Sadly, the sequel to a movie which radically reinvented Sleeping Beauty is a bit of a snooze. The first film was a major box office hit and a breath of fresh air in 2014 which kick-started the Disney live-action tidal wave and remains one of the best of the bunch to this day. The follow-up has had plenty of time to build on that success and explore the idea of slyly revisionist fairy tales. Disappointingly, it falls short of the original, despite the best efforts of Jolie and a powerhouse cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley and Elle Fanning.
The movie picks up five years on, with Aurora esconsed as Queen of the Moors and still dating drippy Prince Phillip, while Maleficent and her cheekbones brood from afar.
Trouble comes in the form of Philip’s mother, Pfeiffer’s scenery-chewing Queen Ingrith, who hated fairies and covets their lands and resources. Watching Pfeiffer and Jolie face-off is obviously a joy, but the script is underwritten throughout and misses a golden opportunity to have real fun.
Riley, at least, manages to find some personality in his upstart crow Diaval, particularly in all-too-brief moments with Maleficent where the film comes awake.
The entire plot hinges on one of those convoluted misunderstandings which start a feud but are a transparent plot device to get the film where it needs to go. Why are Maleficent and Fanning’s eternally, relentlessly wide-eyed Aurora so easily divided once more by an awkward dinner party, despite everything they went through in the first film? It rings false and flat.
Either way, the scene is set for a massive battle between mean, greedy, bigotted humans and sweet fairies. Luckily, an added edgier dimension is woven in with the introduction of the Dark Fae.
Maleficent discovers she is not alone, there are hordes of winged and horned creatures just like her, living in hiding. This gives an opportunity for some spectacular visual marvels and magnificent work from the visual effects, costume and make-up departments as we explore a spellbinding new world.
Ejiofor does his default rolling Shakespearean schtick as their peace-seeking leader Connall while Ed Skrein actually brings some edge and dynamism to the angry and vengeful Borra, who wants to take the fight back to the humans.
It is by far the most interesting part of the film but Maleficent is strangely passive and silent throughout, no questions or even facial expressions for sights that have changed her understanding of her entire world. Surely she wants to know more? The audience certainly does. Again, the fault lies with a badly underwritten and underdeveloped script.
It all builds to a climactic battle which has to necessarily pull punches since this is a family film but also has moments which are a tad dark and distressing for younger viewers.
The low point is a ludicrous scene in the church where poisonous red dust is ejected into the air every time a particular key is hit on the organ. Why would someone as ruthless as Igrith or her psychotic sidekick Gerda (a marvellously deranged Jenn Murray) bother with something so inefficient and plain silly? It completely undermines the potentially devastating sacrifice of one of the characters and sums up a film and script which can not decide on tone or intention.
Throughout, there are tantalising glimpses of what it might have been. It delivers spectacle but little real story. It may be enough for family outings, but is a major disappointment, considering the wealth of talent involved.
The spinning wheel and its deadly spindle make a reappearance but only serve to highlight how this underwhelming sequel is a bit of a yawn.
MALEFICENT MISTRESS OF EVIL IS OUT ON OCTOBER 18