An overstuffed follow-up to 2014’s skilful Sleeping Beauty’ spin-off ‘Maleficent’, Joachim Rønning’s (‘Kon-Tiki’) sequel finds one worthy reason to exist in Michelle Pfeiffer’s wicked Queen Ingrith. As the nemesis to Angelina Jolie’s red-lipped siren, Pfeiffer gives us exactly what we want: the venomous Catwoman attitude she brought to ‘Mother!’. Intimidating in costume designer Ellen Mirojnick’s pearl-encrusted threads, Pfeiffer strides into character – her Ingrith plots to overtake the realm, poisoning the familial bond between its young queen, Aurora (a graceful Elle Fanning), and her misunderstood godmother, Maleficent (Jolie, glamorous and imposing). Will Ingrith’s villainy destroy the duo’s love, which the first film so thoughtfully built?
Even if you have an idea how that question gets answered, Pfeiffer’s deceitful empress (with flower allergies) keeps things entertaining enough. The rest of the package isn’t as inspired, despite Patrick Tatopoulos’s fanciful production design that recalls a lesser ‘Avatar’, and all the cute, flickering things hovering around. A smitten Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), engaged to Aurora, sometimes downgrades the otherwise central Maleficent from feared potentate to anxious empty-nester. There’s also an underground clan of creatures that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor’s horned Conall, living in hiding from human threat.
It all leads to a noisy finale that wears out its welcome. (You’ll crave more of the quieter battle from an earlier dinner scene, where Pfeiffer and Jolie feud as prospective in-laws.) The mythical dimension feels undernourished this time: it flirts with ideas about power and identity, but can’t approach the previous movie’s sophisticated metaphor for sexual assault, expressed through a pair of stolen wings. Still, a romantic wedding has enough star clout to electrify entire kingdoms. It’s bewitching stuff when it doesn’t feel like a waste of invitations.