Well, it looks like this week’s theme is belated sequels. I guess five or ten years after the original movie was released is better late than never.
One is the continuation of a tale that sheds a new light on one of Disney’s most infamous villains, and the other is a lighthearted follow up to a film featuring four friends surviving in a zombie infested wasteland.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”
The years have been kind to Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) since the events of the first film. Their relationship, born of heartbreak, revenge and ultimately love, has flourished. Yet the hatred between man and the fairies still exists.
Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighboring Moors, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. But when an unexpected encounter introduces a powerful new alliance, Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart to opposing sides, testing their loyalties and causing them to question whether they can truly be family.
Here we go again. Disney’s back at it releasing yet another live-action reboot of one of the beloved animated properties.
Hold on though. This one’s a little bit different.
Instead of being a shot-for-shot remake of one of Disney’s animated classics, this film is a sequel to a reimagining of one of Disney’s animated classics.
That’s much better.
Over the past few years I’ve definitely had mixed feelings over Disney’s latest addiction of turning their acclaimed animated library into live-action films.
Quite frankly, I think they’ve done an outright abysmal job for the most part. In fact, out of the over 10 released in the last decade, the only two I would confidently call ‘good’ are “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book.”
Though some of these remakes are better than others, the two I despised the most were “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” And interestly, both films have a couple key things in common.
The first is, both movies are loyal to their animated source material to a fault. Sure, each of them add on a few extra scenes and maybe throw in a new song to pad out the runtime, but for the most part the setting, plot, characters, and story beats are all exactly the same.
And while these live-action reboots might attempt to replicate the originals, often times all the way down to the camera angles and exact dialogue, these films can’t help but just feel like pale lifeless reflections when compared to their animated counterparts.
They just don’t have the same energy, the same spark that brought these iconic films to life.
Sadly, the other thing of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” have in common, is that they’re both the highest grossing of all the Disney’s live-action remakes. Which means this trend of recreating classic animated film shot-for-shot in a live-action setting isn’t dying anytime soon.
This is part of what made “Maleficent” and its sequel compelling to me.
Back in 2014, before the remakes of “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” heck, even before “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella,” Disney was out there willing to take one of their most beloved fairy tales and turn it on its head.
“Maleficent” asks the question, what if the widely known tale of “Sleeping Beauty” was laced with half truths and outright lies?
What if the character of Maleficent wasn’t evil incarnate, but instead was actually a hero in the end? One that was painted in a negative light by historical revisionists with an axe to grind.
It’s a compelling concept. What if a classic, well known tale of good vs. evil was all just a massive smear effort to paint a misunderstood character as the villain?
The first “Maleficent” certainly had its flaws, but after watching it recently I was simply thrilled to see a Disney live-action remake with a little creativity in it. One where the writers looked at the story of “Sleeping Beauty,” and said “hey, let’s do something different with that.”
And, what interested me about the sequel, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” was the promise of furthering this idea.
Years after the events of “Maleficent,” few people remember the actual history, due to a widespread misinformation campaign. Instead they only know Maleficent as an evil and incredibly dangerous fairy. The same one we saw in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”
It seems like an idea with a lot of potential, right? Yeah, I thought so too. That is, until I saw the movie itself.
There’s something very off regarding the tone of “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”
The movie begins with our couple from the first film, Aurora and Phillip, getting engaged, leading to a collection of odd comedy moments revolving around Maleficent. Beginning with Maleficent opposing the marriage and ultimately ending with the dark fey coming over for dinner to meet Phillip’s parents.
In between, we get scenes with Maleficent practicing her greeting to the king and queen, and her learning how to smile without appearing threatening.
These moments came across as incredibly corny to me. Though I must admit, I did enjoy the one scene when Maleficent first enters the human city and everyone starts running in fear or grabbing pitchforks.
But honestly, even though I didn’t find these scenes all that funny, I would have been fine with them. That is, if they weren’t followed by a plot from the film’s villain planning outright genocide.
It’s not everyday you see a Disney movie where the evil scheme is reminiscent of the extermination camps at Auschwitz, but here we are.
Watching it all gave me whiplash. One minute we’re watching this awkward “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” scenario with Maleficent, the next our villain is plotting the horrifying extermination of all the creatures from the Moors.
After dinner, Maleficent basically leaves the film for half the movie’s runtime.
Instead of her confronting the negative rumors and defamation she’s received over the years, she is randomly brought to a hidden cave filled with a bunch of other bird people just like her.
So forget anything involving the misinformation campaign surrounding Maleficent, because all of that quickly becomes irrelevant after the first 30 minutes.
And though these giant winged fay do manage to suck up a sizable chunk of runtime, the only reason they exist is so there’s plenty of bodies for a giant action sequence at the end of the movie.
Their scenes were so ridiculously boring. Every time the bird people came on screen it was all I could do just to keep my eyes open. Everything about them felt so pointless and lazily written.
