The Disney fairy tale “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” initially shapes up as a sort of Battle of the Cheekbones, and hey, I can think of many worse ways to spend two hours. In this corner: the bewinged and behorned title character, whose job description is announced as “Mistress of Evil and Protector of the Moors” (you’d think the first half of that would be quite enough to keep someone busy), and who is played by a facially enhanced Angelina Jolie, who is extremely good at waggling her fingers in an imperious manner and thundering lines like “THERE WILL BE NO WEDDING!” In this corner: the scheming Queen Ingrith — the mother-in-law-to-be of Maleficent’s goddaughter Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), aka Sleeping Beauty — played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who is extremely good at, well, everything. Let the battle begin!
And … it gives me no pleasure to report that while there are definite pleasures to be had in this sequel to 2014’s “Maleficent,” the Jolie/Pfeiffer face-off (say that three times fast) takes up very few minutes of its running time. Instead, the two are separated for much of the movie, which is poor judgment of the highest order. We spend quite a lot of time appreciating the flowers and fairies and cute little creatures of the moors, all rendered in meticulous CGI and all very pretty. We get to know Aurora and her rather doltish prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), who are very cute and mostly clueless. (“I know it’s bad luck, but I had to see you!” chirps Philip on their wedding morning. Dude, don’t you know this is a fairy tale?) And we follow Maleficent into a strange underworld where the Dark Fey — fellow winged creatures who have a habit of standing around very dramatically in arty light, as if they were interrupted during an avant-garde Shakespeare performance — hang out.
But really, the fun of this movie — aside from the glorious and very velvet-forward costumes, by Ellen Mirojnick — is the performances of the two Hollywood pros at its center, both perfectly cast. Jolie’s Maleficent speaks slowly (she knows we’ll wait) and has a way of standing as if she’s slightly coiled, ready to strike. The character has remarkable powers, which Jolie deploys in an almost offhand way; you never doubt, for a second, that this woman could make buildings crumble with a single wave. And Pfeiffer, dripping with pearls and condescension and sly intonation (and a blue velvet cape that I’d give a kingdom for), makes the mortal Ingrith just as superhuman. During the too-brief scenes in which they cross paths, at a very awkward dinner and on a balcony, you’ll just wish the screen was bigger. Somebody please give Ingrith, and that cape, their own movie.
★★½ “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” with Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harris Dickinson, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein. Directed by Joachim Ronning, from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster and Linda Woolverton. 118 minutes. Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images. Opens Oct. 18 in multiple theaters.