While that class seems like more than enough fodder for one film, Mistress of Evil adds another mythical kingdom to the mix. As Aurora attempts to fit in with Phillip’s family, Maleficent discovers her heritage as a “dark fae,” a race of fairies who went into hiding after being hunted nearly to extinction. That retcon helps explain why Maleficent looks so different from the rest of the Moors’ cutesy magical CGI creatures, although the film dodges explaining why she wasn’t raised among the dark fae, and how she got to the Moors in the first place.
Like FernGully and Avatar, Mistress of Evil uses its fantastical race of creatures to contrast the beauty of nature against the cold brutality of humanity. The dark fae evolved to live in different climates, and they range from sand-colored desert dwellers to jungle fae with rainbow-hued macaw-esque wings. Now, however, they all reside in a nest-like haven high up in the mountains. Though Norwegian director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) is still beholden to some of the worst designs from Robert Stromberg’s 2014 film — including Aurora’s plasticized trio of comic-relief fairy aunts — he adds welcome tangibility to his new locales. That includes making clever use of both horizontal and vertical space in the dark fae’s impressively cavernous home.
Plot-wise, that’s just scratching the surface of a film that’s packed to the gills with subplots, including a small role for fantasy-film stalwart Warwick Davis. The biggest problem with Mistress of Evil is that it lacks a center to hold all of its intriguing ideas and images together. Because the film doesn’t want to walk back Maleficent’s anti-heroine charms or commit to making her a full-on villain, she winds up as a curiously passive figure. Jolie is just as fantastic as she was in the first film, but Maleficent spends far too much time watching two fae leaders — bellicose Borra (Ed Skrein) and diplomatic Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) — debate the merits of war and peace without contributing anything to the conflict herself.