Review – Mary Poppins with Fangs (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”)

Just when you thought 2014’s Maleficent was over and done with, we get a surprise sequel that nobody wanted or asked for. After all, it had the perfect ending, tying up all loose ends and giving both Aurora & Maleficent their happy endings. But, I guess you just can leave well enough alone, can you? *sigh*

If you remember, Maleficent (Angeline Jolie) triumphed! The so-called ‘mistress of evil’ turned out to be a softy at heart as she helped save the kingdom, defeat the bad guys, and had her beloved “beastie”, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), crowned Queen of the Moors, and was reunited with her true love, Prince Phillip. All is right with the world; what could possibly go wrong? Plenty, it would seem. Fast-forward some five years later and things are a bit shaky. The Moors, inhabited by all the woodland fairy creatures and home to Aurora and Maleficent, are now separated by a river. On the other side… trouble! And it’s called the Kingdom of Ulstead.

The vast city/kingdom of Ulstead is ruled by good King John (Robert Lindsay), his ruthless, conniving, despicable wife, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), and their loving son, Prince Phillip (Harris Dickenson), who just proposed to Aurora. With a wedding pending, the King & Queen naturally want to meet the in-laws, but having Maleficent over for din-din scares everyone. Gee, I wonder why! Anyway, while Maleficent is attempting to be cordial at the palace, Queen Ingrith has other plans and, faster than Admiral Ackbar can say, “It’s a trap!”, the Queen makes the winged one go ballistic.

Looks like her evil plans worked and Maleficent, now injured and flown the coop. . .er, palace, has found some unexpected help: a winged, horned man named Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who’s part of a whole secret society of hidden flying horned people just like her (minus the magic). Well, isn’t that convenient! These people want war against the humans, but Conall wants only peace. Maleficent just wants to save her ‘daughter’ from that rotten Queen who, we soon learn, has diabolical plans against all of the fairy world, with help from her sinister “Q” assistant (Warwick Davis) in the dungeon.

As war (and a wedding) are both immanent, Aurora and Phillip have no idea what’s in store for them, as they think Maleficent has not only turned evil, but is also dead as well. The third act is the all-out war which looks like something out of a MCU fight scene. Not as whimsical or kid-friendly as the first film, this movie opted for more of an adult fantasy-action-adventure theme with an Avatar feel to it. With three writers attached to the script, Linda Woolverton (Maleficent, Beauty & the Beast), and two newbies: Noah Harpster & Micah Fitzerman-Blue (the Transparent TV series), this movie is more for the adults than the kids.

Not that it doesn’t try, mind you. There are lotsa cutsie forest sprites, gnomes, imps, fairies, etc to get the kiddies attention, but really this story has some serious adult issues and dark overtones. Woolverton has done some remarkable work for Disney (Mulan, Lion King, etc) but making Maleficent mean and nasty all over again is, in my opinion, counterproductive. The storyline, much like The Incredibles or X-Men: The Last Stand, does have a wickedly nice turn to it and the dialogue between the Queen & Maleficent is devilishly icy, but jeepers! It really gets dark for a Disney film!

Ya gotta hand it to Jolie who really sinks her fanged teeth into this role, anchoring the role like nobody else. But it’s Michelle Pfeiffer who gives her a run for her money as vile Queen Ingrith. Pfeiffer just oozes evilness and captives the screen effortlessly with her nasty charm. It’s also great to see Warwick Davis back as the diminutive inventor and Sam Riley as the shape-shifting crow/human, Diaval, is always a welcome comic relief. Ejiofor is excellent for the little time he’s given and Ed Skein as the rebellious winged Borra is wonderful. And check out the Queen’s red-headed assistant, Gerda (Jenn Murray). She’s just creepy. I’m talkin’ Pennywise creepy.

Then there’s director Joachim Ronning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) who must LOVE his job, ’cause he directs the hell out of this movie, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He OVER directs, making his every grandiose shot look like it’s the most important shot ever created ever! Geez, Louise! In some cases it turns out pretty cool, with some moments that crackle, but all the other times it just gets old. Fast. Overall, this sequel doesn’t disappoint, but it also doesn’t help either. Really, just leave the Mistress of Evil alone already. She’s earned a rest.

Stardust (2007)

If Harry Potter and The Princess Bride had a love child, this movie would be it. Nasty witches, true love, a throne up for grabs, comical deaths, magic, a race to find ‘the chosen one’, and high adventure is all here in this epic underrated British import brought to you by the man who gave us the Kingsman franchise.

Writer, producer, and director Matthew Vaughn (along with writer Jane Goldman) came up with an wildly captivating comedy/fantasy/thriller/adventure film that has three separate stories converging at the end. First you have the main plot: the quaint little middle ages English village of Wall has happy-go-lucky Tristan (Charlie Cox) hopelessly in love with vain & selfish Victoria (Sienna Miller), who’s in love with snobby Humphrey (Henry Cavill). To prove his love, Tristan will cross the “uncrossable” stone wall (it’s only 6ft tall!) and find a fallen star they saw.

But little does he know that the ‘fallen star’ (Claire Danes) is actually a person! Meanwhile, Queen of the witches, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), and her two sisters have been languishing away until they hear of the Star, who can restore their old age, health, and beauty. Lamia sets out on a journey to find the Star, kill her, and then eat her heart! Ouch! She doesn’t know that Tristan has already found her first, kidnapped her, and wants to use her as a ‘gift’ for his wanna-be girlfriend back home. The Star (or Yvaine) is none-too-keen on this idea, but has no choice as Tristan has her bound by a magical chain.

THEN there’s the brothers seven from the kingdom of Stormhold. Their kingly father (Peter O’Toole in a brief cameo) has died, leaving the throne up for grabs to the reaming four. Their comical habit of murdering each other to get the crown is straight out of Game of Thrones and soon the remaining two, Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng), are on the mad search for the Ruby jewel, the holder of which is the true heir to the throne. While this is happening, the deceased ghostly brothers look on and kibbutz. Got all that? Good!

Oh, there’s also Robert DeNiro as a flamboyant cross-dressing air pirate that collects lighting for sale along with his motley crew of pirates, Ricky Gervais as an ad-libbing merchant, and Mark Williams (aka Mr. Weasley) as a goat-man. There’s plenty more story to unpack as I left out quite alot in this review, but suffice to say, there are chases galore, magical fights, sword play with a corpse (pretty cool scene), and the requisite happy ending.

Besides a stellar cast and a fantastic script by Vaughn & Goldman, this movie is NOT one of those cheap, low-budget fantasy movies you see in the Walmart $5 DVD bins. It’s fun, slick, has high production values, a witty and engaging story that is so good, you wonder why you never heard of it. Do yourself a favor and rent/stream it, you’ll be glad you did!

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