comic team.

It’s always a tricky business, handling villains and antiheroes and trying to make them sympathetic, but Marvel has done a pretty good job in their movies of achieving this: Ghost, for instance, was originally Ava Starr, who was debilitated by a condition that made her body literally fade in and out of existence and visibility – something which also allowed her to walk through walls and disappear from sight. While Ghost’s condition was at least temporarily healed by Janet Van Dyne and her Quantum Realm powers, it seems that she wasn’t fully cured by the end of Ant-Man And The Wasp, since the whole reason that Scott Lang went microscopic and got trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years was because he was looking for more antidote for her. She and her guardian, Bill Foster, haven’t been seen since, but John-Kamen confirmed that Ghost, at least, never died. Whether she was snapped by Thanos is unknown: it’s possible that she survived, and had to endure five more years of her excruciating pain – perhaps she’s been driven back to her dark ways, and is once again wreaking havoc? How long did she hold out hope for Lang’s return? Where is she now? All these questions could be answered in a Thunderbolts movie.

Then again, maybe she’s going to have a role in the third Ant-Man film: however, as of right now, there actually isn’t a third Ant-Man film, so…that’s a bit of an obstacle. Personally, if there is an Ant-Man 3, I hope that we get to see one of Marvel’s craziest villains (and another part-time Thunderbolts member), Gypsy Moth, on the big screen, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Ghost show up again, whether as an antagonist or in a supporting role.

How would you feel about Ghost returning to the MCU as a semi-reformed villain? Could Marvel pull off a Thunderbolts movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Full-Length Trailer!

Who expected Maleficent to be the year’s most epic family drama? Even Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with its all-stars cast, pales in comparison to a film starring Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer as rivals vying to control – and mother – the rebellious young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), in one epic custody battle involving magic, witchcraft, and giant bears ripping people limb-from-limb. We even get the pleasure of watching Jolie literally turn people into burning skeletons, while Pfeiffer takes aim at her with a hefty-looking crossbow, and – wait a moment: this is a Disney movie?

Indeed it is, proving that the Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some risks every now and again. After the first teaser for the film dropped, I was a little worried that the whole thing was just going to be a sparring match of witty one-liners between Jolie and Pfeiffer, and it might still boil down to that in the end: Jolie’s performance as the demonic sorceress Maleficent seems to be mostly about evoking a “mood” – with lines like “Don’t ruin my morning!” and “Love doesn’t always end well” dropped as if they’re mantras to live by, while her variety of outfits continue to stun and dazzle (though I still hate the wings: even worse, there’s more wings on the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Pfeiffer’s character, the Queen Ingrith, is quite clearly a villain: the smirk on her face as she embraces Aurora makes it kind of obvious that she’s not just concerned for the princess’ well-being – though it’s still a little unclear as to why she wants to risk open war with Maleficent’s forces of magic. As we go “beyond the fairytale”, a lot of things become unclear.

Granted, there’s still a lot of good stuff in the trailer: the darker elements are still very cool and surprising; Jolie and Pfeiffer are still good actresses, so their dynamic looks interesting and it does appear that we will indeed get some intense showdowns between them, such as I asked for after the first trailer; the production values look great (except for Jolie’s wings and horns: for some reason, Maleficent is the only character in the film whose costumes look completely bizarre and uncomfortable). The first film was criticized for relying too heavily on special effects, but honestly…the special effects look like they’ve only gotten better. There’s a real sense of danger from the trailer, something that Disney doesn’t often indulge in – I genuinely don’t know what will happen: will Maleficent conquer the forces that oppose her, and win back her adopted daughter? Will Aurora choose to leave the beguiling witch, and instead risk it all for true love? And what’s going on at the end of the trailer?

Near the end, we watch Jolie’s character get hit by crossbow arrows – fired by some of Ingrith’s own henchmen, or at least it appears that way. Anyway, she falls into the sea and is saved by a strange dark shape, that carries her away to some other mystical place of labyrinthine tunnels and glowing caverns where she encounters…Chiwetel Ejiofor? Sorry, that’s Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed up with horns and giant wings (wings that look just as ridiculous as Jolie’s). In fact, it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other demons like Maleficent (all of them winged and horned, to my dismay), and they want her to join them in their…war against Ingrith? Quest for world domination? Hunt for a better costume designer?

I don’t know what’s going on there, but it looks like both Maleficent and Aurora will be conflicted as their mother/daughter relationship is tested by the forces of evil – including Maleficent herself.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Trailer!

Angelina Jolie is back in business as the horned witch Maleficent in the first full-length trailer for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (great title, by the way), looking just as demonic as ever. Coming hard on the heels of the announcement that Jolie will be joining the Marvel Studios team in next year’s The Eternals, it looks like the actress is going to enjoy our undivided attention – as we try to figure out which Marvel role she’s taking, and how she’ll match her performance in the first Maleficent, which was lauded as pretty much the only good thing about the movie.

Jolie is going up against Michelle Pfeiffer in the Maleficent sequel, which looks to be an interesting conflict – villainous female characters have always been relatively rare in Disney movies, so it’s cool to get not one, but two, here. If great acting is the best thing going for the Maleficent franchise, then Pfeiffer is probably a good choice – but her character, Queen Ingrith, doesn’t have much to do in the trailer: which is very upsetting, considering that Pfeiffer was already cheated of a cool action-heroine role in Ant-Man And The Wasp last year, even when she was armed with a wicked-looking javelin. Hopefully we’ll see her in a more active role here. The official synopsis says that Maleficent and Princess Aurora will be joining forces to protect the magical creatures of their homeland from “new adversaries” – i.e. probably Queen Ingrith. I have hope that Ingrith will be an active magical-beast-hunter, rather than someone who just sits around in a castle all day, exchanging witty quips with Maleficent.

Oh yeah, Princess Aurora is back, obviously, but she makes no impression on me from her brief appearance in the trailer, so we’ll just skip over her.

And on to…well, not much else, honestly. A few shots of ravens flying. One truly awful freeze-frame at 0:52 (which I just realized is also the trailer thumbnail) where Jolie’s costume looks horrendous – the wings do not work, in any way, shape or form, and the horned hairpiece looks like a cheap Halloween-store prop. The lighting in that shot is pretty bad, to be fair (green isn’t too flattering, in general), but Jolie’s makeup also seems odd.

Overall, pretty decent trailer, without a whole lot to offer. Nice to see Jolie donning the horns again, though (even if they do look ridiculous).

Trailer Rating: 6/10