Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) — A lackluster story saved by Jolie and CGI

Reviewed by Priyanka Minj

Director: Joachim Rønning

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson

Story: When Princess Aurora accepts the marriage proposal of Prince Phillip, she unknowingly opens the door for the dark forces that want to destroy the moors and its mystical inhabitants.

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Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a sequel to the 2014 dark fantasy movie Maleficent. The original film was a reimagining of the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty and Disney’s own animated film Sleeping Beauty (1959). The film told the classic tale from the viewpoint of a fairy who puts a curse on a child to sleep forever only to be awakened by true love. While the first Maleficent movie, even though it brokered with our patience, made sense, but the second movie is more about spectacle than storytelling. The first movie showed us that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. But she was not just scorned, her wings were stolen from her too. Probably that was the reason why Maleficent did what she did, and that she might not be evil after all — despite putting a curse on the baby, she learned to love and care for her.

The second story in the hands of Joachim Ronning expands on the previous premise. From the beginning, it’s made very clear that this is not a fairytale. It seems Disney along with us has finally grown out of its own delusion of beautiful sunsets and happily ever afters; that this might be a world where “love does not end well”, a warning from Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) to Aurora (Elle Fanning).

Aurora is now the queen of the moors. Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) of Ulstead confesses his true love and proposes marriage to Aurora, who happily accepts his proposal. This happy news does not go down well with Maleficent. She already feels cornered not only because she does not want to lose Aurora but also because her past experience has made her lose her faith in love, and she believes that Aurora is making a huge mistake.

Despite her misgivings, she agrees to meet Aurora’s future in-laws King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). Reluctantly, she visits the castle of Ulstead, but it turns out to be a disaster from the get-go. Maleficent finally meets her worthy opponent in Queen Ingrith, who indirectly humiliates her and tells her that she will keep Aurora as she believes that it is against Maleficent’s nature to be a mother. This forces her to unleash her wrath and from there, things spiral downwards and drowns only to be saved by an unexpected ally who takes her back to her roots.

The story delves deeper into the fantasy world. It is engaging, but it does not justify the return of all the characters. Even though it was considered to be a much-awaited sequel, it just delivers your usual fare of good versus evil and the triumph of good over evil. This time, it is also less joyful, which seems to be missing altogether, and it is all about war. Pfeiffer’s character Ingrith says that human beings are far more complicated and unpredictable than anything else, and Disney seems to have made everything complicated without any reason. There is conflict but no cause for it. Just a vague reason of humans’ greed for power. Maybe it is the reflection of our times and everything that has happened before ours. You don’t need a specific reason to destroy someone’s life and snatch everything away from them — greed sums it up.

Even Elle Fanning’s Aurora has not much to do except be a helpless bystander. She manages to steal a few scenes here and there, but overall she fails to make her presence felt. As for Harris Dickinson’s Prince Phillip, he is just a good-looking Ken with a wooden expression and always the last one to figure out what is happening in the castle. Together, Phillip and Aurora are rendered blindingly fair (it hurt my 3D vision) and insipid like a lukewarm soup without salt!

The best part about the movie is its eye-popping visuals, classic build-up establishing heroes and the villains, a bounty of colorful and magical creatures and a CGI-laden climactic battle sequence. But, the crowning glory of the movie is Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent. Her horns are beautiful and almost a phallic symbol of potency. It’s a shame that Aurora asks her to cover her horns as she is uncomfortable with her non-binary body. Whatever screen time she gets, she holds it with aplomb, overshadowing everything and everyone. You cannot move your eyes away from her, such is the power of her screen presence. It is disappointing that such a majestic and magnetic character, for the most part, was made to be the spectator of the story.

Despite its flaws, the movie mostly works because of Jolie’s performance, visual effects and the tried and tested Disney formula. In the end, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil took a brilliant character and did justice to it for the most part, if not entirely. The two Maleficent movies have transformed the story of Sleeping Beauty and the character of Maleficent forever and largely for the better, with a message that “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters who you love.”

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Ready Or Not (2019) — Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

READY OR NOT

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny
Screenplay: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy

After Hobbs and Shaw (2019) confirmed that even spin-offs of mega franchises are not allowed to venture outside the tradition of upholding the sanctity of friendship and familial bonds — given that studio franchises themselves are more or less representative of the traditional family (the MCU comes to mind, obviously) — we may have to look elsewhere to seek stories in which suffocating family traditions and structures are dismantled while taking a jab at the vices of capitalism. A hard-to-find combination, you say. Well, you are in luck as Ready Or Not does exactly that.

The Le Domas family has built its fortune selling card games (and eventually bloated into a sports giant that owns four professional teams), thanks to a mysterious benefactor called Mr. Le Bail, who had bailed one of the ancestors of the family out of hardship. Hence, to acknowledge the family’s good fortune and honor Mr. Le Bail, the Le Domas had started the tradition of making the in-coming bride or groom play a random game, as a rite of passage to becoming one with the family, on the night of their marriage when they would rather be playing games that do not require more than two participants, usually.

Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien), the estranged scion of the Le Domas, are to be married. A girl who has grown up in foster homes, Grace is at once excited and nervous at the prospect of finally being part of a family. But she fears her new family might dislike her for the lack of “enough blue blood” in her. Her fear comes true at midnight when she picks up a card that reads hide and seek, a seemingly harmless game at first, but which to Grace’s horror turns from a minor quirk of her in-laws to something sadistic and diabolical.

Although Grace is the protagonist, who has to survive this night of unhinged violence, the writers of the movie assign her an additional purpose: her character is used as a device to introduce the audience to and explore the world of the Le Domas, for the movie is as much about Grace’s fight for survival as it is about the dysfunctional family that the Le Domases are.

The script manages to strike the right balance between the protagonist (who grows from a girl who lets out a nervous giggle early on at words of encouragement from her mother-in-law to a survivor who despite being shot, stabbed, strangled does everything she can to cling to dear life and kicks some ass along the way) and the Le Domases who despite being a bunch of murderous caricatures of the privileged class nevertheless, on quite a few occasions, let a spark of pathos flit across their eyes. While this trace of pathos is prominent in Alex’s mother (Andie MacDowell) and profound in its absence in Alex’s aunt (Nicky Guadagni), none of it is enough to redeem them, except Alex’s elder brother (Adam Brody), who is torn between family traditions and doing the right thing. His is the most fleshed-out character in the movie, or at least, one that has the most realized character arc.

The movie may at times feel like it could have done better with sharper dialogues or some visual wit, but the gags (relying mostly on violent acts and the characters’ reaction to it) keep coming and the audience keeps chuckling and gasping, often in succession.

Where Ready Or Not really scores is its tight script, great performances (Samara Weaving captures her characters manifold emotions with authority, giving us a wholesome character), even pacing and assured direction which shows in the handling of multiple layers of storytelling and social commentary. My favorite of which is how the directors have managed to marry capitalism with family traditions, with the members of the family existing safe and secure as in a conglomerate as long as they are willing to give up their freedom and guarding the family against outsiders with traditions that are at once patriarchal, pompous, irrelevant and designed (even in its randomness) to keep out the ones who could be a threat to the company, someone who would not sell their soul easily.

Please let me know your thoughts on Ready Or Not in the comments below.

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