I didn’t love Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. I mean, it’s fine and it kept me sufficiently entertained for a couple of hours but I shouldn’t imagine I’ll ever watch it again. It is currently sitting at number fifty on my films of the year list, just ahead of Pokémon Detective Pikachu.
In fact there’s a bit of a themed double bill there because just as with Detective Pikachu, my opinion on the film doesn’t actually matter. I am so far from being the target audience that my personal perspective is pretty much irrelevant here. Wait though because while I may not be able to judge this movie through the eyes a ten year old girl, what I can do is judge it through the eyes of a father of a ten year old girl and this might just give me a valid voice.
Approaching this Maleficent sequel from this angle does change things because it tells a very female focused story and for this I have to applaud it. What’s more that story is not all about fairies and princess and flowers in your hair (although it involves all of those things), it focuses instead on war and justice and heroics and things that a few years ago would have largely been the domain of so called ‘boy’s films’. Of course the first Angelina Jolie Maleficent movie also centred around the famous witch fairy and her obsession with the girl next door but this time other central characters are also played by women. It feels significant that, unlike its predecessor, this is not a tale of a women fighting back against fearful and selfish masculinity. In this case the bad guy is a lady too.
There is something exciting about seeing Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer leading great armies against one another, completely oblivious to any gender conventions (at least in the context of the story). There are men involved but they are lead by the women and are totally respectful of their positions of authority, again without gender being an issue. This is great for my preteen daughter to see on screen and great that the importance of this totally passed her by. This wasn’t feminism working hard to redress any balances so much as it was just equality playing out as it ideally should, plain and simple. It also worth noting that both of these women are over forty, which isn’t what you normally see in the headlining cast of fantasy adventure films. Also, while we are talking about challenging tropes, unlike The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Huntsman: Winter War, Into the Woods, Mirror Mirror, Stardust, Oz the Great and Powerful and many many other movies, here the witch is not the villain. There are no absolutely stereotypes here and that, more than Elle Fanning’s Aurora, is a thing of true beauty for all to behold. While none of this is demonstrably feminist though, it is a nice touch that the one character who is magically put to sleep this time is a man.
The film also tackles prejudice and lies, demonisation of under represented groups and fear mongering for political advantage but now I’m drifting back toward what this middle aged guy saw in the film. If I was to raise one disappointment then there is still a part of me that would have liked to have seen Angelina going full bad ass in this role like the character in the 1959 animation she is based on. I mean can you imagine her going full Episode IV Vader? That would just be superb. None of this is for me though so I’m ultimately glad they’ve not given me what I wanted (even if the title kind of promised it). This film is for the kids, both girls and boys, and they have given that audience precisely what they needed.