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Film reviews: Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

Baring her teeth: Angelina Jolie provides grandeur as Maleficent

THE BIG RELEASE

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

(PG) ★★★★✩

FIVE years on, you’d be forgiven for not expecting much from the sequel to Disney’s Maleficent, given that the first outing, aside from Angelina Jolie’s magnificent CGI-sculpted cheekbones, was rather unmemorable. Yet Mistress Of Evil proves to be a dazzlingly rich and original endeavour.

Maleficent: Meet The Parents might not have quite the same cacklingly evil ring as Mistress Of Evil but it would be a more accurate title for this revisionist fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty, aka Aurora (an enchantingly earthy Elle Fanning), and her Prince Charming (Harris Dickinson) are set to wed, a union that should finally unite the fairy and human kingdoms. However, that happy ever after goes awry following a hilariously disastrous engagement dinner at which Aurora’s fairy godmother Maleficent (a behorned Jolie) sadistically zaps the family cat, then appears to curse the King (Robert Lindsay), triggering a war led by the vengeful, fairy-hating Queen (Michelle Pfeiffer).

A fascinatingly odd mix of Avatar, Willow, Black Narcissus and the gothic majesty of Guillermo del Toro, this is not a perfect film but there’s certainly a lot going on — possibly too much. However, the core conflict is the fabulous mum-off between Jolie and Pfeiffer. Forget all the confused racial/environmental themes, or a detour where Maleficent uncovers an entire lost civilisation of winged creatures, led by Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor. This basically boils down to ‘mums — aren’t they a nightmare?’, something the core tween female audience can definitely get behind.

Terrifyingly volatile, fiercely powerful yet emotionally fragile, there’s never been a Disney character quite like Maleficent and Jolie imbues her creation with a melancholic grandeur. She’s almost outshone by her own outfits: a dress bristling with gold-tipped bird skulls is really going to up the ante this Halloween.

It’s all as camp as a fortnight at Butlin’s but Disney’s production design is always spellbinding and this really is the ultimate visual feast. Your eyeballs will be happily rolling round and round the screen like pigs in clover.

The Verdict

Angelina Jolie makes a legendary return as a very bad fairy

Official Secrets

(15) ★★★✩✩

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY is having a moment. Following a career-best turn in Colette earlier this year, her taut appearance here compels you through this earnest, draggy espionage drama.

It tells the true story of whistleblower Katharine Gun (Knightley, pictured). In 2003, Gun was the low-level British spook who risked all to leak a classified US National Security Agency memo about a blackmail scheme aimed to coerce UN Security Council members to vote in favour of an illegal war on Iraq. Switched off yet?

Turning the act of printing out an office email into a nail-biting thriller is a tough task so it’s all hands on deck here to keep you entertained. Rhys Ifans hams it up as maverick Washington correspondent Ed Vulliamy, Matt Smith is handsome as dashing Observer reporter Martin Bright and Ralph Fiennes perks things up at the drifting midway point.

Gun’s principled stand against the scary forces of corruption is inspiring but it’s the recent proroguing of parliament that bestows an urgent relevance on the rather dry script — an act of Boris Johnson’s that the film-makers must have been guiltily grateful for.

Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

(U) ★★★✩✩

Any Aardman movie is a true labour of claymation love. Even if, story-wise, this stop-motion sequel may induce a pressing desire to count sheep, rather than watch them — at least in adults.

Still, younger kids on half-term should chortle along to the ovine slapstick as we return to Mossy Bottom (ho ho) Farm. Here, our cheeky if otherwise indistinguishable hero, Shaun (‘voiced’ by CBeebies megastar Justin Fletcher, though the entire film is basically wordless), gets a close encounter with Lu-La, a lost little alien with sparkly purple ears who provides the franchise’s new token girl/merchandising opportunity (females are never Aardman’s strong point).

Overstretched, even at 87 minutes, it’s the usual clutch of charmingly old-school (physical) gags and groan-worthy puns, plus some very Aardman-esque Easter eggs — for example, replacing the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey with a slice of burnt toast.

The sci-fi stuff is fairly well-worn but few would begrudge this homegrown studio a repeat of the original’s $106million global success.