PLOT Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials.
CAST Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer
RATED PG (intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images)
BOTTOM LINE Needless sequel that doesn't take advantage of Jolie's star power
For a moment, "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" seems poised to turn into a wonderful take on "Father of the Bride" only with fangs and wings.
Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), the beauty who escaped the curse of sleep, merrily accepts the proposal of Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), a marriage that could unite the fairy and human worlds. Aurora cautiously asks if Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), her now-redeemed fairy godmother, might go with her to meet the parents: Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) and King John (Robert Lindsay). It's so much fun watching Maleficent prepare for the meeting by practicing such basic cordialities as smiling and small talk that it's hard not to wish the movie sees the fearsome sorceress through the entire battery of wedding planning. Maleficent at a bridal shower. Maleficent choosing the table settings.
Sadly, such fun is not to be had in "Mistress of Evil," a needless sequel to the 2014 "Sleeping Beauty" riff that fails to fully value the entire of appeal of these films: Jolie's Maleficent. The first movie, a box-office hit, was a mess but its star attraction was the one thing it had going for it. Jolie, an unfortunately infrequent presence on the screen these days, slid into the role so perfectly, dominating all around her with Norma Desmond command and cheekbones that could slice your throat.
The character had its roots in those '50s melodrama stars; Marc Davis, animator of the 1959 Disney film, also sculpted Cruella de Vil. And in teaming Jolie with the equally potent Pfeiffer, whose queen quickly turns into Maleficent's bitter foe, "Mistress of Evil" had the potential of summoning the intoxicating stuff of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.
But the movie, with Joachim Rønning ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") taking over for Robert Stromberg, overcomplicates itself. Instead of aiming for the elemental simplicity of a fairy tale, "Mistress of Evil" fills itself with the politics and detail of the fairy-human struggle, building inevitably to a PG-friendly war between Queen Ingrith's army and the magical spirits of the Moors, spread out across impressively vast computer-generated palace grounds.
What saves "Mistress of Evil" from a worse fate, in the end, is Fanning. Aurora, like many of Fanning's performances, is a welcome dash of naturalism amid all the CGI action. She's such an innocent and wholesome young bride, though, that perhaps she's ripe for reconsideration, too. Next time, maybe Beauty breaks bad.
In "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," Angelina Jolie once again dons the crown of that most enduring fairy-tale character, the wicked queen. Here are four more films in which actresses put their own stamp on the role.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) Maleficent got her name here, in Disney's lushly animated classic. Much credit goes to Eleanor Audley, who defined the character with her memorably imperious voice.
ENCHANTED (2007) Disney's homage/spoof of its own animated features is a charmer, thanks partly to its perfectly chosen cast: Amy Adams as chirpy Giselle, Patrick Dempsey as the cynical attorney who guides her through New York City and Susan Sarandon as the scheming Queen Narissa.
QUEEN OF THE DAMNED (2002) In the last film she completed before her death, the singer Aaliyah plays the vampire queen Akasha. The film survived terrible reviews and made money at the box office, though its nu-metal soundtrack (featuring Jonathan Davis of Korn) has not aged well.
MIRROR, MIRROR (2012) In this "Snow White" reworking, Julia Roberts plays Queen Clementianna, while Lily Collins plays her stepdaughter. Top marks for Eiko Ishioka's Oscar-nominated costumes, if nothing else.
— RAFER GUZMAN