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Non-Review Review: Maleficent – Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil might be the worst wide release of 2019, which is no small accomplishment in a year that produced Welcome to Marwen, Life Itself and Hellboy.

To be fair, the film’s starting point is decidedly eccentric. There is an argument to be made that the original Maleficent helped to kick start Disney’s live action remake renaissance, alongside the greater success of Alice in Wonderland. While the film didn’t quite do Aladdin or The Lion King numbers, it earned a hefty three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars at the global box office. It isn’t a surprise that it got a sequel. It is a surprise that the sequel took half-a-decade to materialise, to the point that Disney’s live action cinematic slate has already moved well beyond this villain-centric reimagining.

She’s really glowing lately.

Even allowing for the five year gap, Mistress of Evil is a staggeringly tone-deaf piece of work. The original Maleficent was a very clumsy piece of allegory, but an ambitious one. Obviously drawing from the same basic revisionist approach as Wicked or Oz: The Great and Powerful, the film attempted to offer an empathic and compassionate approach to one of the great villains of the Disney canon. The film depicted Maleficent as the victim of assault and shaming, a target of a patriarchal smear campaign.

Unfortunately, despite nods at subverting conventional gender narratives, Maleficent doubled down on them. Instead of allowing its title character her own strength and independence, Maleficent insisted on redeeming the character through the narrative of motherhood. This was decidedly uncomfortable, the obvious insinuation being that the only way for a woman to recover from such a brutal assault was through embracing conventional gender roles. Still, as misguided and clunky as the execution was, it was interesting to see a family-focused blockbuster story grappling with these sorts of big ideas.

“I’m Batman.”

Mistress of Evil somehow finds a way to double-down on the misguided clunkiness while also stripping out anything resembling an interesting or engaging social commentary. Almost everything about the movie is horrendously and grotesquely misjudged. Mistress of Evil is a frankly inexplicable hybrid of groan-worthy fifties domestic sitcom and pained allegory about the folly of resistance even when being herded into gas chambers. That isn’t even a “read” of the film, it’s “what is literally depicted on screen.”

The result is one of the most ill-judged blockbusters of the past twenty years.


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