The movie built around the Oscar-winning actress takes some scathing critical hits, however.

By Joey Nolfi
October 15, 2019 at 11:37 AM EDT
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Beloved Disney villain Maleficent is back on the big screen via Angelina Jolie, and initial critical reaction is darker than the iconic anti-hero’s cold heart.

Though critics have largely praised Jolie’s first live-action turn on the big screen since 2015’s By the Sea, the film built around her — a sequel to the 2014 smash that made $758 million globally — has taken a hit from film journalists, most of whom have lambasted Maleficent: Mistress of Evil‘s muddled plot and overly artificial visuals.

“[The film] mostly registers as a series of elaborate fauna-drenched screensavers stretched to fit across two hours of vague Disney myth,” EW’s Leah Greenblatt writes of the Joachim Rønning-directed blockbuster, which pits Jolie against Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith, whose son intends to marry Maleficent’s goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), in a union that stokes deep-seated rivalries. “For kids maybe this is still magical; grownups, though, will waste many long, busily bedazzled minutes wondering why the powers that were able to bring Pfeiffer and Jolie together on screen couldn’t do at least marginally better by them both, and give them parts to truly sink their movie-star teeth into.”

Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang calls the film (written by returning scribe Linda Woolverton and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood co-writers Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue) an “enjoyably deranged” continuation of the first movie thanks to Jolie’s commitment to the character’s grim quirks, though he ultimately notes the “flat dialogue, overblown battles, and cloying CGI critters” weigh down the film’s merits, while IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn adds that Jolie’s natural charm adds so much “delicious flamboyance to this striking villainess that she outshines the latest heavy-handed Disney refashioning” before quipping that “only the world’s biggest movie star could upstage her own movie with each fearsome scowl.”

Writing for Empire, Helen O’Hara has a more positive take on the project, lightly critiquing the film’s complicated narrative about warring races putting in “a lot of work for a film that should really be for kids,” though it’s saved by its leads’ performances that build “to a genuinely epic conclusion.”

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville — opens Friday in theaters. Read on for more reviews.

Leah Greenblatt (EW)
“If Maleficent didn’t already exist, we may have had to invent her for Angelina Jolie. That’s how supremely suited the actress — with her cut-crystal cheekbones and soul-scorching stare — is to the role. Though her dark queen may be the one with the horns and the teeth and the bat-black wings, beneath the barbed Morticia Addams wit she’s only lonely, and misunderstood. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil‘s script, sadly, is another story. Or not much of a story at all really: Instead, it mostly registers as a series of elaborate fauna-drenched screensavers stretched to fit across two hours of vague Disney myth. That myth may have paid well enough to merit a sequel to the 2014 original, but in a world where Wicked is still a Broadway smash more than 15 years on and Joker soft-shoes all over the box officeMistress feels like an oddly enervating entry in the antihero canon.”

Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times)
“If Maleficent struck a valiant but imperfect blow for multiplex feminism, its box-office victory was a lot more decisive. Like most sequels that exist for chiefly commercial reasons, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil isn’t a great movie; with its flat dialogue, overblown battles and cloying CGI critters, it’s not even a particularly good one…. But it’s also not without its pleasures. You don’t cast Michelle Pfeiffer as a scheming, crossbow-wielding queen without getting a lot of grade-A glower for your money. And it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer derangement of the plot that Ingrith has concocted, which is so cruel and so elaborate — let’s just say it involves a familiar spinning wheel, a deadly pipe organ and biochemical weapons — as to make even the original Maleficent’s machinations in Sleeping Beauty look tame by comparison.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)
“With Maleficent no longer the villain of her own tale, this mistitled sequel reduces the character to a stylish pawn in a tacky Game of Thrones ripoff…. The Maleficent fashion show is in order, and Jolie shows up at her vampiest extreme to purse her lips, flash her fangs and arch her eyebrows as only a living cartoon character can. Pfeiffer’s doing her best with a ridiculous role (for a sense of the missed potential, compare with the vain sorceress she played in Stardust), and Fanning gets to be a bit more proactive than previous princesses, but the story’s still a mess, and the world itself — buildings, costumes and creature-filled environments alike — amounts to an overworked eyesore, much too detailed for the brain to register, let alone take pleasure in discovering.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
Ultimately, Jolie makes sure she does get her big moments with a character that remains intriguing for the ambiguity of her position in the world; is she a heroine or an opportunistic quasi-villain, a malcontent prepared to align with anyone who can serve her purposes? Has she gone over to the other side, or does she always hedge her bets while awaiting an opening? Or is she simply a deeply wounded individual, coping as best she can with the uniquely weird hand fate has dealt her? Of course, in this sort of film, its makers are not obliged to address such questions; in fact, they must not, lest they bust the boundaries of their wide-audience franchise. Norwegian director Joachim Ronning, now split from his creative partner Espen Sandberg, with whom he made Kon-Tiki and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, pushes the mandatory buttons to achieve the desired results, nothing more or less.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“Angelina Jolie has been in far better movies than the Maleficent franchise, but they provide an unparalleled platform for her appeal. The same birdlike monstrosity of the first entry, cloaked in feathery gothic opulence and angular sub-human cheekbones, careens through Maleficent: Mistress of Evil with the spirit of German Expressionism beating her wings. There’s such delicious flamboyance to this striking villainess that she outshines the latest heavy-handed Disney refashioning of the Sleeping Beauty story all over again. Only the world’s biggest movie star could upstage her own movie with each fearsome scowl.”

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“The main problem is that the film gradually collapses, as if in a sort of storytelling entropy, into a final battle – like an awful lot of MCU movies. What began as a visceral contest of personalities, with actors given interesting or funny things to say or do, becomes a big CGI warfare scene: a clash of digitally created armies making for a big ho-hum spectacle. Jolie’s character is also less interesting this time around: the digitisation of her face, with its Max-Headroom-type flat cheekbones, further flattens her performance. This Maleficent is disappointing, although Jolie certainly sells it hard, as does Fanning, who takes it as seriously as anything else in her career.”

Helen O’Hara (Empire)
“The first Maleficent was a magnificently designed, too-densely plotted piece of fairy-tale revisionism, one that — just about — managed to redeem a character who cursed an infant. The good news is that this sequel has a better bad guy, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith, who gives us a gloriously hateable rival to balance Jolie’s imperious anti-heroine. There’s still a lot of work for a film that should really be for kids, but at least this builds to a genuinely epic conclusion.”

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