Film Review – Alice Through the Looking Glass
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Therapist: So Allen, what brings you to my office?
Allen: I need help, doc.
Therapist: What seems to be the problem?
Allen: I just saw a terrible movie.
T: What movie was that?
A: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
T: Oh yes, I think I saw an advertisement for that. That’s the sequel to the Tim Burton directed Alice in Wonderland (2010), yes?
A: That’s right, doc. Except this time it wasn’t directed by Tim Burton, it’s directed by James Bobin, the same guy who did The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).
T: Those weren’t so bad. What’s wrong with Alice Through the Looking Glass?
A: It’s awful. Nearly everything about it is hollow. It’s a cynical film geared toward banking on the box office success of the previous installment. This is not art – it’s a financial plan. The narrative doesn’t even seem interested in the story it’s trying to tell. It’s so bad it brought me here seeking your help. In other words: I didn’t like it.
T: Whoa, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Let’s take it a step at a time, shall we? Now, start at the beginning – what’s it about?
A: Well, we start off a few years after the events of the first film. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is the captain of a trading vessel. A pre-credit sequence shows her navigating her crew through a storm while being chased by enemy gunfire.
T: That an interesting starting point!
A: I thought so too! In fact, I would’ve been more invested in her high seas adventures. Instead, we get dragged back to the world of Wonderland. Alice learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is suffering from some sort of depression. When the Hatter was a boy, he lost his family to the Jabberwocky, an event that haunted him. Now, his sadness has gotten to the point where his life is in danger. To save him, Alice must go back in time, rescue his family, and reunite them in the present.
T: Wait, this is a time travel story?
A: Yes. The only way for Alice to go back in time is to steal a device called the Chronosphere from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). But by doing so, she disrupts Time’s flow, putting all in Wonderland in harm’s way.
T: Hmm, none of what you described sounds like the Lewis Carroll stories.
A: It’s not. Bobin and screenwriter Linda Woolverton take big liberties adapting Carroll’s books. The only real similarity is the title.
T: So Alice goes back in time…
A: Not just that. She goes to different stages in time to focus on specific character moments. It’s a cheap way to create “development.” Not only do we get flashbacks of the Hatter and his family, but also the relationship between the red queen Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and white queen Mirana (Anne Hathaway).
T: But isn’t character development a good thing?
A: Only if the narrative is interested in depicting it. The editing is so spastic that we’re never given enough time to let the characters breathe and expand. It’s in such a hurry to bounce to the next sequence that there’s no emotional resonance. One moment we’re deep inside a dramatic scene, the very next we’re hurtled to another scene completely separate in tone and context. We’re bombarded with flashing lights and ear-splitting noise. The filmmakers must’ve thought the target audience encompasses the attention span of a peanut.
T: That doesn’t make sense.
A: Neither does this film.
T: Well, what about the special effects? Kids like bright and shiny colors, don’t they?
A: The production design remains the same inconsistent murkiness of the previous entry. Everything appears like a rough draft. The overwhelming CGI makes this one step away from an animated movie. Green screen and composite shots are so badly rendered that we can easily tell that a human character is walking around in empty space. For example: Time’s lair is shown from high in the sky. Little watches are hung all around to represent the time of each person’s life, with Time constantly checking to see whose is up. This is meant to be filled with whimsy and magic, but it rings as false because we can tell all of it – except for the actor – is a lie.
T: Yikes. What about the acting? Surely, with a cast like this there should be some good performances?
A: Out of the entire cast, the only performance that stood out was Sacha Baron Cohen’s as Time. He plays the character like a steam punk caricature with the voice of Werner Herzog. But other than that, everyone is pretty much playing it by the numbers. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are fine, but unmemorable. A big disappointment is Mia Wasikowska as Alice. It’s a nothing role, and no matter how talented Wasikowska is, she’s unable to bring the character to life, which is a shame considering how good she was in last year’s Crimson Peak (2015).
T: I noticed you haven’t mentioned Johnny Depp.
A: Oh please, doc, don’t make me talk about him.
T: We must, Allen, if only to cure your mental anguish.
A: Out of all the kooky, outlandish characters Depp has played, this is arguably his worst. His version of the Hatter is the stuff of a child’s nightmare. From his demon-like make up to his gaudy outfits, everything about him is an eyesore. Whenever the camera pushed in for a close up, I had to lean back in my seat. No matter how much the writing and direction tried to force-feed his back story, none of it worked because Depp’s performance never allowed us to believe any of it. He was playing a character instead of being one. Those that defend Depp’s choices at this stage of his career will most likely skip mentioning this role.
T: I guess there isn’t much to like with Alice Through the Looking Glass, is there?
A: The main thing is that it’s simply heartless. Nothing here says this story needed to be told. There’s no motivation other than the financial bottom line. I get that the people who worked on this should get paid, but the final product cheats people out of their hard-earned money. Audiences deserve some form of ambition or creativity at every level of cinema, big or small. This is not cinema, this is highway robbery. Just thinking about it gives me a headache. Can you cure me, doc?
T: Hmm, curiouser and curiouser…
(The therapist scribbles on his notepad)
A: What are you writing?
T: Your treatment plan, this is going to take a while.