Those of us hailing from the subcontinent adhering to the “desi” archetype will find a very familiar, if not relatable, plot theme in Maleficent 2.
The story picks up from the prequel with Princess Aurora (portrayed by Elle Fanning) now struggling with the routines of ruling over the Moors – adjacent lands beyond the natural borders of the Kingdom of Ulstead, inhabited by enchanted creatures including fairies, pixies and talking trees (reminiscent of the Ents from LOTR). There is a “border skirmishes” sub-plot, which takes a backseat till the climax, but we’ll come back to that later.
As Aurora is coming of age, she receives a marriage proposal from Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) in an admittedly heartwarming scene. An ominous change of pace immediately follows with an awesome entry by Angelina Jolie, reprising her role as the horned dark Fae, taking the proverbial leap of faith in a Harry’s-Buckbeak-Meets-Avatar’s-Ikran CGI flight sequence.
Naturally, the sorceress is apprehensive of this union between the human prince and her goddaughter. At this point, one wonders if putting Aurora under that curse from the original Sleeping Beauty story was just a manifestation of the “wicked witch” being possessive. But we digress.
Enter phase 2 of the plot and we are introduced to the groom’s family and friends with Michelle Pfeiffer taking over the screen as Queen Ingrith, Robert Lindsay as the Allah-Myaan-Ki-Gaayen King John, David Gyasi playing the loyal yet morally bankrupt soldier-friend Percival and Jenn Murray as Gerda (who you immediately want to punch in the face). Predictably enough, the meet-the-parents dinner is a disaster, thanks to Queen Ingrith, played by Pfeiffer, who delivers a convincing performance as the aforementioned saasu-maa archetype. With her taunts and conniving tone, she earns her place alongside “evil mother” legends such as those portrayed by Aruna Irani in Beta and more recently by Uzma Gillani in Kaisa Hai Naseeban. Add the “judas daughter” element into the mix (with Aurora being all goo-goo eyed and siding with Queen Ingrith when she should’ve known better) and you have the perfect recipe for Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki.
Up until this stage, the audience is confused as to whether this movie is a family drama or a fairytale, but there is evidence that the writers did put some effort into this project with the introduction of the dark Fae subplot and backstory. Going into phase 3, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein are to be commended for their performances as Conall and Borra respectively and Joachim Rønning did a superb job alluding to recognizable themes of the fallen angel and how humans pay little heed to nature and drive local populations to near-extinction.
The plot noticeably loses pace here; the weak character and narrative buildup and the unremarkable music are apparent. The queen is busy displaying a textbook rendition of how the desire for power overtakes familial sensitivities (another element in the movie theme), Maleficent has sort of gone to Degobah to discover her own heritage while Aurora plays detective, unearthing the queen’s schemes one by one. A reckoning waits for war-mongering humans of Ulstead while the cruel mother-in-law continues plotting by cursing her husband and inviting all the fairy-folk to the wedding (do you remember the Red Wedding from GoT)? You can now add Warwick Davis (playing Lickspittle) to the list of people you are aching to see impaled!
The intense CGI battle fails to make up for the gradual let down that is Maleficent 2. All the male characters are inconsequential – a nod to the patriarchy as we know it – the titular character is played out to be a mushy victim of unfortunate events, the cunning mother-in-law herself is motivated by a childhood trauma while the Princess is a prodigal child. It’s a safe bet that Charles Perrault would’ve been disappointed just as we are wary of the all-too-familiar nuances.
The ending seemed out of place too and one wonders if the masterminds behind this story suffered from short attention spans as well as the characters.
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