While Alice Through the Looking Glass is not as terrible or insufferable as Tim Burton’s first foray into Lewis Carroll’s world, the same word kept repeating in my mind while watching the 3D film: Waste. The actors are wasted. The impressive visuals are wasted. The potential for adventure in Wonderland is wasted. The film may not be a failure, but it is a waste.
Picking up years after the first film, we now find Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in our world as a ship captain. She is on the high seas escaping a fleet of pirates and heading in to an impossibly narrow and rocky patch. Luckily, her adventures in Wonderland have prepared her for the impossible and she rescues her ship and escapes the pirates with ease. Upon arriving back home she learns of some bad news. In her absence, her mother has signed away their house, and it can be saved only by signing over the ship. In a panic, Alice runs away, through the mirror and back to Wonderland.
All of her friends are there, but the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has fallen into a deep depression. He has found a clue that his family somehow survived the Jabberwocky attack and are alive somewhere. Though this should be happy news, no one will believe him which causes him great distress. He asks Alice to help him find his family, which she initially denies, but eventually decides to take as a task.
Conveniently, Alice has now been handed a plot. She must travel through time, after meeting the personification of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), and try to figure out where Hatter’s family has gone. Because of the small-town nature of Wonderland she ends up exploring not only Hatter’s origins, but the origins of the Red and White Queens (Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway) too.
The problem with these origin stories is that they humanize the characters. While it typically is in the filmmaker’s best interest to make the characters in the film more human and sympathetic, doing so denies these characters their very nature. I like my Mad Hatters simply mad. By giving him a tragic backstory his madness is now a reaction rather than a characteristic. His historical context now makes the audience question how his tea parties could have possibly been a manic celebration when we know that he is deeply depressed. And a similar story is attached to the Red Queen. Alice Through the Looking Glass makes her a tragic figure and takes away Lewis Carroll’s vision of her as a gleeful sadist.
These characters live in a fantasy land. Making them one-dimensional fits the story and allows us to escape our everyday realities. Alice herself goes through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole whenever life gets too real, but we are not allowed the same escape in this film. No one has asked for these origin stories, and seeing them on screen just confirms the fact that they did not need to be created at all.
What does work in Alice Though The Looking Glass is the visual design of the film. Time’s lair is a beautiful castle of gears and fun steampunk minions. The time-travelling looks like flying through a sea of memories which actually looks pretty cool. Some of the set pieces are sub-par CGI, but the true star of the film’s design is the costuming. From the gowns at the ball in London to the Red Queen’s battle gears I was totally transfixed by these costumes. I will concede that striking costumes are not enough to make the film worthwhile, but they do help.
With all of these amazing visual elements coming together to support an unnecessary and killjoy story, they feel wasted. And the amazing cast is given formulaic, dramatic origin stories in what should have been a fantastical adventure, which makes them feel wasted. Alice Though The Looking Glass had everything going for it, but never comes together.
Director: James Bobin
Helena Bonham Carter
Sacha Baron Cohen
Film Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2016
- Score - 4.5/104.5/10