UK Release Date: 27th May 2016
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: James Bobin
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman
Synopsis: Alice returns to the world of Underland and must travel back in time in order to uncover a secret about the Mad Hatter’s parents, who were killed at the hands of the Red Queen.
There wasn’t that much love for Tim Burton’s CGI-heavy take on Alice in Wonderland back in 2010, even as it cruised to more than $1bn at the worldwide box office. A sequel was swiftly announced, but it has taken some time for it to become a reality. Burton has relinquished the keys to his Underland, with James Bobin – director of the joyous Muppets reboot – stepping into the colourful world of large heads, colourful costumes and Johnny Depp doing a succession of funny voices. Unfortunately, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a rather drab follow-up to the original’s entertaining surrealism, free of coherence, humour or, crucially, heart.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns from a sea voyage to find herself pushed back by the man she once turned down, who now owns her father’s company. She retreats through a magic mirror into Underland, where her old friends tell her that the Hatter (Depp) is in poor health after being reminded of his parents’ death and his father’s (Rhys Ifans) rejection of his creativity. Alice steals a device called the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) in order to discover what happened to the Hatter’s parents and, in the process, she crosses paths with her arch enemy – the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Alice Through the Looking Glass‘ myriad problems start with the fact that its tone is wedded to Tim Burton’s unique take on the material. James Bobin struggles to make his mark on the universe given that so much of it feels drenched in Burton’s trademark sense of Gothic quirk. Compared to Bobin’s assured, confident work on The Muppets, this feels like he’s in someone else’s chair and entirely uncomfortable being there. As a result, the tone is uneven, with Burton’s edgy darkness meshing awkwardly with Bobin’s sunnier filmmaking disposition.
Alice Through the Looking Glass has a convoluted time travel plotline that leaves little room for character development or emotional depth. At the centre of it all is Sacha Baron Cohen, playing the personification of Time with a strange Herzogian accent. Cohen gets very little of substance to do and soon cedes lead villain duties to the returning Helena Bonham Carter, who remains great value as the shrieking, psychotic Red Queen. Even Mia Wasikowska seems to play second fiddle to the knotty mess of the narrative, struggling to flesh out her character in any material fashion. Shockingly, given his catatonic state for much of the story, Johnny Depp gets a tonne of screen time and is now nothing more than a funny-looking irritant.
The CGI-heavy approach is present and correct this time around as well. Everything feels artificial but, with the exception of the odd visual treat, there isn’t nearly as much cinematic eye candy as in the first movie. Bobin seems self-consciously aware that a Carroll adaptation has to reflect the author’s famous sense of surrealism. As a result, Bobin and returning writer Lina Woolverton seem to reach for weirdness at the expense of entertainment. It feels infuriatingly forced.
But the film’s biggest sin is that it is simply boring. It throws absolutely everything at the audience, from jokes to big action set pieces and a sisterly love story ripped directly from the success of Frozen. For all of its flaws, the first Alice movie felt like it had originality in its storytelling. This is simply a director for hire walking a path he isn’t familiar with in shoes that are completely the wrong size.
Pop or Poop?
James Bobin was dealt a bad hand with Alice Through the Looking Glass, tasked with making a perfunctory sequel to a film remembered only by those its success most annoyed. Unsurprisingly, the film is an unsatisfactory mess of opposing tones that never manages to be funny enough, exciting enough or heartfelt enough to work as anything other than a shameless retread.
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