Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Gemini Man” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Given that Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) turned out to be the savior of the day in the 2014 “Maleficent,” one should be forgiven for scratching one’s head as to how and why the horn-headed dark fae with the high cheekbones is back to being the baddie. It has something to do with the queen of a neighboring kingdom, Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), spreading fake news about Maleficent’s heroism and turning her into the villain of the story. Hey, sequels need reasons to exist.

One of the reasons a sequel should exist is to expand upon and continue the narrative from the previous story. This is exactly what “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” accomplishes, though there are some bumps in the road plot-wise.

The story picks up five years after the events of the first “Maleficent” movie, and we see Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) all grown up and in charge of an enchanted woodland called the Moors. It’s a magical place where mythical creatures roam free, flying, walking, swimming, or crawling in a beautiful, peaceful, pastoral landscape. It’s a dream sprung to life, and looks as good as it should, given that this is a Disney production.

Young Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) of the neighboring human kingdom of Ulsted is all grown up too. He wants to see the Moors and Ulsted put their differences and their fighting in the past and live in unity and cooperation with each other. More than that, he wants to seal the deal by marrying Aurora. She says yes. Philip’s father King John (Robert Lindsay), who also wants peace and harmony, is thrilled with the news. The mothers on either side—Ingrith and Maleficent—are less thrilled.

In actuality, Ingrith is several steps beyond displeased. She’s a war monger who has a secret manufacturing plant in which she’s creating weapons to destroy the woodland creatures of the Moors. She doesn’t want to live in harmony with them like her son and husband—she wants to wipe them all out and annex the land for Ulsted. Her plan to achieve this goal is deceptive, cunning, and devious, and no one better get in her way.

So there you have it. The one time—literal one time—that an actual mother is in a Disney story (not a godmother or a stepmother, but a true biological mother), and she is one of the most horrendous villains they’ve ever put on screen. She approached Joffrey in “Game of Thrones” levels of revulsion in me to the extent that I couldn’t stand her because she’s so awful, and frankly she got off easy at the end. Speaking of “Game of Thrones,” there’s a sequence in this movie that no doubt—but perhaps subconsciously—was inspired by the Red Wedding. You’ll know it when you see it.

However, as director Alfred Hitchcock so famously and correctly pointed out: The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” certainly nails the successful villain, perhaps a bit too well. But sprinkle in some Disney magic as well as a playful and imaginative feast for the eyes using a seamless blend of creative sets, practical props, and CGI, and it’s exactly the escapist fantasy entertainment Disney excels at giving us time after time. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Gemini Man

What is the biggest cinematic crime committed by “Gemini Man”? Is it the couple of action scenes in the beginning that are cut short? Is it that our hero Henry Brogan (Will Smith) has a CGI doppleganger named Junior (Smith again) that for the most part looks good but every once in a while slips into the uncanny valley, especially in low light? Is it that Junior moves like a weightless, elastic video game character during chase scenes? Is it the conveniently placed dirt bikes during the dirt bike chase scene that reeks of lazy writing? Is it that a major plot event that should have caused major inconvenience and set back was glossed over and resolved as if it might as well never have happened? Is it the extremely tired, worn out, and outright stupid trope of supposedly well-trained gunfighters going down like paper targets while our heroes stroll around in the open because everyone is an expert marksman unless someone important to the plot is in their sights? Is it the half-baked philosophy of villain Clay Varris (Clive Owen)?

All of these are bad, to be sure, with a special call back to the video game-like movement. The fakeness and absurdity of it were a real distraction that removed me from the movie entirely. But for me, the biggest crime of “Gemini Man” is that it made me not like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Brogan’s sidekick Danny Zakarweski. Or should I say, I didn’t like her character—I still like the actress. (Sidenote: If you’ve never seen a 2014 movie she is in called “Faults,” stop reading now, go watch it, then come back.) There was just something grating about her character. I couldn’t put my finger on it until a scene in which Junior literally put tape over her mouth to quiet her down. Then it hit me: Winstead is to “Gemini Man” what Joe Pesci was to the “Lethal Weapon” sequels. And much like Joe Pesci, Winstead deserves better. For that matter, so do we. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Jexi,” a comedy about what can happen when you love your phone more than anything else in your life, starring Rose Byrne, Adam DeVine, and Michael Peña; “Line of Duty,” about a disgraced cop looking for redemption by rescuing the police chief’s kidnapped 11-year-old daughter, starring Aaron Eckhart, Courtney Eaton, Jessica Lu, Dina Meyer, Ben McKenzie and Giancarlo Esposito; “Running with the Devil,” about an international drug kingpin who sends two of his most highly regarded assassins to investigate why shipments are being hijacked and over cut, starring Nicolas Cage, Cole Hauser, Leslie Bibb, Peter Facinelli, Laurence Fishburne, and Barry Pepper; and “Iron Sky: The Coming Race,” sequel to the 2012 movie that adds hollow Earth to the Nazi moon base story, starring  Lara Rossi, Vladimir Burlakov, Kit Dale, and Tom Green.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.