Angelina Jolie in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Photo: Disney)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Joachim Rønning
STARS Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning

The biggest flaw that affected 2014’s underrated smash Maleficent is compounded in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, a reasonably agreeable sequel that again finds Angelina Jolie essaying the role of Sleeping Beauty’s misunderstood villainess.

Picking up five years after the events of the first film, this one begins with Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, replacing a committed-elsewhere Brenton Thwaites in the role) finally ready to pop the question to Aurora (Elle Fanning), who, with Maleficent’s blessing, has been serving as Queen of the Moors. As Aurora’s mother figure, Maleficent isn’t thrilled that this union will bring her into closer contact with dreaded humans, but she gamely goes along for her goddaughter’s sake. That is, until Philip’s mom, the evil Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), sets into motion a plot that eventually leads to war between the humans and the fantastical creatures that live under Maleficent’s protection in the neighboring forest.

In the original film, Jolie proved to be such a captivating presence that the film lost much of its energy when the action focused on other characters. In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, she’s shunted off to the sidelines with even greater frequency, which turns out to be a miscalculation since her proxies are generally the boring royals or the more annoying of the woodland critters. Equally as detrimental is the decision to add a clumsy backstory to the origins of Maleficent, revealing how she comes from a near-extinct tribe of so-called Dark Feys. Granted, it’s not nearly as daft as Highlander II: The Quickening attempting to turn the Immortals into extra-terrestrial beings, but it’s almost as unnecessary.

Still, director Joachim Rønning, taking a step up from the dreary Pirates of the Caribbean entry Dead Men Tell No Tales, does a better job here of orchestrating the swirling plotlines and robust action interludes, and Sam Riley again scores in the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s right-hand crow-cum-man.

This Maleficent might be far from magnificent, but as a fractured fairy tale, it mostly gets the job done.

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