It isn’t often that I have to think a bit before deciding whether a movie is good or not because I enjoyed it; enjoyment often overriding the logic of a situation by saturating the mind with dopamine, something Lewis Carol knew all too much about. I can safely say that this Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t one of those times, although director James Bobin (The Muppets, Ali G) does deserve respect because some things work rather well. The sequel to Tim Burton’s rather meh Alice in Wonderland steps on its predecessor’s shoulders and valiantly attempts to shine brighter and it does with a lot of colour and oomph. Sadly, with it comes a maelstrom of logical miss-steps and unneeded exposition that would leave most post-graduate psychologists exhausted.
Taking place some years after her visit to Underworld Wonderland the film starts with Alice (Mia Wasikowska giving a solid performance) going full ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ as she miraculously saves her ship from certain pirate death. Much like the first movie Looking Glass frames the fantastical world with our boring, real one. It also adds in some clichéd real-world obstacles our hero will learn to overcome during the story, like returning from sea only to find that Alice’s mother has sold the family shares and bonded the house like a care-free 70’s American. After this revelation Alice runs off in despair and bumps into the butterfly Absolem, voiced by our much missed Alan Rickman. Alice then returns to Wonderland through a mirror and meets up with her old friends, although one is missing at first.
One of the reasons Kerv ordered, then bribed me into going to review this movie, was his reaction to Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter (this may/may not be true). I personally suffered a few weeks of extra strength insomnia after watching Alice in Wonderland and feared that all the therapy and drugs I underwent would come undone, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. You see the Mad Hatter is dying of heartache in this movie meaning that he isn’t his usual bouncy, annoying self. The Hatter, who we will also call Tarrant Hightop through the duration of the film (one of the things done to flesh out character’s backstories) happens to find a memento from his past, prompting him to believe his up-till-now dead family are actually alive, even though he assuredly tells us in the last film they are 6 feet under… Anyway, he charges Alice with going back in time to fix what happened and there lies the movie’s main plot.
In order to go back in time Alice has to steal a blue police box – no I jest, but she does have to steal a device that powers the Clock of Time, in this case not the concept, but the character of Time himself, superbly played by Sacha Baron Cohen. I realized a day after the film that the little screen time allocated to Depp (the main reason for the film) and Anne Hathaway (the main subplot) must have been a deliberate choice so we could spend much more time enjoying this creation. I have to give director James Bobin some applause in allowing Cohen to just run with this character and you can see he has a great deal of fun with it. Actually that is one thing that Bobin, who comes from a background of comedy, gets very right: the funny stuff. Many a moment was filled with the laughs of every critic in the cinema which was quite different to the Burton experience (the one scene with Time having tea is particularly funny if you like puns, Kerv). I can see that scribe Linda Woolverton learnt from that experience but sadly she gets quite a lot wrong with the rest.
Alice through the Looking Glass has two main stories. You have Alice acting as a total psychopath in the main, willing to destroy a whole world for her Mad Hatter friend and in the process learn a lesson about her own life because ‘morals’. She knows that stealing from Time, who is by no means malevolent, will end the world and yet we are supposed to applaud her efforts because thinking that something ‘impossible’ is morally reprehensible against the wishes of a fading, gap-toothed, hat-obsessed twit would be stupid. I’m not quite sure where the lesson herein lies. The second story focuses on why the Red Queen Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) hates the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) so much and it is totally unneeded. We don’t need exposition as to WHY characters become the way they are; this isn’t True Detective! If you think the Freudian issues of the Mad Hatter or the Queen are relevant to the opium-fueled stories of Carol you are not only missing the point, you’re jumping the shark in a rocket powered jet ski, but at least that looks cool, right, yes!
This is a beautiful movie though. From its opening naval battle, you can see Bobin has taken the path of full on 3D. I mean it, not this rubbish 2.5D like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (which was only converted last minute because Avatar was a huge success), this is the proper stuff, 100 proof ‘duck your head’ type of 3D. I was quite literally blown away by the scenes where Alice is riding her ‘time craft’; metaphors of time being a river quite literally breaking waves across your eyeballs in a way only Interstellar has come close to. I would actually watch it again at the IMAX for this reason alone. The make up also needs mention and I would be surprised if it doesn’t receive an Oscar nod. Sadly Bobin does have to stick to the formula/visual style that Burton created but when he is allowed freedom, for instance with Time’s castle, he does very well.
Once again the biggest blunder with a contemporary retelling of an old story is its desire to steer away with what made the original content appealing. Burton’s Wonderland was less wonderful and more Disney than Through the Looking Glass (which is a lot darker at times) and Bobin missteps when trying to add too much in characters’ motivations and backstories. Sometimes we don’t care about this, wanting to just accept there is good, bad and Hatters in the world and they all have stories to tell that will keep us entertained. Also the over-emphasis on time travel makes this more of an H.G. Wells story than a doped up Carol. However Bobin does offer a visual treat that will keep you thoroughly entertained throughout. Just don’t go comparing it to the book, they are always much better (except you Fight Club).
Last Updated: May 19, 2016