Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil **1/2

The writing and story struggle, but the visual effects are so stunning that the overall experience is enjoyable. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

The writing is lazy, the story is trite and saccharine. And yet, boosted by dazzling visuals and Angelina Jolie’s contained performance, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” somehow works.

After “Maleficent” earned $758 million worldwide in 2014, a sequel was inevitable. The problem the filmmakers had going into the sequel was figuring out what to do with the misunderstood Maleficent (Jolie). By the end of the original, no longer was she the hated villainess who cast a spell on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) that could only be lifted by true love’s kiss. No, she was Aurora’s godmother, and proved to not be so bad after all.

Writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton get around this in “Mistress Of Evil” with voiceover narration that tells us Maleficent is still hated because people only remember the bad things she’s done. This is as lazy as writing can be. To just be told people no longer like her, so she’s essentially back to where she started the first movie, is an insult to the hard-earned money people are paying for this entertainment.

The writing never improves. At one point we see characters enter a castle, hear the music announcing them entering, and moments later still have someone declare “they’re here.” An old rule of screenwriting is that you don’t repeat what can be learned visually; “Mistress Of Evil” disregards that notion to the extreme, and in doing so is yet another example of Disney spoon-feeding the audience every last morsel of obviousness that it can. It’s as if director Joachim Ronning (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) is afraid one member of the audience will be distracted for a split second, and is determined to not let anyone fall behind the notably uncomplicated plot.

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Speaking of which, the story follows Maleficent as she disapproves of Aurora’s impending wedding to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). Phillip’s father, King John (Robert Lindsay), is all for it, as he knows it will unite their kingdoms. Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), doesn’t agree. For what it’s worth, having either Maleficent or Ingrith as a mother in law seems like devastating hell. It plays out in ways even the youthful target audience can predict, except for one crucial moment in which you say “wow, what a gutsy decision that was.” No worries: Moments later, the gutsy decision is undone.

To its credit, the movie sparkles with tremendous visual effects. It is also so infused with color, and fun little creatures such as pixies and fairies, that it feels like the filmmakers went into a candy store and designed characters based on all the colors they found.

Here’s the bottom line: “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” is a PG-rated confection that has a young target demo and plays to that audience without remorse. Admittedly, and with full knowledge of all the griping in this review, I walked out of the theater feeling entertained.

Did you know?
Following the release of “Dumbo,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” this is the fourth live-action adaptation of a Disney animated film released this year.