Film Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG), 6.5/10
Love conquers fear and intolerance twice upon a time in director Joachim Ronning's fantastical sequel based on characters from Disney's 1959 animation Sleeping Beauty and Charles Perrault's fairy tale La Belle Au Bois Dormant.
Stuffed to the seams with digitally rendered creatures, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is slow-cooked to the same family friendly recipe as the first film and underscores the empowerment of female characters in breathlessly staged action sequences.
Women resolutely hold sway in a script co-written by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, which spares no expense with lavish spectacle but is thrifty with character development and plot twists.
Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the winged warrior reborn by motherly love.
She's more reactive and less imposing in the sequel but snags a few deliciously droll one-liners like when Maleficent is greeted by a baying mob of weaponised townsfolk and cackles, 'Pitchforks? Humans are hilarious.'
Special effects overload, the scourge of modern blockbusters, impacts the final 30 minutes and dilutes the impact of pivotal scenes of self-sacrifice and devotion.
The heart-warming redemption of dark fairy Maleficent (Jolie) has been lost to the sands of time.
Once again, she is the shadowy villain of nervously whispered legends in the human world.
Magical creatures continue to live in harmony on the Moors, where Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) blossoms in her role as queen of the enchanted realm with guidance from adopted mother Maleficent and shape-shifting henchman Diaval (Sam Riley).
Aurora's sweetheart Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) goes down on bent knee and the princess accepts his proposal.
Their union promises to bridge the divide between the Moors and humankind.
Philip's parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), invite Aurora, Maleficent and Diaval to their castle to celebrate the engagement.
Maleficent is reluctant to accept.
'Why on earth would I go?' she scoffs.
'Because his mother wishes to meet mine,' sweetly counters Aurora.
The two tribes declare an uneasy truce over the dinner table till a member of the royal household falls victim to Maleficent's sleeping curse.
Aurora's allegiances are tested as Queen Ingrith declares war on the fairy folk and raises an army led by captain of the royal guards, Percival (David Gyasi).
Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is an impressively staged but emotionally lightweight second chapter in Aurora's coming of age, which introduces us to a hidden kingdom of dark fairies reminiscent of Pandora in Avatar.
Fanning radiates sweetness while Pfeiffer looks lustrous as she slinks through a narrative laden with predictable betrayals and hard-fought absolution.
Riley and Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites as Aurora's strapping love interest, are largely surplus to requirements as Ronning seeks a well-trodden path to the fabled land of happy ever afters.