And sadly, the sloppy writing isn’t limited to the giant winged fairies.
I swear it’s like the screenwriter for this film didn’t even watch the first “Maleficent.”
I’ll avoid specifics as to not spoil the film, but rules very clearly established regarding Maleficent’s curse from the original film are either outright ignored here or were simply forgotten about.
It’s either that or the main conflict of the entire first film was entirely pointless and it all could have been hand waved away from the very beginning, exactly how it ended up in this movie.
It’s dumb, lazy writing that could have been avoided if they had only not reused the same prop.
You’d think after waiting five years for a sequel, they would have had plenty of time to hammer out a refined, well thought out script. Obviously not though.
I’m not going to say there isn’t anything to enjoy about this movie.
Angelina Jolie continues to sell this role quite well, regardless of how it was written. Plus the creatures featured here are very imaginative, and the costume design, especially for Maleficent, is truly top notch work.
It’s a shame they couldn’t include a high quality story to match.
I really wish I could have liked this movie. With the direction Disney has taken with their live-action remakes, it’s been rare to see something halfway original from those films.
Sadly, though this movie may freely take liberties from the source material, the result is a movie bloated with useless additions and a story with a shocking lack of polish.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is rated PG.
The other movie this week is “Zombieland: Double Tap.”
A decade after the events of the first film, post-apocalyptic warriors Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) must rely on their wits and weapons more than ever as they find themselves in a relentless battle against smarter, faster and seemingly indestructible zombies.
I’m just gonna go right out and say it. I loved the first “Zombieland.”
The original film, released all the way back in 2009, is such a well constructed, perfectly paced action comedy. Even rewatching it 10 years later, I couldn’t help but gawk at how wonderfully the whole thing was put together.
Though the movie takes place in a typical horror setting, gore and all, the film is constantly hilarious, filled with wonderfully witty dialogue and a cast of lovable snarky characters.
But upon rewatching the movie, what really set it apart in my opinion was the storytelling.
The motivation for characters are all so perfectly simple, yet effective, not to mention very easy to relate to. And even the smallest moments setup early on ended up paying off in big ways by the finale.
And the rules. Oh how I loved the rules. To survive the wilds of Zombieland, Jesse Eisenberg’s character of Columbus created an entire code to live by.
Simple rules, many of which were introduced right at the start. Things like ‘Double Tap,’ meaning don’t be stingy with your bullets when it comes to flesh eating zombies. Or ‘Buckle Up,’ because even in an apocalyptic setting, car accidents can kill you just as easily as the rabid zombies can.
These rules are constantly referenced throughout the film. Both in how Eisenberg’s character behaves, and even visually with the rule’s name popping up on screen when the said rule applied to the situation.
To anyone who hasn’t watched the movie, that may seem obnoxious, but the way these rules were integrated fit the film’s tone perfectly. Not to mention making for plenty of their own funny moments throughout.
And fortunately, “Zombieland: Double Tap” features the same fun style and the same cast of characters that were so easy to love from the first movie.
But while this sequel still makes for a fun time at the theater, it definitely pales in comparison to its more proficiently produced predecessor.
The movie picks up 10 years after the events of the first film, with our heroic band of zombie killers apparently making it clear across the country, from Los Angeles all the way to Washington D.C.
From there, through a series of events, the youngest of the group, Little Rock, ends up striking off on her own in the hopes of making her own way in the world.
Of course, the other three, especially her sister Wichita, aren’t content to let Little Rock venture off on her own, and so the group sets off through the heartland of America to track her down.
Along the way, they end up saddled with a new companion named Madison, played by Zoey Deutch. And I swear, this character could possibly be the stupidest person to ever exist in a movie.
Just imagine the dumbest blonde stereotype you possible can, multiply it by 1000, and you might just begin to scratch the sheer idiocy that is Madison.
At first I was somewhat concerned Madison would end up being nothing but an annoying, poorly conceived side character, but as the film went along, her aptitude for the moronic ended up delivering some of the funniest moments in the film. Go figure.
As the story progresses, our characters are thrown into increasingly absurd scenarios. Including one very well choreographed action sequence, shot and edited to appear as a single ludicrously long take.
Unfortunately, comedy wise, this movie retreads a lot of the same ground as the original film. At first it just seemed like cute little references to the first movie, but towards the end it ended up feeling like they had simply ran out of ideas.
The narrative here was also noticeably less refined.
Gone are the deeply personal, yet ridiculously simple, clear cut desires for each individual character. Instead, everyone is just traveling across the country to track down Little Rock.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s a perfectly okay motivation. It just feels lackluster when compared to the first film.
But in the end, even though the humor and storytelling here might not live up to the highs of the first “Zombieland,” this film still makes for an entertaining ride. One that’s sure to please fans of the original gore-filled zombie comedy.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” is rated R.